cover image Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Space Flight

Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Space Flight

Margaret Lazarus Dean. Graywolf, $16 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-55597-709-2

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. [em](May) [/em]