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Leaving orbit : notes from the last days of American spaceflight
2015
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Author Notes
Margaret Lazarus Dean is the author of The Time It. Takes to Fall. She is an associate professor at the University of Tennessee and lives in Knoxville.
Fiction/Biography Profile
Genre
NonFiction
History
Science
Topics
Space exploration
Space race
Sputnik
NASA
Astronauts
Space travel
American culture
Aviation history
Setting
- United States
- International
Time Period
1950s-2010s -- 20th-21st century
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Trade Reviews
Library Journal Review
Intrigued by American spaceflight, Dean (English, Univ. of Tennessee; The Time It Takes To Fall) accepted an invitation from an online NASA acquaintance and traveled to Florida's Space Coast during the waning days of the space shuttle program. Viewing rollout, launch, and landing of different missions, the author sought to discover what it means "that we went to space for fifty years and now we are stopping"-but never found an answer. Well-crafted vignettes describe Buzz Aldrin interacting with autograph seekers, a motley crew of tourists at one launch and the more homogeneous press corps at another, a roomful of Space Tweep partygoers silently engaging with social media, and more. Unfortunately, the author also complains about writing difficulties and self-indulgently wonders what Norman Mailer would think of her work. -VERDICT Dean focuses on human interaction, not technical detail, so this book may appeal to a wider audience of creative nonfiction readers than does most popular space literature. Also consider Pat Duggins's Final Countdown and Greg Klerkx's Lost in Space.-Nancy R. Curtis, Univ. of Maine Lib., Orono © Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Review
Dean (The Time It Takes to Fall), an associate professor of English at the University of Tennessee, asks, "What does it mean that we have been going to space for 50 years and have decided to stop?" That question haunts her thoughtful and provocative book, a history and elegy not just for the U.S. space program, but also for the optimism and sense of wonder it inspired in a nation. The Soviet launch of Sputnik in 1957 heralded a realization that space exploration was more than science fiction, leading to the creation of NASA and the start of the "space race." Dean takes readers through NASA's "heroic era" to the "shuttle era," as the military crewcuts and larger-than-life personalities of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs gave way to astronauts who "took the time to enjoy it." She weaves her mesmerizing history around her trips to see the last three shuttle launches, meeting such characters as the folks who travel to watch every launch; astronaut emeritus Buzz Aldrin; and Omar Izquierdo, Kennedy Space Center's "orbiter integrity clerk," whose job title barely covers his role as "lay historian" and "ambassador" for American space flight. Dean deftly captures the thrill and discovery of American space exploration, as well as the disappointment and outrage she believes everyone should feel at its ending. (May) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
CHOICE Review
The present moment is one of the few times in the last half century when the US has had no human launch capability. NASA is dependent on Russian space vehicles to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station. The last three flights of the space shuttle were in February, May, and July of 2011. Dean (English, Univ. of Tennessee, Knoxville) attended these launches and here describes her personal feelings and observations about the end of the shuttle era (which started in 1981). She discusses her friendship with a NASA worker who directed her to some insider information on the space shuttle and on launch preparations. Included are observations on how political vagaries affect NASA's ability to effectively conduct space exploration. The author intersperses her evocative commentaries with words of various seminal writers (e.g., Norman Mailer, Tom Wolfe) and stories from the heroic era of spaceflight, the 1960s. The overall feeling of the book is one of sadness about the end of an important part of recent US history. One of the best recent treatments of the US space program this reviewer has read, this book comes at the subject from a fascinating perspective. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers. --John Z. Kiss, University of Mississippi
Booklist Review
We went to space for 50 years, and then we stopped. With no further space travel in the offing, the last American space-shuttle flight in 2011 could mark the end of an era. For Dean, who traces her love of space back to childhood trips to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., the question of what this means was troubling enough for her to commit to traveling to Florida for the three final shuttle launches. During this time, she shakes Buzz Aldrin's hand, becomes teary-eyed at the sheer size and magnificence of the Vehicle Assembly Building, and learns not to look frightened when an engineer starts talking in technical terms. This account of her visits, mixed with historical perspective on the space program, allows readers not only to visit Cape Canaveral while NASA was still sending Americans into space, but also to meet the workers and space fans for whom the sky was never the limit. With the countdown clock no longer ticking, Leaving Orbit offers a heartfelt eulogy for the dream and brief reality of American spaceflight.--Thoreson, Bridget Copyright 2015 Booklist
Kirkus Review
Beguiled at an early age by the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Dean (English/Univ. of Tennessee; The Time It Takes to Fall, 2007) deftly chronicles the history of American spaceflight and what the end of the space program means for American culture.The author structures her narrative around trips to the Kennedy Space Center in order to witness the final space shuttle launches. Seeking "to write about those places where the technical and emotional intersect," Dean introduces readers to Florida's Space Coast; the NASA technicians who work on the shuttles; and astronauts, avid space fans, and the locals whose livelihoods depend on the space agency. Like any great storyteller, the author weaves in numerous cultural, political, historical, literary, and personal threads, widening the story's focus and enriching its texture. Dean notes that the style of writing known as creative nonfiction smoothly overlapped with the beginnings of American spaceflight in the 1960s. The author enlists the voices of such writers as Tom Wolfe, William Burrows, Norman Mailer and Oriana Fallaci for their insights into the saga of American space travel. Dean frequently reiterates her passion for the literature of spaceflight. "When I read all these books," she writes, "I'm encountering other minds struggling with the same questions while walking the same landscape." The author analyzes her struggles assembling her manuscript, providing useful insight into her creative process, and she includes her students' remarkable ideas regarding the space program and its conclusion. Dean recounts the ruthless tactics of professional autograph seekers during a book signing by Buzz Aldrin and shows how Americans' perceptions of space travel changed after the 1986 Challenger disaster. Throughout, the author's stimulating prose enhances topics that at first glance might seem lacking in broad appeale.g., engineering issues or the politics of NASA's perpetual underfunding. One of those books you can't put down, don't want to finish, and won't soon forget. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Summary

Winner of the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize, a breathtaking elegy to the waning days of human spaceflight as we have known it

In the 1960s, humans took their first steps away from Earth, and for a time our possibilities in space seemed endless. But in a time of austerity and in the wake of high-profile disasters like Challenger , that dream has ended. In early 2011, Margaret Lazarus Dean traveled to Cape Canaveral for NASA's last three space shuttle launches in order to bear witness to the end of an era. With Dean as our guide to Florida's Space Coast and to the history of NASA, Leaving Orbit takes the measure of what American spaceflight has achieved while reckoning with its earlier witnesses, such as Norman Mailer, Tom Wolfe, and Oriana Fallaci. Along the way, Dean meets NASA workers, astronauts, and space fans, gathering possible answers to the question: What does it mean that a spacefaring nation won't be going to space anymore?

Table of Contents
Prologue: Air and Spacep. 3
Chapter 1The Beginnings of the Future: This Is Cape Canaveralp. 11
Chapter 2What It Felt Like to Walk on the Moonp. 43
Chapter 3Good-bye, Discoveryp. 71
Chapter 4A Brief History of the Futurep. 105
Chapter 5Good-bye, Endeavourp. 143
Chapter 6A Brief History of Spacefarersp. 161
Chapter 7Good-bye, Atlantisp. 195
Chapter 8The End of the Future: Wheel Stopp. 229
Chapter 9The Futurep. 257
Epiloguep. 295
Timeline of American Spaceflightp. 303
Bibliographyp. 307
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