Thirty years ago today, I and three college friends camped out on the dry lake bed at Edwards AFB to watch the first space shuttle landing. It was startlingly cold on the high desert at night, and freezing was an experience rapidly replaced by broiling the next morning. (I kept a sweatshirt on despite the heat to prevent sunburn.) Anyway, thousands of people were there the next morning, the first time the lake bed had been opened so widely to visitors. We saw a glistening speck in the distance that slowly resolved into a delta-wing craft with a single vertical fin, then took the full shape of the shuttle Columbia. "What a way to come to California!" astronaut John Young exulted. Columbia came in for a smooth touchdown as everyone cheered. I still have a commemorative Pepsi can from that event. (A bumper sticker for sale read, "Russia eat your heart out!")
It's truly weird to think there will soon be no more shuttle landings. Weirder to think there is no replacement for it. I'm not opposed to the idea of handing Earth-to-LEO transport to the private sector, and I think that will work out. But for most of my life, it's been the shuttle.
The Shuttle was a complex, delicate, cantankerous, and sometimes deadly beast. But it did things no other spacecraft in history has, or could have, accomplished.
The old bird will soon be gone, and dammit, I'm going to miss her.