An era ends. The last Space Shuttle lifted four astronauts and tons of supplies into the Florida sky today, enroute to the International Space Station. The first Shuttle launch, of Columbia, occurred on April 12, 1981. That launch was a mere 20 years to the day after the first manned space flight, by Yuri Gagarin of the Soviet Union. In those 20 years, we went from the first dangerous launches on modified ICBM rockets, to the Saturn 5 that took us to the Moon six times, to the “space truck” that is the Shuttle. The last Shuttle mission, flown by Shuttle Atlantis, is scheduled to land on July 20, the 42nd anniversary of Apollo 11′s landing at the Sea of Tranquility on the Moon.
Once Atlantis lands, the United States has NO way of launching astronauts into space. We hope to have private industry doing so “soon”, but that “soon” could be a decade away. In the meantime, we buy rides on the Russian Soyuz. “TAXI!”