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The University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight

Margaret Lazarus Dean, Assistant ProfessorCollege of Arts and Sciences - Department of English

American human spaceflight ended in 2011 with the last space shuttle launch. In trying to determine whether this was a good thing or a bad thing, Dean became obsessed with the question of what the entire fifty-year era of American spaceflight has meant. Was our space program a wasteful show of force, or was it humankind’s greatest achievement? Not until something ends can we start to understand what it has meant. In order to bear witness to the end of an era, Dean attended the last launch of each of the three space shuttles, as well as other related events at Cape Canaveral, Houston, and Washington DC. She spent a day each with one of the first men on the moon and one of the last. Dean finds that Americans are still intensely proud of our achievements in spaceflight, even as we are starting to forget what we have accomplished.​

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