When the ‘Atlantis’ (in the picture) returns from its final voyage, it would have travelled more than 115 million miles over 25 years. Future spacecraft, Barack Obama has indicated, will be developed largely by private corporations; the ‘Endeavor’ cost $1.7 billion, and every launch costs roughly $450 million. But this needn’t be a sad end to an era. Space shuttle technology has stagnated under Nasa, and once charismatic shuttles have been reduced to ferries between earth and space stations. Private participation may be exactly the fillip needed to develop the next generation of practical, low-cost space vehicles.
Photo: Scott Audette/Reuters