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Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight by Margaret Lazarus Dean
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Leaving Orbit Quotes Showing 1-18 of 18
“Konstantin Tsiolkovsky in Russia, Hermann Olberth in Germany, and Robert Goddard in the United States all came up with an eerily similar concept for using liquid fuel to power rockets for human spaceflight. I've seen this pointed out as an odd coincidence, one of those moments when an idea inexplicably emerges in multiple places at once. But when I read through each of these three men's biographies I discovered why they all had the same idea: all three of them were obsessed with Jules Verne's 1865 novel "De la terre a la lune (From the Earth to the Moon)." The novel details the strange adventures of three space explorers who travel to the moon together. What sets Verne's book apart from the other speculative fiction of the time was his careful attention to the physics involved in space travel -- his characters take pains to explain to each other exactly how and why each concept would work. All three real-life scientists -- the Russian, the German, and the American -- were following what they had learned from a French science fiction writer.”
Margaret Lazarus Dean, Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight
“Only since the collapse of the Soviet Union have we learned that the Soviets were in fact developing a moon rocket, known as the N1, in the sixties. All four launch attempts of the N1 ended in explosions. Saturn was the largest rocket in the world, the most complex and powerful ever to fly, and remains so to this day. The fact that it was developed for a peaceful purpose is an exception to every pattern of history, and this is one of the legacies of Apollo.”
Margaret Lazarus Dean, Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight
“Here is one way to conceptualize NASA's heroic era: in 1961, Kennedy gave his "moon speech" to Congress, charging them to put an American on the moon "before the decade is out." In the eight years that unspooled between Kennedy's speech and Neil Armstrong's first historic bootprint, NASA, a newborn government agency, established sites and campuses in Texas, Florida, Alabama, California, Ohio, Maryland, Mississippi, Virginia, and the District of Columbia; awarded multi-million-dollar contracts and hired four hundred thousand workers; built a fully functioning moon port in a formerly uninhabited swamp; designed and constructed a moonfaring rocket, spacecraft, lunar lander, and space suits; sent astronauts repeatedly into orbit, where they ventured out of their spacecraft on umbilical tethers and practiced rendezvous techniques; sent astronauts to orbit the moon, where they mapped out the best landing sites; all culminating in the final, triumphant moment when they sent Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to step out of their lunar module and bounce about on the moon, perfectly safe within their space suits. All of this, start to finish, was accomplished in those eight years.”
Margaret Lazarus Dean, Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight
“Last year NASA’s total budget was less than the cost of air-conditioning for troops in Iraq.”
Margaret Lazarus Dean, Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight
“Together the five orbiters Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour have flown a total of 133 successful missions, an unequaled accomplishment of engineering, management, and political savvy. But it's the two disasters that people remember, that most shape the shuttle's story. The lovely dream of spaceflight I grew up with is marred by the images of Challenger and Columbia breaking apart in the sky, the lost astronauts smiling on hopefully in their portraits, oblivious. Some people took the disasters to mean the entire space program had been a lie, that the dream itself was tainted with our fallibility. But even as a child, I knew it was more complex than that. If we want to see people take risks, we have to be prepared to sometimes see them fail. The story of American spaceflight is a story with many endings, a story of how we have weighed our achievements against our failures.”
Margaret Lazarus Dean, Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight
“Discovery first flew in 1984, the third orbiter to join the fleet. It was named for one of the ships commanded by Captain James Cook. Space shuttle Discovery is the most-flown orbiter; today will be its thirty-ninth and final launch. By the end of this mission, it will have flown a total of 365 days in space, making it the most well traveled spacecraft in history. Discovery was the first orbiter to carry a Russian cosmonaut and the first to visit the Russian space station Mir. On that flight, in 1995, Eileen Collins became the first woman to pilot an American spacecraft. Discovery flew twelve of the thirty-eight missions to assemble the International Space Station, and it was responsible for deploying the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990. This was perhaps the most far reaching accomplishment of the shuttle program, as Hubble has been called the most important telescope in history and one of the most significant scientific instruments ever invented. It has allowed astronomers to determine the age of the universe, postulate how galaxies form, and confirm the existence of dark energy, among many other discoveries. Astronomers and astrophysicists, when they are asked about the significance of Hubble, will simply say that it has rewritten the astronomy books. In the retirement process, Discovery will be the “vehicle of record,” being kept as intact as possible for future study.

