Atlantis Blasts Off on Final Shuttle Flight
Flight will last 12 days
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 8, 2011 10:43 AM CDT
Atlantis is prepared for launch yesterday.   (AP Photo/NASA, Bill Ingalls)
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(Newser) – Atlantis blasted off this morning on the last flight of NASA's space shuttle program. The historic liftoff occurred 30 years and three months after the very first shuttle flight. Four astronauts are riding Atlantis to orbit, bound for the International Space Station. Massive crowds jammed Cape Canaveral and surrounding towns for the farewell flight, which will last 12 days. Weather permitting, Atlantis will return to the Kennedy Space Center, where it will end up on permanent display.

"Let's light this fire one more time," Commander Christopher Ferguson said just before taking flight. It will be at least three years—possibly five or more—before astronauts are launched again from US soil, so this final journey of the shuttle era roused emotions on a scale not seen since the Apollo moon shots.