NASA readies the final flight for Space Shuttle Discovery (updated)

Well, this is it, folks. Space Shuttle Discovery is preparing for its last mission and soon after, that'll be it for the shuttle. The launch will be historic in more ways than one, though, as our robotic buddy Robonaut will join human astronauts in space, too.

Of course, with another shuttle seeing its final mission and the fleet to retire soon, the big question will be what happens next for NASA, and what'll the agency be working on if it's not sending astronauts into space? Well, NASA will continue to train and send astronauts on missions for the foreseeable future, the company will just have to turn to the commercial sector — or other nations — to get them into orbit. This has attracted some immediate criticism, of course — mostly that America no longer has the power to seriously pursue goals in space.

At least, not on a national level. The hope is that corporations and innovative individuals will pick up the slack — and foot the bill — and boldly go where NASA can't. As for the space agency, NASA has been tasked to focus on next generation space technology and sending robotic missions to nearby asteroids, Mars and beyond.

What will the future hold for America's role in space exploration? Only time will tell. Right now, it's a little unsettling to think that we're another launch closer to the last NASA space shuttle flight ever, if nothing changes.

CORRECTION: This article originally pegged the Discovery launch as NASA's last shuttle flight, which was incorrect. It will be the last mission for Discovery, but, as pointed out in the comments below, NASA still has another launch or two in its future.

NASA, via CrunchGear

For the latest tech stories, follow us on Twitter at @dvice