With the touchdown of the Shuttle Atlantis, the end of the shuttle era has been proclaimed.
The whole manned space flight thing brings to mind something I read the other day (which is itself a paraphrase and which I will paraphrase further to suit the manned space paradigm):
The genius of the U.S. manned spaceflight program was not the creation of a cure, but of a disease. The disease is the universal, if intermittent human sentiment that ‘something is not right’ if Americans are not flying their own launch vehicles to a low-earth orbit space station funded and built largely with U.S. money. The parameters, definitions, and prescriptions for the manned space flight disease are controlled by a self-selecting group of “experts” all spending other people’s money. When these “experts” are allowed to manage the discussion, they can never be proven wrong.
Manned spaceflight (at least as made manifest by the shuttle and the ISS) remains a vestigial Cold War stunt.
Don’t believe me? How about a nice shuttle glamour shot?