posted 06-08-2015 08:53 PM
I recently finished "LEAVING ORBIT: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight" by Margaret Lazarus Dean.
When I first learned of the book on the Space Hipsters FB page, much of the comments were about the cover photo chosen and the subtitle. Not all of the comments were kind.
The author offered a few people a complementary book if they would write an honest review. Full disclosure: I took her up on that offer - and I'm glad I did.
What follows is my review.
"LEAVING ORBIT" is a warm and honest memoir of one woman's desire to understand and experience the end of the Space Shuttle Program in person.
Like many books on the space program, the author provides a synopsis of space exploration history. She shares her childhood experience of visiting the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum on the mall in Washington, DC with her father.
Becoming friends with Omar Izquierdo, a NASA employee at the Kennedy Space Center via Facebook, he invites her and her father to a Family Day in 2010. This visit sets the stage for Margaret to decide to attend the final three launches of the shuttle program and write about the experience.
In her writing Dean details what someone attending a launch goes through in loving detail. She has a great affection and admiration for Norman Mailer ( that I don't share ) and spends more time than I cared for comparing her experience with Mailers when he attended the launch of Apollo 11 in 1969. My opinion of Mailer was that he was a pompous ass. I read "Of a Fire on the Moon." In 1970 and didn't care for it. It's not among my library of important space books. But I can understand Deans desire to relate to him. I suppose if I wrote a book about my artistic contribution to our space program, I might compare myself to Robert McCall or Paul Calle too much for some readers taste.
Dean watches the final launch of Discovery on mission STS-133 from the 528 causeway in Merritt Island.
She is able to join Omar for the launch of Endeavour STS-134 next to the VAB at the Kennedy Space Center.
For the final launch STS-135 Atlantis Dean receives credentials for the KSC Press Site. Dean is a gifted writer and having watched launches from those places in the past , I am transported back in time to reliving my experience.
There were some things about the book I didn't agree with. She describes the cause of the loss of Columbia as "a dent in the tiles." In fact it was a hole about the size of a large pizza that allowed the hot gases to destroy the orbiter and kill the crew.
I also didn't like the description of the ending of the shuttle program as the end of American human spaceflight. It's not. Seventeen American astronauts have flown aboard the ISS since the shuttle program ended. Yes they have had to "hitch rides" aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
Dean also doesn't share my optimism of the Commercial Crew Program. She travels back to KSC for a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch which ends up being scrubbed. The next day before she leaves to return home Omar invites her to launch a model of the Falcon 9. She finds this poetic and fitting as an allegory of American capability.
I worked for a NASA and United Space Alliance supplier and was laid of in 2010. As an employee I was allowed to participate in the "End of Shuttle Program" emblem contest. I came in third. By the time I was awarded my certificate, I was unemployed. Izquierdo was Deans personal introduction to the program and it's through his eyes that she laments the end. I understand her frustration in seeing a capability thrown away and her friend laid off.
How I wish Dean had attended the National Space Symposium hosted by the Space Foundation in Colorado Springs like I did in 2012. Maybe then she would have been as optimistic about the future of American Space Exploration as I am.
I came away from the book liking Margaret Lazarus Dean. I think she is a genuine space enthusiast who wished she was born a generation earlier. Someone who wants to see us send humans beyond deep space again.
For those who disparage this book, I invite you to read it. If like Margaret Dean (and I), you are frustrated with NASA funding and ever changing mandates from the White House contact your representative in Washington. Tell them to stop short changing Commercial Crew and decide on a mission for NASA and fund it. But don't "kill the messenger", the author of LEAVING ORBIT.
— Tim Gagnon