And Now Over to You, NewSpace…

The 30-year space shuttle era came to an ending early this morning as Altantis made a pre-dawn landing at the Kennedy Space Center. NASA photographer Bill Ingalls snapped this haunting picture as the shuttle’s main landing gear touched down at the seaside spaceport at 5:57 a.m. EDT.

The shuttle era has seen great triumphs and deep tragedies. The joys of having watched 133 shuttle flights take off and land safely are tempered by the sorrow over the two flights and 14 astronauts that never made it home. Such are the inevitable costs inherent in any pioneering effort. We must honor their memories and sacrifices — but never let their loss deter us in our quest to explore and settle the Final Frontier.

The challenges of getting America flying again are now shifted to “NewSpace” — a still nascent industry of enormous promise, great hype and, to date anyway, few accomplishments. If this group — in partnership with NASA — can execute on its ambitious goals, a new era of space exploration will dawn that will offer unprecedented opportunities on the final frontier. Daily suborbital flights, private space stations, tourist flights around the moon, deep space exploration, and commercial operations in Earth orbit are just some of the wonders that await us in that new era. Within a decade or so, the space industry could become almost unrecognizable.

But, all that lies in the future. For today, let us celebrate the brave men and women who have flown the space shuttle, honors those who gave their lives, and thank the thousands and thousands of people on the ground who made it all possible. Kudos for a job well done. And ad astra!