Space Shuttle Endeavor left the Earth this morning under cover of darkness, as the 5th to last NASA Human Space Mission aboard the Shuttles lifted seamlessly toward the International Space Station. Just one week after Obama announced the cancellation of the Constellation program, the veteran shuttle took one of its last journeys into orbit. Endeavor will fly one last mission in July.
Of the three shuttles still in service, the Atlantis will fly one more mission and Discovery will fly two, ending the Space Transportation System in September 2010.
The last time that Americans were left grounded was a 6 year gap from 1975 to 1981 when Apollo/Saturn was fazed out in favor of the Space Shuttle.
The United States does not have a replacement human transportation system. However, by the end of 2010 we may see private industry hiring their own astronaut force in support of private space exploration.