I'm still kind of dismayed that the fleet is grounded, though. I mean it's hard to imagine that the foam lining of the fuel tank is such a hard problem solve. A slight reduction of thickness of the lining and then a layer of chicken wire, and one very thin wrap of fiberglass.
Suposedly the Shuttle Fleet is to be retired in the 2010 - 2012 range. The replacement technology looks depressingly 1960's. For all the technology with RAM/SCRAM jets and with the civilian space effort pushing the technology we are taking a step backwards.
One technology that sounded like sci-fi when I first heard of it, but after seeing the science invovled actually seems plausable is the space elevator.
The idea behind the space elevator is centrifical force. You take and construct a huge weight in space and hold it to the earth with a nano-tube ribon ranging three to five feet wide, likely several layers thick. The centrifical force of the earth spinning causes the weight to pull out from the earth keeping the ribbon taunt. Theweight would be a few hundred tons, and as the cargo (upto 300 tons in weight) climbs the ribbon it adds to the centrifical force. It turns out the high speeds winds aloft would have little impact on the ribbon as the higher you get (where the winds are faster) the air also gets dramatically thinner so it has little impact on the ribbon. The end goal is to be able to take 3 hour to lift 300 tons into space. From there you could use small manuevering rockets to put whatever you want in to a low Earth orbit. But I think the coolest part will be if they have some sort of ability to take passengers. How much would you spend to go on a 6 to 8 hour trip where you would get to safely go to space, spend a couple hours in zero-g, and maybe see rockets launched if the platform is also delivering a satelite or two.
[CAUTION: The stats on the space ribbon are from vague memories, so take with a grain of salt.]