The space shuttle Atlantis arrived home safely from its final mission on July 21. In fact it will be the last mission for any space shuttle. I have grown up with the space shuttle. For me, sending people into space has been, well, routine. And now, for the first time in my life, and for the first time in 30 years, there will be no next mission.
In 1961 John F. Kennedy declared that by the end of the decade, we would send a human to the surface of the moon and return them safely to the Earth. At the time, such a notion was inconceivable and yet just 8 years later, Neil Armstrong took his giant leap for mankind. Remarkably, just 12 years later, we had developed the reusable space vehicle dubbed the space shuttle. The name itself shows the shift in mindset. This vehicle was meant to shuttle people to and from space. There were dangers of course, Challenger and Columbia stood as stark reminders that we still have much to learn. Yet space was no longer some grand horizon, it was now a commuter destination. Space is no longer the realm of Greek gods, Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo. Space is now a place for human Discovery and Endeavour.
All missions must come to an end. My hope is that the shuttle mission is replaced with something more daring, more ambitious. Something that pushes us farther into space. Perhaps something that leads us to a new Atlantis.