Discovery was the return-to-flight orbiter after the loss of Challenger and then again after the loss of Columbia. To me, this gives it a certain feeling of bravery and hope. ‘Don’t worry,’ Discovery seemed to tell us by gamely rolling her snow-white self out to the launchpad. 'Don’t worry, we can still dream of space. We can still leave the earth.’ And then she did.”
Margaret Lazarus Dean, Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight
“The history of American spaceflight is a history of doing less than had been planned, less than had been hoped for.”
Margaret Lazarus Dean, Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight
“We visit the Launch Control building, where on one wall of the seventies-style lobby are hung the mission patches of every human spaceflight that has ever been launched from here, 149 to date. Beneath each mission patch is a small plaque showing the launch and landing dates. Two of them—Challenger’s STS-51L and Columbia’s STS-107—are missing landing dates, because both of these missions ended in disasters that destroyed the orbiters and killed their crews. The blank spaces on the wall where those landing dates should have been are discolored from the touch of people’s hands. This would be unremarkable if this place were a tourist attraction, or regularly open to the public. But with the rare exception of Family Days, this building is open only to people who work here. In other words, it’s launch controllers, managers, and engineers who have been touching these empty spaces with their hands, on their way to and from doing their jobs. After”
Margaret Lazarus Dean, Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight
“Histories of the Kennedy Space Center acknowledge without exaggeration that the obstacle posed by the mosquitoes was so serious that NASA quite literally could not have put a man on the moon by Kennedy's "before the decade is out" deadline without the invention of DDT. In this way, the challenges of spaceflight reveal themselves to be distinctly terrestrial.”
Margaret Lazarus Dean, Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight
“If someone asked me to sum up what is great about my country, I would probably tell them about Apollo 11, about the four hundred thousand people who worked to make the impossible come true within eight years, about how it changed me to see the space-scarred Columbia capsule in a museum as a child, about how we came in peace for all mankind.”
Margaret Lazarus Dean, Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight
“It continues to startle me, the range of political ideologies that are compatible with enthusiasm for spaceflight. Tax-and-spend liberals of the Great Society stripe, obviously—but also spending-slashing Tea Partiers, hippie peaceniks, fierce libertarians, military loyalists, and apathetics of every shade. So very many of us seem to feel that a love of human spaceflight is reconcilable with our beliefs, and we can all explain why.”
Margaret Lazarus Dean, Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight
“Most people don’t realize that since the time of Apollo we’ve been in a feedback loop: as a nation, we elect representatives who thwart NASA, and then we blame NASA for its lack of vision.”
Margaret Lazarus Dean, Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight
“There are four warring interests in spaceflight: ambitiousness of vision, urgency of timetable, reduction of cost, and safety to astronauts. These can never be entirely reconciled. In the sixties, urgency and ambitiousness were the driving factors, and because this was understood and accepted, the massive cost and risk were accepted as well. We now seem to be at a moment when reduction of cost is paramount, with safety coming in a very close second. This being the case, we should not be surprised that ambitiousness and urgency have had to be set aside altogether. But it’s ludicrous to claim, as I often hear people do, that “NASA has lost its vision.” NASA has lost support, not vision. Wernher”
Margaret Lazarus Dean, Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight
“And now the sound comes toward us: bassy, crackly, like a fireworks display that never lets up. The sound goes right through you, and if you have become too emotionally involved in the space program, this sound will make you cry. It’s the sound of American exploration, the sound of missiles put to better use than killing or threatening to kill, a sound that means we came in peace for all mankind.”
Margaret Lazarus Dean, Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight
“People care about the unutterable awe of American heroes stabbing into the heavens on columns of fire.”
Margaret Lazarus Dean, Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight
“Only when something ends can we understand what it has meant. In”
Margaret Lazarus Dean, Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight
“I've found that all it usually takes to draw out an engineer is to ask a couple of technical questions and then remain calm while listening to the answers. Most people tend to take on a blank, frightened look as soon as they realize that a technical explanation is under way; if you can resist giving this reaction and simply listen, your engineer will open up and tell you everything you ever wanted to know.”
Margaret Lazarus Dean, Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight
“If someone asked me to sum up what is great about my country, I would probably tell them about Apollo 11, about the four hundred thousand people who worked to make the impossible come true within eight years ...”
Margaret Lazarus Dean, Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight