Atlantis undocked for the final time early this morning. Everything going according to plan, should be a safe landing. They left a flag on the station for the next manned American spacecraft to collect and take home. I hope I'll see it before the station is supposed to deorbit in 2020. Not quite sure what will collect it, whether some sort of revival of Orion or something new. I just hope I'll see it. Meanwhile ESA is supposed to be working on a manned version of the ATV, so we might see an alternative to Soyuz up there in about five years.
There's two American prospects that are looking very strong right now, Dragon
. Between the two, I'm favoring manned Dragon being the first to the station though CST got a big boost yesterday when NASA signed an agreement with ULA that should increase the pace on man-rating the Atlas V which is probably the best suited booster to loft the CST. Both these should be flying by 2015 or so, probably closer to 2017.
The rework of Orion is looking like it will probably go ahead but not to the ISS, just beyond Earth orbit. It's problem is it still lacks a booster. The SLS will probably never make it out of congress's design process, which is a horrible idea, in an acceptable form and Delta IVH, the only EELV with enough oomph to loft an Orion, is not planned for man-rating yet.
I wouldn't put a lot of stock in ESA talk about making a manned ATV. They've been talking about that since '07 and nothing's come of it. Also not sure how much stock I put in Russia's PPTS
concept though they seem to have more solid concepts down for it's Rus-M booster.
A lot of people are bemoaning the retirement of STS, and in all reality the girls could've kept flying for a few more years, like it's the end of NASA. That's not the right attitude to have. Things are happening and while there isn't a unified single plan, read: government effort, it's past time low Earth orbit was opened to commercial operators. There will be US ships flying again, probably with less of a gap in capability than there was between Apollo and STS. They just won't be NASA run. There's a new space race on to get that flag, we'll see who wants it more: SpaceX or Boeing.