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Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight Paperback – May 19, 2015
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“Wonderfully evocative. . . . Ms. Dean writes with the passion of a lifelong lover of space exploration and an ability to communicate, with tremendous kinetic power, the glory and danger of its missions.” ―Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“Leaving Orbit is a long walk with a space enthusiast who has an eye and ear for detail, a gift for symbolism and an urgent need to understand the end of an era in American space exploration. It is a frank look back and a skeptical-but hopeful-look forward.” ―Houston Chronicle
“Sentimental and ferocious.” ―Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
“One of those books you can't put down, don't want to finish, and won't soon forget.” ―Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“Thoughtful and provocative. . . . Mesmerizing. . . . 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.” ―Publishers Weekly, starred review
“[Dean's] 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.” ―Booklist
“In this eloquent farewell to NASA's space shuttle program, Margaret Lazarus Dean celebrates the extraordinary optimism that lifted humans off the Earth, dreaming of worlds far beyond. Her passion for cosmic travel is matched by her poetic vision of the past – once our future. If you lived it, you'll rejoice in the memories; if you didn't, you'll wish you'd been there. Either way, you'll beg for more.” ―Lynn Sherr, author of Sally Ride: America's First Woman in Space
“What is it about spaceflight that activates our hearts and asks our brains to yearn? And what does it mean that we've now (mostly) stopped? Margaret Lazarus Dean wants to know--and so she goes to talk to Buzz Aldrin, to watch the last launch of the shuttle, to talk to astronauts whose names most of us no longer recognize. Dean digs deep and does not avert her gaze. She has the heart of a storyteller, the head of an essayist, and a transcendent enthusiasm for American spaceflight. I came away from Leaving Orbit with a renewed case of space brain, my heart once more in my throat.” ―Ander Monson
“The heroic tale of America's first space program--when patriotic cowboys in space suits rode Apollo rockets to the moon--has been told many times, most swaggeringly by those journalistic Homers, Mailer and Wolfe. The tale of America's second space program--less heroic than the first, more tragic, its most lasting images those of the space shuttle Challenger exploding across a blue Florida sky--has been waiting for a different sort of storyteller, an elegist. Here she is. Margaret Lazarus Dean has written the space shuttle the obituary it deserves, documenting the program's final countdown in prose that makes you feel by turns wistful and wonderstruck.” ―Donovan Hohn, author of Moby-Duck
“Margaret Lazarus Dean is that rarest of hybrids, the dearest of hyphenates. She brings to science such exquisite sentence making, to futurism the sound anchorage of the past, to space travel the tidings of personal journey. Journalist, essayist, memoirist and storyteller--her prized text shows Americans, each and every, how we came to be the ones we are. And where we're going. This is rocket science, reliable witness, replete with poetry.” ―Thomas Lynch, author of The Undertaking
About the Author
Margaret Lazarus Dean is the author of The Time It Takes to Fall. She is a recipient of fellowships from the NEA and the Tennessee Arts Commission and is an associate professor of English at the University of Tennessee. She lives in Knoxville.
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Top Customer Reviews
The author also fails to demonstrate any grasp of the economics of spaceflight. She seems to think that there are only two options: big government-funded programs with no apparent purpose and wealthy pleasure flights. She briefly discusses Elon Musk, but apparently ignores that his raison d'etre is to fly to Mars (and that leaves aside the question of whether wealthy pleasure-seekers would actually go to Mars, as she implies). She also engages in some ironic cognitive dissonance when she blatantly claims that SpaceX's CEO was selected solely because she was a woman.
Another failing of the book is some very unusual and basic factual errors. The most glaring is her claim that Sally Ride was the first woman in space, and had the pressure of her entire gender. Of course, Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman in space, flying in 1963. I originally thought she may have meant only the first American woman in space, but it is clear from the text that she simply ignored Ms. Tereshkova. How can you trust an author who doesn't know basic facts?
She does include a paragraph here and there with really interesting facts and observations about the space program, but they are unfortunately too few and far between. Although I finished the book, which I normally don't do if it is bad, it was only by skipping vast portions of it.
Not since Chaikin's A MAN ON THE MOON or Burrows's THIS NEW OCEAN has the history of space flight been made so accessible to so many...the first space history for the modern generation.
Dean combines her own personal experiences with the space program with an interesting and oftentimes insightful look at a marvelous era in history. Manned spaceflight has been so many things to so many people that it's often hard to quantify. Even those who boast that there are "better days" ahead for NASA worry secretly that the agency's best days are already behind it. Her sense of dread, despair, or even disgust at times, for the loss of one of the few remaining sources of American pride and inspiration is visceral. Any argument for shuttering the shuttle program without a replacement spacecraft is shortsighted at best, disingenuous at worst -- and she doesn't shy away from saying so!
Whether you remember exactly where you were when the Eagle landed, or are perhaps unsure who the first man to walk on the moon was, you will find something interesting, something new, something exciting in Dean's brave accounting of the end of an era.
This just wasn't for me. I've read a lot of books on the space program and figured this would fit into that general genre, and to a degree it does but it's more about a space fanatic's love of space and the space program and that sort of thing can be interesting, but that just didn't carry with me for this.