On reflection every engineering project has a beginning and an end; an era in space and time. Sooner or later technology is replaced by a superior version, or becomes hopelessly outdated by changes in society. The internal combustion engine will eventually go this way.
Groundbreaking engineering projects can also find themselves relegated to museum pieces due to financial implications, public ambivalence and political manoeuvring. The revolutionary, and still unmatched, Concorde met its fate in just such circumstances.
On 21st July 2011 the Space Shuttle Atlantis landed at NASA's Cape Canaveral runway in Florida. It marked the end of the Space Shuttle programme, the touchdown messages being particularly poignant. Just as with Concorde, without an obvious Shuttle replacement we've tumbled into an indeterminate period of history. One where the usual inexorable flow of advancement and innovation has folded in on itself. It's as if we are suddenly trapped inside a strangely out-of-sequence time bubble.
NASA's plan is that the private sector will eventually pierce this time bubble. It could be decades before we'll know if they made the right decision.