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Like a lot of people my age, as a child I dreamed of flying in the Space Shuttle. In 1981 or 82, I went to the Kennedy Space Center and was lucky enough to see a shuttle out on the pad just days from launch.

Now, I’ve gone back to see the end of the story for these amazing machines. Seeing it in person was one of the most moving things I’ve done recently. Atlantis traveled more than 126 million miles in space, each time returning her crew safely to Earth.

We may not think of her as a big deal now, but decades or even centuries from now she’ll be just as important a part of our collective story as Columbus’s ships or the Mayflower.

I told my wife as we left that I would come back and see this machine again… I owed much of the imagination of my childhood to the stories it helped to write.