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Space shuttle Atlantis blasted off at 11:29 a.m.

Space shuttle Atlantis launched today, marking the final mission and complete retirement of NASA's Space Shuttle fleet.

Atlantis is the last of three remaining operational orbiters in NASA's Space Shuttle fleet. In February 2011, Space Shuttle Discovery was the first of the three to launch on its final mission after nearly 30 years of space travel. Then, in April 2011, Space Shuttle Endeavour was set to launch, but was delayed due to a broken set of heaters. It took off on its final mission in mid May instead.

Now, NASA's Space Shuttle fleet will be three-for-three as Atlantis blasts into orbit for its last mission as well.

Space Shuttle Atlantis first flew into space on mission STS-51-J in October 1985. It has completed 32 missions, spent 293 days in space, carried 191 crews and has traveled 120,650,907 miles. Atlantis is the only orbiter that cannot draw power from the International Space Station while docked there. Instead, it must provide its own power for fuel cells.

Today marks Atlantis' 33rd and final mission, STS-135. It will be a 12-day mission to the International Space Station with the purpose of delivering supplies and spare parts, which will be contained in the Raffaello multipurpose logistics module.

Atlantis mission STS-135 carries a crew of four, including Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley, and Mission Specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim.

"That is the most beautiful vehicle we've had to fly in space, ever, and it's going to be a long time until you see a vehicle roll out to the pad that looks as beautiful as that," said Walheim. "How can you beat that? An airplane on the side of a rocket. It's absolutely stunning."

Space shuttle Atlantis took off at 11:29 a.m. ET from Launch Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. While some reports noted that weather could be obstacle possibly causing a delay, the astronauts started boarding Atlantis around 8:00 a.m. and the hatch was closed around 9:21 a.m. for flight.

Reports have estimated that the crowd gathered in the area to see the launch ranged from 500,000 to 1 million people.

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By lightfoot on 7/8/2011 12:27:42 PM , Rating: 3
"How can you beat that? An airplane on the side of a rocket. It's absolutely stunning."

Calling the Space Shuttle "an airplane" is like calling a school bus a "sports car."

The shuttle's biggest strength and weakness has always been it's enormous size. Its flight characteristics are akin to those of Buzz Lightyear; not really flying, just falling with style.

RE: Beautiful?
By cjohnson2136 on 7/8/2011 12:31:45 PM , Rating: 2
Buzz Lightyear; not really flying, just falling with style

Only according to Woody lol

RE: Beautiful?
By Goty on 7/8/2011 2:02:40 PM , Rating: 2
I guess it's a good that that the only "flying" it does is after deorbiting for the return trip, then. ;)

RE: Beautiful?
By maven81 on 7/8/2011 3:07:10 PM , Rating: 3
I just wanted to add that who cares whether it's beautiful? It's a spacecraft. (and I say that as a designer heh). It's mission is to get us to and from space in a safe manner. As long as it can do that it wouldn't matter if it's a box, or a sleek spaceplane. It's like calling the hubble space telescope ugly because it's just a tube with solar panels attached to it.

RE: Beautiful?
By Omega215D on 7/8/2011 9:10:14 PM , Rating: 2
As they termed it in Space Cowboys: It's a flying brick on approach.

"Game reviewers fought each other to write the most glowing coverage possible for the powerhouse Sony, MS systems. Reviewers flipped coins to see who would review the Nintendo Wii. The losers got stuck with the job." -- Andy Marken

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