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Space shuttle Atlantis was launched into history at 1529 GMT or 1629 BST, on Friday. The 12 day mission will transport 3.5 tonnes of supplies to the International Space Station. On its return, the 30-year long space shuttle programme will come to an end , with Atlantis along with two other shuttles being retired to museums.
Atlantis Launch from Cape Kennedy
A great part of the week was spent over the possibility of the launch, which was being thought highly unlikely. The Thursday weather threw up uncontrollable rain at the orbiter, and forecasters had remained grim of similar conditions developing on Friday. But the anticipated showers never materialized and controllers in the "firing room" gave the green light for the ascent after a positive poll from their ground teams.
Launch director Mike Leinbach enjoined the Atlantis crew - Chris Ferguson, Doug Hurley, Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim - to "have a little fun up there" with "a true American icon". Leinbach's remark commanded a huge cheer from thousands of guests inside the Kennedy Space Center and an attack to grab the best viewing positions. Many ran along the tops of buildings surrounding the Space Center, while others went down by the famous countdown clock on the lawn in front of the press complex.
For a few moments, it seemed there might be a vicious disappointment when the count was abruptly stopped at 31 seconds to check some equipment on the launch pad would not impede a clean get away by the orbiter. But once a safe situation was established, the count went up again and Atlantis soon raced towards the sky. The spectators inside KSC, and many more people outside the Space Center did not see the orbiter's mount for long.
Within a minute she had vanished through a bank of cloud for the chase out over the Atlantic and a rendezvous with the International Space Station (ISS) on Sunday. The ship and her crew will be spending seven long days docked at the orbiting platform. Their mission includes the delivery of a huge load of food for the ISS residents and a robotics facility that will test strategies for re-fueling satellites high above the planet.
Read More: BBC News
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