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Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of…

Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight

by Margaret Lazarus Dean

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I feel I can't give a true review for this book as the topic is space, something which terrifies me. I would never have picked this up if not required for school. However, there was nothing that stood out as negative in this book. There was also nothing particularly positive. In my opinion, the writing is sublime while the author describes everything that happens to her as it occurs, in a way that's only slightly entertaining. If you're truly interested in the end of American space flight, I would suggest giving this a shot. But if you're looking for the next best nonfiction work, I'd look somewhere else. ( )
  mlmarks98 | May 13, 2017 |
Like me, Margaret Lazarus Dean was enamored by space and spaceflight. The fact that we sent men into space with less technological power than what is in our smartphones is amazing! But spaceflight, and NASA as an organization, has always been on the outskirts of American life, even during the patriotic days of the Mercury missions. There has always been a question of cost, and, with the Challenger and Columbia disasters, the safety of the astronauts.

When it was announced that the shuttle program was going to be discontinued, and that American spaceflight was going to end as we knew it, those who believed in the shuttle missions (and the American exploration of space) were understandable hurt and angry. There were others who celebrated the decision, saying that the government was giving NASA too much money anyway to explore space when there were so many problems down here on Earth (the fact that NASA's budget was less than 4% of the total budget for the country was apparently lost on them).

The final missions of space shuttles Discovery, Endeavor, and Atlantis were completed in 2011, and Margaret Lazarus Dean was there for all of them. I'm so glad she chose to write about her experience, the history of spaceflight, and what is means that shuttle is ending (her thesis, if you will, of her book), because I have found a kindred spirit in Margaret. She is completely in awe of NASA - the engineers, astronauts, and other thousands of workers who made spaceflight possible. She fangirls all over Buzz Aldrin when she gets to interview him for a book festival (same, girl. Same). And she is determined to find the reason why spaceflight, which seemed to have captured so many people's hearts and imaginations at some point in American history, has come to an end. I found myself underlining many passages, whether because I agreed with a point she was making or because she captured the awesomeness of spaceflight so remarkably.

I love books about space. This one wrote about the ending of (in my opinion) a great space program in a way that, if only everyone could read it, would cause the Powers That Be to think twice about ending the shuttle program. I'm going to read her fiction novel about the Challenger explosion (The Time it Takes to Fall) soon, and with great interest. I shall also be on the lookout for the works she referenced in this book, specifically works by Norman Mailer, Tom Wolfe, and Oriana Fallaci.

I fear this review isn't doing the book justice, so I'll end on this note: read it. If you love space and spaceflight, or if you have a passing interest in it, or if you just love really good creative non-fiction, you must read this book. ( )
1 vote kaylaraeintheway | Nov 9, 2015 |
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At times, Ms. Dean overdoes the Mailer references, comparing her observations about NASA to those he once made, her point of view to his. Her repeated taking of her own emotional temperature grows increasingly mannered as the book progresses — and imitative of Mr. Mailer’s in a way that serves only to underscore his original and utterly distinctive vision and voice.

When Ms. Dean simply lets her own love for spaceflight shine through, however, the result is a heartfelt paean to, and elegy for, a remarkable collective undertaking. She captures both the science and poetry of NASA’s missions, and the romance of space travel, which dates back centuries, and was imagined in fiction like Jules Verne’s 1865 classic “From the Earth to the Moon.” (In the early 20th century, she says, the Verne novel provided inspiration for three men working independently in three different countries, developing similar ideas about using rockets for space travel.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 155597709X, Paperback)

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?

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:56 -0400)

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