The Best Tributes to the End of the Space Shuttle Era

In celebration of all the commemorating, here are some of our favorite goodbyes

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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

In Brief: At Cape Canaveral, witnessing the sound and fury of an Atlantis lift off, told in a September 2010 article.

"Where'd it go?" one kid asked her father. "Poof," he answered, and even to us adults, that made sense—it felt as if Dumbledore, or maybe God, had grabbed that rocket and the six men inside and taken them to another dimension, leaving only smoke and awe behind.

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."

The Financial Times magazine - The Astronauts of Planet Earth

In Brief: Commemorating the 50th anniversary of spaceflight in early April, the magazine collected interviews with 35 individual astronauts spanning 17 countries and 11 languages.

Assembling the interviews, it became clear that, even allowing for their obvious differences – in age, sex, creed and background – a few general observations can be made. The first thing to say is that these are alpha people...They are fantastic specimens – physically fit, mentally stable, flying universities in some cases – and yet much of what they do is rigidly orchestrated.

Salon - Why We Should Embrace the End of Spaceflight by Michael Lind
In Brief: An effective April, 2011 takedown of nearly every reason human spaceflight proponents have offered about why the program should continue.
It is tempting to say that this is an outrage; that the effective end of the American manned spaceflight program is a national humiliation; that the program's demise is yet another symbol of the gap in mentality between the confident, ambitious Kennedy-Johnson years and today's solipsistic, penny-pinching America. It is tempting to say all that, but the temptation should be resisted.

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.

The New York Times - As Shuttle Era Ends, Dreams of Space Linger by Dennis Overbye
In Brief: This July 4th, 2011 essay recounts the regrets of the shuttle era, the triumph of the Hubble missions and ends with an expectation that whoever lands on Mars first will not "be drawing a paycheck from NASA, or even speaking English."

It was thrilling to watch astronauts blast off on smoke pillars, but after a while it was irritating that they weren’t going anywhere but in circles around the Earth 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.

Time - The End of an Error? by Jeffrey Kluger
In Brief: This July, 2011 retelling casts the space shuttle as a purely Nixonian creature.

There was always a just-do-it-ness to the decision to fly the shuttles. Tiles fell from one ship and the next one was glued together better and rolled out to the pad. Launches were scrubbed for this or that glitch six or seven times in a row, and the astronauts would gamely suit up for try No. 8. Seven people died and the crews kept coming. Seven more were lost and still they came.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.