The Shuttle Atlantis will move supplies and equipment to the International Space Station on a mission officially known as STS-135.
According to NASA there have actually been 134 missions prior to this, so for the several years this mission has been in planning, training, engineering, and building it has been known as STS-135 and so it shall be when it lifts off.
The Shuttle era began with Columbia's first flight on April 12, 1981 and continued with Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour.
Challenger and her STS-51 crew were lost 73 seconds after launch on January 28, 1986.
Columbia and her STS-107 crew were lost Feb. 1, 2003 on the way down.
The Shuttles have flown 537,114,016 miles while making 20,952 Earth orbits. Orbital speed is about 17,500 miles per hour so the Shuttle fleet has flown in space for just over 3½ years.
The program has cost about $113.7 billion - about $212 per mile.
People of my era grew up during the space age. I am old enough to remember standing outside our house on Long Island in 1957 pretending we could see Sputnik - the first manned satellite - flying overhead.
The "space race" began between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. during which we were trying to close "the missile gap."
I remember President Kennedy's challenge to America, in 1961 to "commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth."
I happened to have been at Officer Candidate School with the Ohio National Guard. As we waited for the faithful moment our officers decided it was time for bed.
I offered to resign on the spot saying there would only be one time, in the whole history of the world, when the first human stepped onto the first terrestrial body not named "Earth," and I wasn't going to miss it.
They saw my point and we got to stay up.
At that moment we won the space race and got to strut our stuff in front of the Russkies.
When the crew of Apollo 17 splashed down in the Pacific Ocean near American Samoa on December 19, 1972, the manned space program went into hiatus until the advent of the Shuttle program.
The International Space Station will suffer the same fate. Crews will go there to conduct experiments using Russian launch vehicles until the money runs out and the ISS will be abandoned.
The Obama Administration is committed to the concept of private companies handling future missions but that is the equivalent of a shipping company taking over the mission of the U.S. Navy.
NASA has no more control over its future than one of its satellites whose fuel is used up and whose mission is long over. It is drifting aimlessly, slowly succumbing to the pull of the gravity of Congress' lack of funding, slowed ever so slightly during every orbit on every day by the cold molecules of the atmosphere of public indifference.
The future of manned spaceflight? Who will issue the call to "boldly go where no man has gone before?" We can't figure out how to raise the debt limit much less launch a mission to Mars.
The plaque that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left behind on the moon reads:
HERE MEN FROM THE PLANET EARTH FIRST SET FOOT UPON THE MOON JULY 1969 A.D. WE CAME IN PEACE FOR ALL MANKIND
Who knows what good might come of an international effort to place a plaque on the planet Mars, by a crew which came in peace, on a mission by all mankind, for all mankind.