Atlantis is home safely. Or, I should say, her crew is home safely. For the shuttle herself, I don’t think that being tucked up in a warm hangar at Kennedy Space Center counts as being ‘home’. If you’ll allow me a little poetic license, I believe that her home is ‘up there’ – and it’s sad that she gets to go there so infrequently.
The shuttle system is aging and expensive, and the decision to retire the fleet in 2010 is the right one. Today we need much more prosaic access to space: cheap, reliable, and regular – things that we all wanted the shuttle to be, but we were perhaps asking too much of her.
In her native environment of low Earth orbit, she’s nothing short of breathtakingly beautiful:
The shuttle is an amazing and capable machine, and it may be a while before we see her like again. As we watch her gracefully fly out the remaining flights leading to her retirement, I think it’s important that we take the time to recognise that what we are giving up is something very special indeed.