What the Space Program Meant

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for SFShuttle.JPGOn Friday I mentioned some of the excitement across California as the space shuttle Endeavor and its 747 mother ship made low-pass fly-bys in various parts of the state. Here is how it looked from San Francisco.

A woman who works in tech research sends in this message, with emphasis added:

I was about half a mile from where that video was taken (Shoreline Park in Mountain View) and the place was packed.  People had taken their kids and there were tons of people there wearing badges from local tech companies (and riding their very colorful bikes). 

I was with a group of people who took off the morning from the National Labs in Livermore to drive out to MV to see it pass over.  It was truly amazing to see and it was also great to see so many people turn out to say farewell to an important part of our nation's story.

Later that day it flew over several spots in LA, including SpaceX.  [A friend] works there and he said the entire company was in the parking lot, watching it fly over.  I thought it was a fitting "passing of the torch" for the space shuttle to fly over America's next ride to the ISS [International Space Station]. 

The space shuttle program is why so many of us in my generation are engineers and scientists; I wanted to be a mission specialist on the space shuttle for the majority of my
childhood, as did so many of my friends and colleagues.  Now an aerospace engineer, I'm really proud to be part of a continuing tradition of technical excellence in the US.  It warmed my heart to see that people still appreciate that.

We're in a jaded-seeming, beset national mood at the moment. But, seriously, I think that some public leader, some time, will recognize the technological, emotional, and even spiritual payoff in setting our sights on goals as ambitious as those of the space program. Maybe Newt is not going to be the guy, but I admire him for trying.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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