<p><strong>Crowds gathered at <a href="http://www.nasa.gov/centers/kennedy/home/index.html">NASA's Kennedy Space Center</a> early Friday to witness the final launch of the space shuttle <em>Atlantis</em>. The liftoff—which took place slightly behind schedule at about 11:29 a.m. ET—marks the 135th and <a href="http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/07/110707-space-shuttle-launch-final-mission/">final space shuttle mission</a>, capping off the 30-year-old U.S. <a href="http://science.nationalgeographic.com/science/space/space-exploration/space-shuttle-program.html">space shuttle</a> program.</strong></p><p><em>Atlantis</em> carried a four-member crew to the <a href="http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html">International Space Station</a> for a 12-day mission. A stormy weather forecast had threatened to delay the launch, but clouds thinned an hour before the scheduled blastoff.</p><p>"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.</p><p><em>Atlantis</em>'s commander Chris Ferguson responded: "We're not ending the journey today, we're completing a chapter of a journey that will never end. Let's light this shuttle one more time, Mike, and witness this nation at its best."</p><p><em>—Ker Than</em></p>

Atlantis Launches

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. 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.

Atlantis's commander Chris Ferguson responded: "We're not ending the journey today, we're completing a chapter of a journey that will never end. Let's light this shuttle one more time, Mike, and witness this nation at its best."

—Ker Than

Photograph by Morry Gash, AP

Space Shuttle Pictures: NASA's Last Launch a Success

See Atlantis's Friday launch—the final time a NASA space shuttle will rocket to the International Space Station, or anywhere else.

Read This Next

The science behind seasonal depression
These 3,000-year-old relics were torched and buried—but why?
How the Holocaust happened in plain sight

Go Further

Subscriber Exclusive Content

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet