The Atlantis landing just before 6 a.m. Thursday marks the end of the US space shuttle program – and the transition to private firms as the cargo carriers to space. Perhaps they'll ferry people, too.
Atlantis launch: Despite a bleak forecast of thunderstorms and clouds, the shuttle beat the weather in a stunning midday launch, sailing into the sky on one final voyage.
As the space shuttle program folds, the House and Senate – and broader spaceflight community – have struggled to reach consensus on NASA's new human spaceflight focus.
Under Obama's 2011 budget, NASA would cancel plans to put astronauts back on the moon by 2020 and hand off space-taxi services to private companies.
As exploring the heavens becomes more expensive, many experts think it is time for nations to band together to push humanity to the next threshold of space exploration.
The moon is closer, but a Mars mission could be the Apollo 11 of this era.
The space program can benefit from public support, but government leadership is key.