The Next Space Shuttles

500 days—or thereabouts: That's the amount of time between now and the final flight of the awesome Space Transportation System, better known to you and me as the Space Shuttle. Here's what comes next...

It's such a short time before the skies over Florida will no longer thunder to the sound of the Space Shuttle's main engines under full thrust. But that doesn't mean that after September 16, 2010, there will be any letup in the requirements to put people and hardware into orbit. What ships are in line to hop into the venerable old Shuttle's shoes? Five, at last count, all with their own talents and differences.

Check out each photo in the gallery, a dossier of facts about the next vehicles that will take us and our crap into orbit, and possibly to the moon and Mars:

The Next Space Shuttles

The Next Space Shuttles

The Next Space Shuttles

The Next Space Shuttles

The Next Space Shuttles

And there you have it. Though none of these Space Shuttle replacements appears quite as glamorous or high-tech, each is special in its own way—and with any luck they could all be cheaper and more reliable in getting people and hardware into space. Orion, of course, has a historic future ahead of it, as it follows in the Apollo program's footsteps and takes man back to the Moon.

Additional Resources and Photo Sources:
Orion: NASA and Wikipedia
Dragon: SpaceX and Wikipedia
Cygnus: Orbital and Wikipedia
PPTS: Russian Space Web and Wikipedia
Kliper: Russian Space Web and Wikipedia