If the Atlantis blasts off today, it'll be the official end of the space shuttle era. And, for what feels like quite some time now, we've noticed some excellent obituaries for the venerable manned space vehicle. Some of them are nostalgic, others ruminate on the future of unmanned space probes, and others still have just wished the bulky things good riddance. So, in celebration of all the commemorating, here are some of our favorite goodbyes.
Below are a few notable articles and essays--sorted by date--that caught our eye for their sharp angle, argument or merely because we enjoyed the way they were written. We hope you do too:
Esquire - Go by Chris Jones
In Brief: A January, 2009 first person recounting of a tension-filled Endeavour blast off.
The cockpit communications were switched to a private channel, and the loudspeakers went silent. The bleachers were quiet then, too. So much planning, so much money and nerve, and it all might be scrubbed because of two pins in a door. That’s just the way things had been going.
Foreign Policy - The People's Capsule by Charles Homans
In Brief: A July/August 2010 history lesson from the magazine about "How a clunky old Soviet rocket outlasted the space shuttle."
But for the routine space-station trips that constitute almost all manned spaceflight today, the Soyuz is not only $19 million cheaper per astronaut to launch than the shuttle, but it's also by most measures safer -- it hasn't had a fatal accident in 29 years.
The Atlantic - Earthbound by Hanna Rosin
The Wall Street Journal - Space Shuttle Stowaway Is a Commie Mole by Leos Rousek
In Brief: This March, 2011 A-Hed detailed the journey of Krtek the Little Mole, a plush doll originally designed by a Czech animator that has now made multiple forays with astronauts into outer space. His last mission was with the Endeavour crew this year.
"I never imagined anything like this for Krtek," says his creator, Mr. Miler, now 90 years old and living in an assisted-living facility. "But I think the character has earned it himself, and it's a big honor."
New York - Transcendence Splashes Down by David Roth
In Brief: It's all in the telling in this April, 2011 Intelligencer article eulogizing the Endeavour's final launch and the now "ho-hum" nature of spaceflight.
It might not be that the space program is insufficiently whiz-bang or beyond our means so much as that we’re now too busy, scared, or pissed off for it to mean anything to us. Which is a shame; baffled and broke-ish and hacked-off as the nation is, a little bit of that old humbling space-wonder and some of the shared purpose necessary to get people from here to there would go a long way right now.
Texas Monthly - The Last Blast by Al Reinert
In Brief: The co-writer of Apollo 13 muses about the grandiose vision humanity once had for the shuttle in a April 2011 feature.
I have asked dozens of astronauts what it feels like to blast off, and words always fail them. A roller coaster is the standard analogy, with adjectives piled on to suggest that it’s something more thrilling and terrible, something inexpressible. Often their eyes clamp shut at the memory and sometimes they shiver. No one has ever answered with a smile.
The Economist - Into the Sunset
In Brief: A chart-filled June 2011 comprehensive report on the history of the shuttle and NASA's dimmer future prospects.
A compromise tends to leave everyone unhappy, and 30 years on so it proved with the shuttle. The costs continued to rankle with those who thought manned space flight a waste of money, and three decades spent stuck in low-Earth orbit never stopped frustrating those who wanted to go farther.
and the science they were doing was mostly boring compared with the results being beamed back from the Voyager spacecraft exploring the outer planets at considerably less expense and risk.