The launch of STS-134 is close. Real close.19:47 GMT (3:47 p.m. EST), if you want the exact time. So is the end of the whole thing. This will be the next to last mision for the space shuttle.(last for space shuttle Endeavour, at least)
Space shuttles have been the symbol of manned missions to space for decades. They were a dream that came true, a spacecraft that could be used over and over again.
In my opinion, the Soyuz is a bit primitive, the rockets and the spacecraft being not reusable. But NASA's plan of the next American spacecraft is also non-reusable, so it might be that the
space shuttle a generation of space vehicles too advanced. Making the shuttles reusable made the cost of a launch skyrocket, too. The launch escape system was gone, so they had to be extra careful with the launch. Still, it wrote a new chapter for manned space exploration.
Another thing that will end along with the space shuttle would be NASA's hand in manned space explorations. I can't believe that we will be on a planet where just one country is involved in space explorations. Oh, wait, no.
China. They already did a few manned launches, and they're going pretty well. China even has plans for a space station. I hope Japan will be doing manned missions soon, too. There are plans to modify the HTV so astronauts can board, actually.
To conclude, I think the retirement of the space shuttle won't be the end of an era, but the beginning of a new one.