Shuttle Atlantis Final Landing Completes U.S. Retreat from Manned Spaceflight
News Analysis: Sure, there might be a few resupply missions eventually, but for all practical purposes, the role of the U.S. in manned spaceflight is over.Early in the predawn Florida darkness, the Space Shuttle Atlantis touched down on Earth for the last time and braked to a stop. After a while, the crew of Atlantis boarded their bus back to their quarters, said a few words, and left America's last Shuttle to the museum curators. Eventually, Atlantis will join other space stuff as part of a giant tourist attraction, showing generations of kids what might have been. The tragedy of the last shuttle mission is not that the program is over. That was bound to happen eventually. After all, it's been around for 30 years. While the shuttles themselves were rated for 100 missions each, and flew no more than one-third of their total lifetimes, the process of turning them around for launch took so long that for them to fly for the full lifetime of their airframes would have taken a century. Let's face it, that's a long time to depend on old technology.
Instead, the tragedy is that we let the manned space program die without another solution. For now, at least, we must depend on buying rides from the Russians to get to the Space Station. One can only wonder how well that will work now that the Russians have a monopoly on space. One must also wonder if John F. Kennedy, who kicked off the manned space program with a challenge to go to the moon, is turning over in his grave.