NASA Space Shuttle Atlantis Final Launch at Kennedy Space Center

Crowds gathered at NASA's Kennedy Space Center early Friday to witness the final launch of the space shuttle Atlantis. The liftoff—which took place slightly behind schedule at about 11:29 a.m. (July 8, 2011) ET—marks the 135th and final space shuttle mission, capping off the 30-year-old U.S. space shuttle program.

Atlantis carried a four-member crew to the International Space Station for a 12-day mission. A stormy weather forecast had threatened to delay the launch, but clouds thinned an hour before the scheduled blastoff.

"On behalf of the greatest team in the world, good luck to you and your crew on the final flight of an American icon," NASA launch director Mike Leinbach told the crew just before launch.

The space shuttle Atlantis roared up from Launch Pad 39-A and was visible for 42 seconds before it disappeared into the clouds over Florida's Kennedy Space Center.

"It truly was an awesome, spectacular launch," space center director Bob Cabana said at a press conference Friday. "The only way it could've been better was if I had found a way to stow away on there somehow."

Atlantis is carrying more than 8,000 pounds (3,628 kilograms) of food, supplies, and scientific instruments to the space station as part of its mission. The space shuttle is scheduled to dock with the International Space Station on Sunday and return to Earth on July 20.

One last hurrah: Atlantis blasts off for the International Space Station on Nasa's last space shuttle mission

Up, up and away: The shuttle almost didn't get off the ground though, as the giant countdown clock at Kennedy Space Center stuck at 0.31seconds for what seemed like an eternity

Just as the spectators at Cape Canaveral in Florida and tens of millions of television viewers around the world had given up hope, Atlantis began to rise

Off to the ISS: The shuttle was visible for 42 seconds before disappearing into the clouds

The final countdown: The shuttle lifts off as hundreds of fans watch a giant clock countdown with 13 seconds to go

Best view in the house: Some of an estimated one million spectators watch the launch

Emotional: Kennedy Space Centre employee Lisa Gorichky, cries as the shuttle lifts off while children watch from a nearby park

Fond farewell: The blast-off marks the beginning of the end for Nasa's shuttle programme

Soaring high: Thousands gather in the surf and on sand at Cocoa Beach, Florida to watch the shuttle pierce the clouds

Space Shuttle ATLANTIS Final Launch Video

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