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Thoughts: The Last Shuttle by Isaac Asimov

The landing of Atlantis early this morning got me thinking about a short story that Isaac Asimov published back in 1981. A newspaper called Today, which covered the Cape Canaveral area of Florida, contacted Asimov and asked him to write a story for him to commemorate the first launch of the space shuttle Columbia. They gave him the title, "The Last Shuttle," and told him to write whatever he wanted as long as it fit that title.

The story was published in the April 10, 1981 issue, two days before the launch. It was rather short; when it was collected in The Winds of Time and Other Stories, it only filled four pages. I wish I could share the story with you, but the estate still owns the rights, and my attempts to get it reprinted in a current electronic magazine were unsuccessful.

But I can summarize the story for you. Virginia Ratner is the pilot chosen for the last shuttle for the Terrestrial Space Agency. She's been piloting shuttles for 20 years, and the program is coming to an end. She doesn't want to be the last pilot, as she is nostalgic for the program, but she takes the job and pilots the last shuttle to leave planet Earth.

But the story, although bittersweet, is hopeful. For the reason this is the last shuttle is because the human race has colonized the rest of the solar system, and we're giving Earth back to nature:

Earth was returned to its wilderness and its wildlife by a humanity grateful to its mother planet and ready to retire it to the rest it deserved. It would remain forever as a monument to humanity's origin....

Earth was free! Free at last!

I imagine another universe, in which Asimov were still alive, and asked today to write a story about his thoughts as the last shuttle mission came to an end.

Somehow, I can't imagine him feeling as hopeful as he obviously did back when he wrote "The Last Shuttle."


Well said, Michael. I have been so busy that I haven't yet had time to think about my feelings that today is the first day in my life in which the U.S. no longer has a manned space program.
Jamie, when I was teaching, I used to tell my students that no one had walked in the moon in their lifetime. It sometimes took them a moment to realize what I meant. (Since they were all born after 1972, the end of the Apollo program.)
I got in just under the wire. The last men to walk on the moon did so when I was about 9 months old. I remember that fondly, and figured that by the time I was 9 years old, I'd be vacationing there on a fairly regular basis. ;-)
Interesting that Ratner worked for the TSA in the story.
Correction: The collection was called "The Winds of Change and Other Stories".
I have the Asimov book. It was a favorite of mine when I was young.

America: No We Can't! *sigh* I am getting seriously worried about the state of the general American psyche. It's gotten crazier.

December 2016

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