The city of Atlantis is a historic myth, the symbol of an era of science, wealth, and great achievements.
Today's story on Atlantis is no myth at all, but it's about an era of science, wealth, and great achievements coming to and end - this time all the knowledge and achievements hopefully don't get lost but are used to seed another great era.
When I was a small boy in school, I became a follower of space exploration and a big fan of the Space Shuttle program. I found and still find the idea of a reusable space craft very compelling, one that can bring larger payloads into orbits but also back down. I have lived practically my whole life with the Space Shuttles being the very symbol of human space travel, even though they helped build an even greater icon in the recent decade with the International Space Station. As a huge space enthusiast, it's a bit hard to see that program go away, esp. with no clear picture of the future and surely nothing in the books at all that can replace the capabilities of bringing cargo of that size down or servicing satellites like Hubble in orbit.
30 years ago, creating the technology of the "most complex machine ever flown" was an achievement way ahead of its time, and today it's still unmatched. Still, it showed pretty well that humanity can create out of this world experiences and go beyond what many believe it's possible. Almost on the day 42 years ago the people of Planet Earth showed that with humans landing on the moon, in the last three decades with the Space Shuttle, and in the very recent 10 years with the ISS. I really hope there's more to come, like a moon base and a manned mission to Mars - esp. as I agree with Stephen Hawking that humanity needs to learn to survive outside this planet for its own survival, the risk of man- or nature-made disaster on Earth being too large not to invest in alternatives.
Of course, the Shuttle had its downsides. While it enabled great achievements in low Earth orbit, it couldn't go beyond that. While it was set out to allow cheaper access to orbit, it never gained the frequency needed for that and required way larger investments in maintenance and safety than anticipated, esp. after reacting to the Challenger and Columbia losses. Still, it made the ability to travel to space sound like a commodity enough that most normal people are not concerned with it any more, not seeing an interesting challenge there for humanity or any of our nations. In the end, even that might actually be an achievement, even if it creates problem with financing future space endeavors in harsh times for public budgets of democratic countries.
The end of the Shuttle era should mean the start of at least preparations for a new era, though, and some pieces, like the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, seem to mostly exist already. I for myself recently faded out a legacy program in my life and started into a new one nearer to innovation, I guess my favorite space agency has to do the same - I hope funds will allow for that. I for myself would donate to NASA if I could, just to show my support for their human space programs.
With the final landing of Atlantis, the Shuttle leaves a great legacy of Discoveries and Endeavors, but leaves us and future generations with the great and challenging task of doing even better - and to continue to go where no one has gone before.