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Random Cultural Artifact dep't
While cleaning out the aforementioned pirate chest in preparation for the lock replacement operation, I rediscovered a number of items I had stashed in it some years previous. Some of them I knew were in there (my childhood security blanket, for instance - not likely to forget where I put that!), but others I had forgotten about entirely.

One of those items is a book. It rather depresses me now, for reasons that should be obvious in a moment, but in my youth it was a favorite of mine. It's a large-format, glossy paperback, liberally supplied with photographs, called Your Future in Space, and is essentially a very large advertising brochure for U.S. Space Camp in Alabama.

Now, despite my long-standing fascination with space exploration and all its various appurtenances (which I think can be traced back to my father's interesting decision to take me to see The Right Stuff when I was 10), I was not one of the kids who actually wanted to go to Space Camp. Being a comedically nearsighted asthmatic, I knew I would never be an astronaut, and so I found no particular attraction in the idea of going to the Deep South and pretending to be one for a couple of weeks. (It could be argued that this was missing the point, but that's how I felt about it at the time.) I did think the concept was cool, and I certainly didn't have anything against those kids, so when someone (presumably one of my parents) presented me with a copy of Your Future in Space because "you like space stuff," I enjoyed it very much.

Like I say, it's kind of a depressing read now. It was prepared in 1985, when the STS program still seemed invincible, and there's a lot of that standard boosterish stuff (presenting the Space Campers covered in the main narrative as "future shuttle commander So-and-so" and the like) that really rings awkwardly to modern sensibilities. The thing was, it rang awkwardly at the time, too, because due to the way book publishing worked back then, Your Future in Space wasn't actually published until 1986. When the STS-51L debacle happened in January of that year, they had only enough time to insert a memorial page in the front of the book; no revisions could be made to the internal contents.

Which was a little unfortunate, since one page contains a big photo of Ron McNair playing the saxophone in microgravity from a previous mission.

So, to recap, this book is in essence a large marketing exercise for a product I wasn't particularly interested in which was overtaken by history before it even reached the public. And yet I remain weirdly attached to it. I think this is mainly because the kids in the photos are clearly having the time of their lives. It's all rendered unrelievedly poignant now, because you look at them and you're aware that, in those moments, being photographed for a book on the Space Camp experience in the summer of 1985, they don't know that it's all about to go horribly wrong, that vanishingly few of them are ever going to be astronauts, that the Shuttle will kill 14 people in the next 18 years, and that American manned spaceflight itself will be over by 2012.
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cmdr_zoom From: cmdr_zoom Date: February 12th, 2014 10:36 am (UTC) (Link)
*offers wistful fistbump*

Me, I have not one but two copies of the Space Shuttle Operator's Manual, with fold-out control panel diagrams and everything. Not sure exactly when or how I picked up the second, but the first is original issue, so to speak.

But before that came Manned Spaceflight, by Kenneth Gatland, which I believe I got at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, during one of my boyhood trips to visit the extended family down in California. This was back when the Shuttle was yet to fly, but its final form had been decided. I read as much of the text (with its odd Britishisms like "programme" and numerals with long descenders) as I could understand, and kept coming back to the lovely color pages with diagrams, cutaways, and NASA photographs and paintings of spacecraft from both sides. That was the book that really fired my imagination. I still have it, too; the spine is long gone, but the covers and pages are otherwise intact.

Edited at 2014-02-12 10:50 am (UTC)
z_gryphon From: z_gryphon Date: February 12th, 2014 04:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
I have one of those operator's manuals too. Someone - I don't think it was me, the handwriting is too neat - has even amended the list of orbiters to strike Challenger and add Endeavour.
dvandom From: dvandom Date: February 12th, 2014 04:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
A friend of mine in high school went to Space Camp every year she was eligible, including summers after Challenger. Health problems discovered during her senior year meant she could never go to space, but she did eventually get to work for NASA. If you watch enough pre-woowoocrap H2 or Science Channel programming, you'll even see her in a few of the space science shows as an interviewed expert.
dornbeast From: dornbeast Date: February 14th, 2014 07:21 am (UTC) (Link)
...American manned spaceflight itself will be over by 2012.

I'm just crazy enough to hope that when the history of spaceflight is written in 2099, it will say that the second period of American manned spaceflight ended in 2012, and that the third period began in 2036. I'd like it to be sooner, but I don't know if we have the collective will to try.

Also, for lack of better ideas, I've arbitrarily assumed that the first period of American manned spaceflight ended with Skylab, and the second period was STS-1.
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