The last space shuttle has landed. It’s sad, but not because America has lost its only way of putting humans into orbit; not because there’s no replacement ready (there wasn’t one when Apollo ended either).

It’s sad because each shuttle wasn’t just a disposable machine like all its predecessors; it was a ship, and like earthbound ships each orbiter had a life — and a personality — which was contributed to by the thousands of people who flew them, worked with them, and followed their flights.

So yes, I’m sad to see the shuttle go. It was a gigantic, expensive, dangerous, fantastically complex white elephant — a product of a government design process gone pathologically wrong. But each shuttle had a life, and that’s what differentiated them from just another capsule.

Perhaps one day we’ll be ready to try building a reusable craft which works, which actually makes economic sense, but until that day I think we’ll remember the shuttle more fondly than we did Apollo.

Atlantis lands for the final time

To comment on this post, mention me on twitter, or drop me an email.