Six years ago, at Kennedy Space Center, I saw the space shuttle Explorer. Except it wasn't really a space shuttle at all; it was a mockup on the grounds, something that looked like a shuttle but was even less functional than the testbed orbiter Enterprise. Now, though... Atlantis landed early this morning, and a program that's been running for longer than I've been alive has come to an end. Now those last three orbiters, the ones that flew in space over the decades and returned to Earth nevertheless, will be mockups of a sort themselves - symbols of what we get when we prize discovery over destruction, investigation over the perpetuation of inequality. No one ever had to ride a shuttle, or even see one launched, to be uplifted by their spirit.
It may be many, many years before we see their like again.
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