Let's light her up one last time! Atlantis overcomes a shaky launch to become the final Nasa shuttle to blast into space
- One million spectators cram into Cape Canaveral and surrounding towns to watch the last launch of an American icon
- Nervy moments as blast-off delayed 0.31 seconds from ignition due to launch pad problem
- 'Let's light this fire one more time', says Commander Christopher Ferguson as he fires the engines
- Spectators include former astronauts, Congressmen and celebrities
It will be at least three years - possibly five or more - before astronauts launch again from U.S. soil, and so this final journey of the shuttle era packed in crowds and roused emotions on a scale not seen since the Apollo moon shots. After days of gloomy forecasts full of rain and heavy cloud cover, the spaceship lifted off at 11.29am local time (16.29 GMT) - just two minutes late - thundering away on the 135th shuttle mission 30 years and three months after the very first flight. The four experienced space fliers rode Atlantis from the same pad used more than a generation ago by the Apollo astronauts. The shuttle was visible for 42 seconds before disappearing into the clouds. Nasa waived its own weather rules to allow the lift-off to go forward. In the end, though, the countdown was delayed not by the weather but by the need to make certain the launch pad support equipment was retracted all the way. The crew will deliver a year's worth of critical supplies to the International Space Station and return with as much rubbish as possible.
Nasa has set a long-term goal of flying to an asteroid and eventually Mars. ‘Enjoy a little time here with your families again. But we’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ve got another programme that we’ve got to get under way,’ Nasa administrator Charles Bolden told the launch control team after Atlantis reached orbit.