Was 1981 really 30 years ago? It seems like only a decade or so since MTV launched, we were all wearing day-glo threads, and the shuttle Columbia inaugurated NASA's reusable space vehicle program.
Fast forward to today, when Atlantis roared off into history around 11:30 a.m. ET from Cape Canaveral on STS-135, the final shuttle mission. The 12-day journey to the International Space Station will be the last before the orbiters are mothballed.
Overcast skies at the Kennedy Space Center cast doubts over the launch schedule, but after a minor delay Atlantis took off on 7 million pounds of thrust and a pillar of flame, penetrating a low cloud ceiling toward its orbit 135 miles over the planet.
The crew of four will deliver the Rafaello multipurpose logistics module to the ISS before scheduled return to Earth on July 20. A robotic refueling experiment is also part of the mission.
NASA is ending the shuttle program due to high costs, and will rely on Russian rockets to ferry people and supplies to the ISS until private firms can take over the job. NASA will meanwhile design new, cheaper spacecraft that will travel to asteroids and Mars.
Some fear that terminating the shuttles while having nothing to replace them will also end America's long dominance of human spaceflight. Meanwhile, many highly skilled people will be put out of work.
What did you think of the final shuttle launch? Was it something you'll tell the young ones about when you're older? Or did it leave you nonplussed? Vote in our poll and be sure to elaborate in the TalkBack section below. … Read more