The U.S. space shuttle Atlantis blasted off Friday on a mission to the
International Space Station (ISS), the 135th and final flight of the
30-year-old space shuttle program.
Shuttle Atlantis takes off from
Kennedy Space Center in Florida, July 8, 2011
The space agency NASA said as many as
1 million people were gathered in and around the Kennedy Space Center in
Florida to watch the historic liftoff. Launch control called the space
mission "a sentimental journey."
four-member crew will deliver supplies, spare parts and science
experiments to the International Space Station during its 12-day
space shuttles have served as the complex workhorses of the U.S. manned
space program for the last 30 years, playing a key role in the building
and operation of the International Space Station (ISS) and performing
other important missions. The end of the shuttle program leaves the
United States without its own manned spacecraft.
NASA is ending the shuttle program to concentrate resources on
deep-space exploration. The agency is working with several commercial
U.S. aerospace companies to develop vehicles to replace the shuttles.
Until then, Russia's Soyuz spacecraft will ferry U.S. astronauts to and
from the ISS, while Russian, European and Japanese cargo rockets will
continue their resupply and waste disposal missions to the station.
There were four astronauts on Atlantis for Friday's launch - Commander
Chris Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley, Mission Specialist Rex Walheim and
Mission Specialist Sandra Magnus. All four have flown on previous