I've been avoiding most of the news, as no one will have anything real to say for some time. It'll likely take months to determine the cause of the accident, so anything the talking heads are going on about is sheer speculation.
The Challenger accident grounded the shuttle for about three years, but now there is a crew on the space station who will have to be supported. The Russian Soyez should be able to handle that for a while, at least while the station crew remains at the skeleton level of three, who are just enough to maintain it, not enough to do any worthwhile science.
Considering the low number of shuttle flight each year at this point, I can't imagine they will choose to build another replacement, and in any case it's been clear for a long time now that the shuttle, as magnificent a piece of engineering that it is, is not the sort of craft that will open up space for us. It's simply far too expensive to operate.
There's this mind set that space exploration is this vast and complex endeavor that only the government can do. I'm convinced that this isn't so, that new approaches that people are working on right now can start changing things and start opening the door for a true Space Age, but I'm afraid that today's tragic accident will only entrench the attitude that space travel is just too hard to be worth it.
We've lost seven talented and gifted people. We might also have lost manned space flight for the foreseeable future.