The shuttle that took off yesterday morning is the last of 135 flights various shuttles have taken since the start of the program. There are all sorts of arguments that NASA and others have made for why it just doesn't make sense to keep the small fleet of shuttles in operation, and I am sure that there is some good logic but it's a huge bummer to all of the geeky kids who grew up awestruck by the whole shuttle program— from the dramatic launches with the detaching parts falling back to Earth to the reentries where this thing that had been to space would land like an oversized airliner.
The romance of the geek adventure aside, I worry that the fading of the space program is yet another sign that we're done having the government drive the kind of basic research that no company can take on. By comparison, the X-Prize feels much more like the "lean startup" version of the space race— incremental steps using known commercial technologies to put small payloads into space. Which is fine except that it is unlikely to yield the substrate that the combination of NASA and DARPA did for what led eventually to the microprocessor and the Internet.
I'm not sure what it will take to reverse this trend (fear of China as an alternative superpower doesn't strike me as realistic), but we sure will need something to kick that kind of basic research and absolutely awesome engineering back into gear.