The Future of Space Flight
What will NASA do now that the shuttle has been retired?
NASA is saying goodbye, for now, to manned space flight.
The space agency will launch satellites and Earth science missions, but budget cuts have eliminated the Constellation moon project and opened the next generation of low-orbit ships to commercial contractors.
Spacex is considered the current leader in a race between four companies hoping to be the first to develop an astronaut-rated ship.
The target date for the next manned mission is three to five years, an aggressive goal.
Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon, doesn't believe there is any way private industry can take such a huge step so fast.
"The commercial sector is still walking around like a young kid learning to walk. They don't know what the risks are. They don't know what they don't know," Cernan says.
Many fear those who do know...NASA scientists, engineers, analysts and technical personnel, will be squeezed out of the new equation.
At its height the shuttle program employed nearly 13,000 people.
When Atlantis' wheels roll to a stop and the final mission and 30-year run is over only 300 will remain.
NASA astronauts will still travel to the International Space Station while the shuttle's replacement is readied.
The Russian space agency will ferry at least a dozen U.S. astronauts at a cost of about $63 million per trip.