Update: Atlantis has had a perfect launch, and is now in orbit around Earth. She will rendevous with the ISS on Sunday, for STS-135, dropping off supplies. Yeah, I cried a little. 'Cause I'm just that big a geek;)
Today (if the weather holds out) marks the final flight of the Space Shuttle program. The program turned 30 this year; it was begun in 1981. 135 flights, 33 for Atlantis (counting today), 20,830 orbits around the Earth, and $196 billion. The shuttles took the lives of 14 astronauts, but launched the Hubble telescope, helped end the Cold War and establish better international cooperation, and enabled us to build the Space Station. Some would call the program a mistake; in fact, one NASA administrator did. But others would say that it was cheap at twice the price. After today's launch, it will be at least three years before Americans are launched into space again on their own soil. We will become passengers instead of pioneers.
It is a sad, exciting, hopeful, historic day. We remember the past and look to the future of space exploration. Godspeed Atlantis. And, we thank you.