Reuters image of Endeavour final landing in the early hours of June 1, 2011.
This morning one more milestone on the path of no more NASA manned missions was achieved. After 16 days in orbit, the youngest shuttle made its 25th and final landing at Cape Canaveral this morning. Endeavour's next flight will be on the back of NASA's 747 and permanent display in Los Angeles, CA.
As Endeavour landed, sister ship Atlantis slowly crawled out to the launch pad. The launch of Atlantis on the 135th mission of the fleet will mark the end of the Shuttle era with NASA. The long and productive era began with STS-1 and Columbia lifting off Pad 39A on April 12, 1981.
The saddest part of this will be contemplating the future. Orion and Ares are in limbo, though work does proceed to make Ares a space taxi. Mission to return to the Moon has been cancelled. President Obama talks of going to Mars and asteroids, but the time frame is after 2012 and more like 2014 before NASA is supposed to be ready. Commercial space interests are expected to pick up the low-orbit slack, but Spaceship One is still in testing. Which leaves Russia and its 45 year old Soyuz design as the only way to get to the ISS and low-orbit.