As the usher brings forth the Ice cream and snacks, we wait for the main feature to resume
The Last Shuttle
NASA recently released a video about it being 10 years since Atlantis, the last space shuttle flew. That was a sad day as there was no replacement because Politics and funding got in the way. The video as much as it put a positive Spin on the involvement of private companies in the exploration of space you couldn’t help but think where would Space exploration be if a replacement vehicle for the Space shuttle had been planned decades before. Government run organisations can do things private for profit companies can’t. I’m not convinced man would have been to the moon if it had been left up to market forces and the whims of the stock market.
I’m old enough to remember when the first shuttle launched in 1981, it wasn’t until years later that I stumbled across the Isaac Asimov story The Last Shuttle. It was in the collection ‘The Winds of Change’ (1984). Quite a few of the stories within the collection were written as commissions which makes some of their motivations and plot points very interesting. There are some really off beat stories that were commissioned from very surprising sources such as one for a fashion Magazine (but never appeared) called ‘For the Birds’. Originally The Last Shuttle was written for a local Florida newspaper ‘Today’ to commemorate the launch of the first shuttle and it was released on April 10th 1981 two days before the launch of the shuttle. In some ways it feels like an atypical Asimov story as there isn’t a problem to solve. It’s the story of Virginia Ratner who is given the job of piloting the last shuttle to leave earth. She doesn’t want it to be the last and for her to be the last pilot which makes her nostalgic for the shuttle and what it has achieved. The whole story though is hopeful as a mankind has left Earth and colonised the stars and Earth is left finally to nature.
The story as much as it is about Space travel and shuttles is also about the natural environment and in the end it gives hope. Hope for the exploration of space and hope for the planet and the natural environment. As much as we all like bleak dystopic Science Fiction as a genre Science Fiction has always provided an avenue for positivity and hope in fact that was the whole premise of Star Trek. In some ways this 4 page story of Asimov’s sums that up so well. It may not be his best story but it has much to commend it. In times when there is a lot going on in the world that is pretty bleak sometimes it’s nice to escape with a some hopeful fiction. The winds of change I now believe is out of print (August 2021) but I recommend hunting out a second hand copy.
The lights dim, we now resume the main feature