"It's 2005, and the world has changed. International terrorists have released a genetically modified disease, called X-Pox, on the world. There is no greater challenge to medicine than finding a cure. Biochem billionaire Tad Mikleszewski (called TM by nearly everyone) is a "space junkie" who has been the primary investor backing the Spacelifter project, a private attempt to build a single-stage-to-orbit vehicle. But Spacelifter's crucial test firing has failed, and TM is going to pull the plug. He has a better idea for getting himself into space ...
"It's 2005, and the world has changed. International terrorists have released a genetically modified disease, called X-Pox, on the world. There is no greater challenge to medicine than finding a cure. Biochem billionaire Tad Mikleszewski (called TM by nearly everyone) is a "space junkie" who has been the primary investor backing the Spacelifter project, a private attempt to build a single-stage-to-orbit vehicle. But Spacelifter's crucial test firing has failed, and TM is going to pull the plug. He has a better idea for getting himself into space - he'll buy research time on the International Space Station, to work on a cure for X-Pox. The Russians will sell him a seat on the Soyuz taxi vehicle for a mere $30 million." "But the equipment in the Harmony Laboratory module was salvaged from old Russian military labs, and perhaps TM's skills are a little bit out of date. A tiny leak - a small hole in the seal of the isolation box where TM in manipulating the X-Pox pathogen - and Harmony is contaminated by the disease that kills within three weeks." Now it's a race against time, to rescue the crew and decontaminate the space station. NASA has a shuttle a month from launch, and if astronaut Kelly Gessner can be retrained in decontamination procedures, they can push that up two weeks. The Russians have a third Soyuz due off the assembly line, but astronaut Mark Koskinen, NASA's chief of staff at Star City, doesn't think they'll make it in time. But whether Russian or American, someone is going to have to get up there, and fast.
This thoroughly readable near-future space thriller takes place in 2006, with Space Station Alpha a going concern and the Chinese sending men into space. Billionaire Tad Mikleszewski has failed in efforts to launch a privately owned space booster, but he is determined to get into orbit, even if it means paying the Russians for a ride on one of their rockets. Meanwhile, American astronaut Kelly Gessner is preparing for a shuttle voyage, actress Rachel Dunne will be doing shots for her next film aboard Alpha and Kelly's ex-lover Mark Koskinen is riding herd on Westerners at the Russian Star City space center. All of this takes place as a biowar plague known as X-Pox rages, and preparations for the launch are disrupted by weather, illness, sexual chemistry, politics, bureaucracy and Russian muggers. Once in space, Tad (aka Tango Midnight) sets up camp in an Alpha module, where he intends to develop an X-Pox antidote. An accident releases the deadly virus, trapping Tad in the module, and Mark is recruited to save him via a complex docking maneuver. The book is stronger on technical detail ("BAACC will put Shenzhou-Harmony in a minus-Z orientation") and pacing than on characterization, and the climax seems rushed, but it will satisfy space fans with a taste for thrillers, or thriller fans with a taste for space. (Nov.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Space historian Cassutt's third procedural (Missing Man, 1998, etc.) turns on a deadly microorganism getting loose in a space module. (It should remind Tess Gerritsen fans of the organism called Chimera floating about her space station in Gravity.) In 2006, various accidents, explosions, and losses of funds have led to a sponsored and combined US-USSR mission on Space Station Alpha (now in its sixth year), with one wealthy passenger paying zillions to carry out scientific tests in the commercially funded Russian module. Also along are star Rachel Dunne, playing astronaut Terry Drake; her film crew, to shoot footage for a MosFilm/DreamWorks space yarn called Recoil; and her companion, Russian cosmonaut Igor Gritsov. By this time, the planet has become plagued with X-Pox, a killer virus that slays far more people than AIDS and has spread unabated. Dr. Tadeusz Mikleszewski, the multimillionaire head of Pyrite, whose initials TM give him the nickname "Tango Midnight" ("Tango," for short) leads the medical experiments aboard the Russian Harmony module docked with Alpha. Striving to synthesize in microgravity a working vaccine for X-Pox, Tango is working with deadly bugs in a glovebox when the box overheats and-hisss!-some of the bugs escape. The Harmony module and the bugs are doubly sealed off at once, but, self-imprisoned on Harmony, Tango is locked into a fatal Midnight. Of course, he may yet find the real deal, a vaccine. All this is set up with a density of acronymic detail and mass of secondary characters that only readers on booster herbs (Gingko biloba, not cannabis) will retain. Also on hand is astronaut Mark Koskinen, whose four years working with the commercial Spacelifter craftended when it exploded on the launch pad. He's reuniting with his lost love, fellow astronaut Kelly Gessner, with whom, not surprisingly, he will have a life-saving rendezvous in space. NASA politics and preparation in depth for the commercial launching add realism. A struggle, but rewarding.
Michael Cassutt is noted for his writing about the space program — not only articles in magazines such as Space World, but a massive biographical encyclopedia, Who's Who in Space. Cassutt is the author of two previous mystery thrillers set within the space program, Missing Man and Red Moon. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.