The video: Liftoff! On Friday morning, the space shuttle Atlantis successfully launched for a final time from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (See the video below.) There were concerns that weather would delay the launch, but in the end, blue skies prevailed. The spacecraft is now in orbit, on what will be the shuttle program's final flight in its 30-year history. The mood surrounding the historic event was "celebratory but bittersweet," leading commentators to reflect on where America has been, and where it might go.
The reaction: For decades, "space was the future, unquestionably," says Alexandra Petri in The Washington Post. But things don't always turn out as we expect. In reality, "the future turned out to be celebrity tabloids and magical personal screens and the continuation of old feuds, not mankind suddenly clasping hands and setting its sights for the beyond." Indeed, "by this time, 2011, some believed we would have that space colony," says Zenni Abraham in The San Francisco Chronicle. But "something happened during that time of space exploration: We became more interested in us, or more to the point, 'me,'" instead of what might be beyond us. Sure, the shuttles were "powerful national symbols" of American ingenuity and frontier spirit, says Mark Stencel at NPR. But let's not forget that the "shuttle was a gawky and fragile symbol, too." The Challenger and Columbia tragedies killed 14 astronauts. The shuttles were long due for retirement, and their end could be the start of something new and exciting. Watch Atlantis' last liftoff: