“Having fired the imagination of a generation, a ship like no other, its place in history secured, the space shuttle pulls into port for the last time, its voyage at an end.” So declares the narrator watching the Atlantis shuttle land at dawn this morning, closing out NASA’s space-shuttle program after thirty years.

Upon touchdown, Chris Ferguson, the Atlantis commander, declared this the “last stop,” then addressed Houston, and everyone else listening: “You know, the space station’s changed the way we view our world, and it’s changed the way we view our universe. A lot of emotion today, but one thing’s indisputable: America’s not gonna stop exploring.”
在降落之后,亚特兰蒂斯的船长Chris Ferguson宣布这是最后一次飞行,并且向大家做了讲话:“我们大家都知道,宇宙空间站改变了我们的世界观,也改变了我们的宇宙观。今天的确是感慨万千,但是有一件事情毋庸置疑:那就是美国的探索不会终结。”

It’s sometimes surprising to remember that astronauts like Chris Ferguson are still a part of our present, not some fetishized nostalgia item like glass Coke bottles. We don’t bow to airplane pilots the way we once did (except, perhaps, Sully), and Presidents are more the subjects of derision than idolatry. But astronauts remain astronauts: pure and heroic in a way that’s rarely summoned outside childhood, the fifties, or rare moments of national unity. Is it that the vastness of space is so powerful that it inspires even in adults a childlike sense of wonder, or that we all still remember that feeling from when we were young—of limitlessness, of the unknown, of the unknowable—and access it each time we think about what lies above the clouds?
很多时候让人觉得惊讶的是,像Chris Ferguson这样的航天员依然站在第一线,他并没有伴随那些狂热的怀旧情绪而最终变成一个陈列品。我们不会像以前那样对一个宇航员鞠躬致礼,而且总统现在更多会被鄙视而不是崇拜。但是航天员还是航天员:他们是纯粹和英雄的代表,这样的气概人们在成年之后就很难再有;他们也是鲜有的能够代表国家团结的标志。是宇宙的浩瀚无际激发了成人心中的那份探索未知的童真,还是我们一直未曾忘却年轻时那种无拘无束、直面未知的感觉,并在我们每次想起云上的天空时重温旧梦?

America’s “not gonna stop exploring,” perhaps, but surely some of the dignity will be drained as exploration becomes more of a business than a federal exercise of the public imagination. It’s hard to picture words like Ferguson’s coming from the captain of the SpaceX Dragon, which you may be able to ride in 2014, for only twenty million dollars a seat, and sad to envision space as the next pony or Disneyland—a world that children more often whine than ponder.

Poking around the NASA site this morning, I found myself especially touched by the crew’s morning routine. Each day begins with a wake-up call—usually in musical form, and often with a recorded greeting from the artist. The crew members pick the playlist, along with friends and family. The last wake-up call of the space shuttle mission was Kate Smith’s version of Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America.” The day before: “Fanfare for the Common Man.” And the video below comes from Day 7: R.E.M.’s “Man on the Moon.” Maybe it’s just that I most loved Michael Stipe around the same time I most loved outer space, but I find something lovely in picturing the people heading up to the space station, or those waiting for them down below, selecting a song so earnestly on-point, and something moving in watching it delivered to this hunk of metal—a sci-fi movie today would have it be far sleeker—suspended above Earth.