On Monday, July 18, 2011, after an 11th-hour bid to buy the struggling Borders fell apart, America’s second-largest bookstore chain announced it is closing all of its 399 stores. Some 10,700 employees are now jobless.
This morning, the last space shuttle, Atlantis, with its four astronauts, returned from the International Space Station, and touched down in Cape Canavarel at 5:57 am.
With that, NASA’s 30-year shuttle journey came to an end and, along with that, employment for thousands of Americans.
NASA’s five space shuttles launched, saved and revitalized the Hubble Space Telescope; built the space station, the world’s largest orbiting structure; and opened the final frontier to women, minorities, schoolteachers, even a prince.
It will be another 3 to 5 years at best before Americans are launched again from U.S. soil, with private companies gearing up to take over the space shuttle program. Astronaut trips by the commercial competitors, however, will take years to achieve. An American flag that flew on the first shuttle flight and returned to orbit aboard Atlantis on July 8, is now at the space station. The first company to get astronauts there will claim the flag as a prize.
The long-term future for American space exploration is hazy, a huge concern for many at NASA and the hundreds of now jobless workers because of the shuttle’s end.