"This is the world's greatest flying machine, I'll tell you that!" 30 years ago, those words from STS-1 commander John Young ushered in what many thought would be the era of routine spaceflight after he had flown Space Shuttle Columbia to a smooth touchdown at Edwards AFB in California.
For Young, along with "co-pilot" Bob Crippen, had become the first astronauts to ride a spacecraft into orbit and then "fly" it safely back to a runway landing.
And back in 1981, when NASA achieved that remarkable feat (above), many of us really believed - or hoped, perhaps - that the shuttle era would lead to regular - perhaps weekly - flights into space from "shuttle-ports" across the USA, and maybe even the world. Perhaps there was even the chance that, by the turn of the century, a fleet of "Pan Am World Spacelines" shuttles could be ferrying civilian passengers to huge orbiting space hotels?
But the reality, of course, was somewhat different. NASA never got anywhere near its launch frequency targets, and the world would quickly wake up to the fact that space travel would never become "routine" when the Challenger exploded within sight of the Kennedy Space Center on that tragic day in January 1986.
So three decades on from that first historic mission in April 1981, the return of a shuttle, in this case the Atlantis (above), to KSC earlier today for the last time finally ends those dreams about space-planes operating scheduled passenger services into orbit. But it was great while it lasted, and who knows - perhaps one day it may still become a reality! Thanks NASA, for letting the world almost live the dream for three decades!