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July 8, 2011

PHOTOS: Space Shuttle Atlantis Lifts Off on Final Mission

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Space Shuttle Atlantis lifts off for last time STS-135

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FLA. — Space Shuttle Atlantis, the United States’ last serviceable manned spacecraft, launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 11:26am local time on Friday, beginning the final mission of NASA’s groundbreaking Space Shuttle program.

Despite an ominous weather forecast that included a thick overcast, lightning and thunderstorms and a measly 30 percent chance of “green” conditions at launch time, the clouds parted just enough and at just the right hour for Atlantis and STS-135 to ascend to orbit on time. The launch pad was actually struck by lightning a day earlier, but no technical issues were found following the event.

The countdown clock was stopped perilously close to liftoff—with only 31 seconds left—to ensure the gaseous oxygen vent hood, aka the “Beanie Cap”, had fully retracted. After rectifying the problem in under three minutes, the clock was restarted to cheers of onlookers.

The four-person crew—the smallest since STS-6 in 1983—will deliver supplies to the International Space Station during their scheduled 12-days in orbit. Included in the payload are a Multi-Purpose Logistics Module and Lightweight Multi-Purpose Carrier, both filled with pallets to keep the ISS astronauts going. Atlantis will also deliver tools for the Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM), designed to refuel satellites in orbit using robots attached to the ISS.

Space Shuttle Atlantis side-on view STS-135 launch

Atlantis side-on view. (Photo by Matt Molnar/NYCAviation)

Condensation forms ahead of the Space Shuttle Atlantis solid rocket boosters as they approach the speed of sound

Condensation forms ahead of the solid rocket boosters as they approach the speed of sound. (Photo by Matt Molnar/NYCAviation)

Atlantis ascends through the clouds

Atlantis ascends through the clouds. (Photo by Matt Molnar/NYCAviation)

Smoke left behind at the Kennedy Space Center's launch pad 39A

Smoke left behind at the Kennedy Space Center's launch pad 39A. (Photo by Matt Molnar/NYCAviation)

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