American symbols: Space shuttle becoming lost symbol? SHUTTLE ENDEAVOUR after its first flight in 1992. The crew of seven was proud to be the first in space to have three crew members working outside the vehicle at the same time. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.Is the retirement of Space Shuttle Endeavour the loss of an American symbol? The shuttle ended its final mission yesterday, touching down at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center after a visit to the International Space Station.  According to NASA, from its first flight in 1992 to its final one, Endeavour clocked a total of 299 days in space. It orbited the Earth almost 5,000 times and its odometer recorded over 122 million miles. Atlantis is now the last remaining space shuttle.

An image of the American flag is affixed to the sides of Endeavour, just aft its wing. This week on, we’re discussing Old Glory and other American symbols, such as the POW/MIA flag. The final flight and decommissioning of Endeavour got me thinking about the space shuttle itself: Is it an American symbol?

It many ways, it is. Endeavour stands for freedom, adventure, ingenuity, and scientific progress. It’s also a symbol of resilience in the face of tragedy—a theme we discussed yesterday with regards to the flag and the Joplin tornado. Endeavour was built as the replacement for Challenger, which exploded in flight in 1986.Some of the spare parts for Challenger were used in the construction of Endeavour.

But in at least one way, Endeavour is not an American symbol. Its spelling is British, revealing its namesake: HMS Endeavour, Captain James Cook’s first ship. Cook was an 18th-century explorer, navigator, and astronomer. The name for the space shuttle was selected in a national competition of elementary and secondary school students. One of the virtues of the name Endeavour is that Cook’s voyage “established the usefulness of sending scientists on voyages of exploration,” says the Kennedy Space Center.

What do you think of the end of Space Shuttle Endeavour?

Is it the loss of an American symbol?

Originally published at, an online experiment in civil dialogue on American values.


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