July 19, 2011 Knoxville novelist Margaret Lazarus Dean has always been fascinated by space travel, and her first novel, The Time It Takes to Fall, is set on the Space Coast during the time of the Challenger disaster. So it makes sense that she made the trip to Florida for the final launch of the orbiter Atlantis on July 10. In an essay for the Knoxville News-Sentinel, Dean describes what it’s like to watch the end of an era for American space flight:
When the solid rocket boosters ignited, we knew there was no going back. The launch vehicle pulled itself away from the grip of gravity, impossibly slowly at first, then faster. The flames streaking from the shuttle’s main engines lit up the sky. Only after Atlantis had been in the air a few long seconds – long enough that our heads were tipped back to follow it – did the sound reach us. It’s a deeply satisfying, bone-shaking rumble with a crackling behind it, and when that sound went through us, the more emotional among us teared up. It’s the sound of American exploration, the sound of missiles put to better use, a sound that means we came in peace for all mankind.