Summary and book reviews of Leaving Orbit by Margaret Lazarus Dean

Leaving Orbit

Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight

by Margaret Lazarus Dean

Leaving Orbit by Margaret Lazarus Dean X
Leaving Orbit by Margaret Lazarus Dean
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Paperback:
    May 2015, 240 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte

Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

Winner of the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize, a breathtaking elegy to the waning days of human spaceflight as we have known it.

In the 1960s, humans took their first steps away from Earth, and for a time our possibilities in space seemed endless. But in a time of austerity and in the wake of high-profile disasters like Challenger, that dream has ended. In early 2011, Margaret Lazarus Dean traveled to Cape Canaveral for NASA's last three space shuttle launches in order to bear witness to the end of an era. With Dean as our guide to Florida's Space Coast and to the history of NASA, Leaving Orbit takes the measure of what American spaceflight has achieved while reckoning with its earlier witnesses, such as Norman Mailer, Tom Wolfe, and Oriana Fallaci. Along the way, Dean meets NASA workers, astronauts, and space fans, gathering possible answers to the question: What does it mean that a spacefaring nation won't be going to space anymore?

PROLOGUE
Air and Space

The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, has a grand entrance on Independence Avenue, a long row of smoked-glass doors set into an enormous white edifice. Most of the buildings nearby are marble or stone, neoclassical, meant to appear as old as the Capitol and the Washington Monument, which flank them. The Air and Space Museum, completed in 1976, is an exception: it is meant to look ultramodern, futuristic, which is to say it looks like a 1970s idea of the future.

I remember pulling open one of those doors as a child, the airconditioning creating a suction that fought me for the door's weight.

When I was seven, in 1979, I first visited the Air and Space Museum with my father and little brother, and for years of weekends after. This was what we did now that my parents had officially separated, now that our court-ordered visitation arrangements gave our weekends a sense of structure they had never had before. Divorce is supposed to be ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Leaving Orbit succeeds on many levels — in its evocative descriptions of Florida's humid, mosquito-infested space coast, and by delivering a heartfelt ode to a slice of American history. However, readers (like me), expecting a more probing and wide-ranging exploration of the hows and whys of the end days of an era of American spaceflight, might be a little let down by Lazarus Dean's check-all-the-boxes approach to the New Journalism format.   (Reviewed by Poornima Apte).

Full Review (749 words).

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.

Media Reviews

Houston Chronicle
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.

The New York Times
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.

Library Journal
Dean focuses on human interaction, not technical detail, so this book may appeal to a wider audience of creative nonfiction readers than does most popular space literature.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. 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.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. One of those books you can't put down, don't want to finish, and won't soon forget.

Booklist
[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.

Author Blurb Lynn Sherr, author of Sally Ride: America's First Woman in Space
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.

Author Blurb Ander Monson
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

Author Blurb Donovan Hohn, author of Moby-Duck
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.

Author Blurb Thomas Lynch, author of The Undertaking
Journalist, essayist, memoirist and storyteller, [Margaret Lazarus Dean 's] 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.

Reader Reviews

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book

The Space Shuttle Program

In Leaving Orbit, Margaret Lazarus Dean celebrates the utilitarian model of spaceflight as imagined by the Shuttle program, which was initiated in 1981.

Shuttle EndeavorBefore Shuttle, during the "heroic" era of spaceflight, small capsules were launched into space on the backs of rockets and disintegrated over the ocean upon the rockets' reentry and landing. The large spaceships of the Shuttle program, however, were designed to get to space and return so they could be reused. "From the start, the idea of the shuttle had been an idea for a fleet, with the reliability that comes with multiple identical vehicles," Lazarus Dean explains. "One orbiter could be prepared for flight while another was in space and yet another undergoing repairs. Ultimately, the...

This "beyond the book" feature is available to non-members for a limited time. Join today for full access.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked Leaving Orbit, try these:

  • The Vaccine Race jacket

    The Vaccine Race

    by Meredith Wadman

    Published 2018

    About this book

    The epic and controversial story of a major breakthrough in cell biology that led to the conquest of rubella and other devastating diseases.

  • The Last Pilot jacket

    The Last Pilot

    by Benjamin Johncock

    Published 2016

    About this book

    Set against the backdrop of one of the most emotionally charged periods in American history, The Last Pilot is a mesmerizing debut novel of loss and finding courage in the face of it from an extraordinary new talent.

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member
Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Winter Soldier
    The Winter Soldier
    by Daniel Mason
    Imagine the thousands of confounding cases doctors face routinely for which diagnoses are hard to ...
  • Book Jacket: Brother
    Brother
    by David Chariandy
    Brother is the brief, moving account of how a single, tragic moment in time can alter the course of ...
  • Book Jacket
    The Islamic Enlightenment
    by Christopher de Bellaigue
    In this comprehensive and well-researched history, de Bellaigue examines the evolution of Islamic ...
  • Book Jacket: The Spy of Venice
    The Spy of Venice
    by Benet Brandreth
    Benet Brandreth's delightfully diverting historical thriller brings the Bard to vibrant life. ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Removes by Tatjana Soli

A powerful, transporting novel about the addictive intensity and freedom of the American frontier.

About the book
Join the discussion!

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Sold on a Monday
    by Kristina McMorris

    An unforgettable novel inspired by a stunning piece of history.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Clockmaker's Daughter

The Clockmaker's Daughter by Kate Morton

A rich, spellbinding new novel from the author of The Lake House. On sale Oct 9.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

T Turn T S

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.