The Anticlimactic End to NASA's Space Shuttle ProgramS

That badass picture isn't a still from the new Transformers movie. It's an actual electrical storm behind the actual space shuttle Endeavor, set to launch on its final voyage today. This is the penultimate space shuttle mission; the curtain will fall on the 30-year-old program when Atlantis returns in June. But then what?

So far, no replacement spacecraft has been named and President Obama has grounded NASA's planned moon shot, despite pledging his support of a manned flight to Mars sometime "during his lifetime."

Residents of the NASA-dependent communities around Cape Canaveral — where kids attend Astronaut High School and Satellite High, and where area code is the countdown-inspired "321" — are pretty bummed about the situation.

Shuttle worker layoffs already have begun and economists fear a ripple effect through the businesses those workers supported and the hotels and restaurants that catered to NASA customers and spectators.

Daily traffic is noticeably lighter on State Road 3 leading to the Kennedy Space Center, said Waylon Cattee, who lives 2 miles away on Merritt Island.

"Titusville is going to be a ghost town," he said.

That's very depressing! It's 2011. Weren't we supposed to be commuting to work in flying cars by now? Instead I'm paying 70 bucks to fill up my Honda, and Mars is starting to feel farther away than ever.

[Reuters, photo via NASA]