ALBANY -- For the last time, a NASA space shuttle has slipped the surly bonds of earth, carrying its crew to low earth orbit and the international space station.
The moment leaves a tear in the eyes of many, as well as a gap in America's ability to master space.
The official focus falls now on deep space exploration, with the national eye on Mars. That goal, as lofty as it may be, lies more than 20 years in the future.
Until commercial space vehicles come on line in about 2016, Americans will pay space passage to the Russians each time we tweak a satellite or visit the space station.
That direction surprises many, and opinions among area residents were varied.
"It's a sad state of affairs that we have to depend on Russia to get into space for the next several years," said Larry Wilkinson, as he relaxed in the Books-A- Million coffee shop. "We should have had a replacement ready."
Wilkinson is in favor of maintaining the space program and going to Mars.
"We'd have been there already, years ago," said Wilkinson, " if we'd implemented Werner Von Braun's plan. He had it all put together. A lot of it is politics"
Wilkinson's son, Scott, agrees and believes the United States should spend more money on space exploration, even if it means cutting other programs.
"It's ridiculous to spend so much on the military," he said. "We kind of forget about our space program."
Richard Bolin, manager of Reed's Jewelers at the Albany Mall, believes in maintaining the American space program and even enlarging it, though not necessarily at the expense of military expenditures.
Bolin believes that adjustments could be in made in the food stamp program and others, which could free funding for space exploration. He's concerned about "free handouts" to people who aren't carrying their weight.
Ann Murphy, an associate at Reed's Jewelers, doesn't trust the Russians either.
"Russians are Communists," she said. "and there's just no telling what could come out of that."
Murphy doesn't believe we should have docked the shuttle, she said, but thinks we should spend less money on space. She would rather see the money spent on other things.
"I don't think we should get out of it completely. I just think we ought to spend more on health care, and the elderly and making more jobs," she said.
Bill Ryder, a law enforcement officer from Abbeville, objects strongly with the decision to end the shuttle program and is bothered by our new relationship with Russia.
"My daddy told me in 1970 that the communists would take over the free world and wouldn't fire a shot." Ryder said. "This country was formed by explorers and the dumbest, most dangerous thing we could do is to let the Russian fill that (shuttle) gap."
Ryder believes the American space program should be larger, but without reducing the funding for defense or infrastructure. He believes the money should come from limiting social programs -- even those aimed at reducing crime and drug abuse.
"They don't work." he said.