Just before 5 p.m. ET in Cape Canaveral, NASA's space shuttle Discovery launched into orbit for the last time. After it finishes its 11-day mission to the International Space Station it will be retired, capping a 27-year run of 143 million miles. "Welcome to space!" tweeted European astronaut Paolo Nespoli as the shuttle took off. "We just double the number of extraterrestrial humans!"

The end of the Discovery program weighs heavily on many, as NASA starts to phase out its 30-year-old shuttle program. Only two other programs exist, Endeavor and Atlantis, and they will be phased out by this summer. Here's a video of the launch:



It's Had an Amazing Career,  writes Sharon Gaudin at Computer World: "Discovery was the shuttle that returned the United States to space flight after both the shuttles Challenger and Columbia accidents. It also was the shuttle that carried the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit, and it has since gone aloft twice so astronauts could maintain the telescope."

This Is the Beginning of the End, writes the CTV News staff: "NASA has decided to bring the shuttle program to an end, ushering an uncertain future for the U.S. space program. The White House has said it wants to retire the 30-year-old shuttle program to free NASA up for grander outer space travel, with plans to explore asteroids and Mars." 

The Future Still Holds Promise for Space Travel, notes Reuters:

-NASA wants to help U.S. firms develop the capability to fly people to the International Space Station so it can buy flights commercially. Five firms are currently working under the agency's $50 million Commercial Crew Development program, with another $200 million in the offing for a follow-on program. Awards are expected to be announced next month.

-Congress wants NASA to start work on a heavy-lift rocket that can travel in deep space, well beyond the space station's orbit. But NASA -- like the rest of the U.S. government -- currently is funded under a continuing resolution budget for the year that began Oct. 1 and is unable to start new programs until Congress appropriates funds.