Weather permitting, tomorrow will mark the final launch of NASA's 30-year-old space shuttle program. The mission of the Atlantis flight isn't terribly inspiring—the shuttle is tasked with delivering a year's worth of provisions for the International Space Station and toting "multiple sets of patches and pins representing all 135 shuttle missions, as well as thousands of shuttle bookmarks for children" into space and back again. And so the shuttle program will end with more of a whimper than a bang (inshallah).
NASA test director Jeff Spaulding offered this garbled explanation of the importance of the shuttle program:
"There's an old saying that says it's better to travel well than to arrive," Spaulding said. "And I'd have to say after the last 30 years, certainly our program and these shuttles, throughout all of their missions, have traveled very well. And after 135's landing, I think we can say at that point that we've arrived."
Come to think of it, a garbled explanation might be the most accurate one. What exactly NASA is supposed to be doing—other than winning the future and being inspirational and stuff—has been unclear for a long time now. The end of the shuttle program marks a chance for NASA to re-envision its mission and hand off some of the humdrum tasks of maintaining a human presence in space to private industry.