Atlantis shuttle launch

Key points

  • The Atlantis shuttle lifted off at 1129 local Florida time (1629 BST) on a mission to haul critical supplies to the International Space Station
  • The flight is the 135th and final space shuttle launch and the 33rd lift-off for the Atlantis orbiter
  • Up to a million people gathered near Kennedy Space Center to see the final launch, according to estimates

Join the discussion

Comment here

The BBC may edit your comments and not all emails will be published.
Your comments may be published on any BBC media worldwide.

Terms and conditions


    Welcome to the BBC News live coverage of the final Atlantis shuttle launch. We'll be bringing you all the build-up for the launch, including expert views, details of the final preparations and the excitement on the ground in Florida.


    Atlantis is scheduled to take-off at 1126 local Florida time (1626 BST) on a mission to haul critical supplies to the International Space Station.


    It's been atrocious weather at Cape Canaveral in the past day, with torrential rain, thunder and lightning on Thursday. Nasa officials were saying there was just a 30 percent chance of lift-off on Friday, but preparations are continuing.


    The Atlantis crew began suiting up at about 0700 local time (1200 BST) before heading out to the launch site. The orange suits provide air, pressure and pockets for survival tools and other items. They are quite bulky so the crew are helped by suit technicians from the astronauts' home base at Johnson Space Center.


    Friday's ascent, if it goes ahead, will be the 135th and last in the 30-year orbiter programme. It will be the 33rd flight for Atlantis.


    Come rain or shine, thousands of people are expected in the area to view the take-off. Some estimates put the crowd at 1 million people.

    The shuttle on the launch pad
    1312: Jonathan Amos BBC News

    We shouldn't be surprised Nasa have tried for a launch today. Mike Moses, the chair of the mission management team, told reporters on Wednesday that the type of weather we're having can often break sufficiently to allow an ascent. He said he was hoping a "hole" would open in the sky for Atlantis.


    The Nasa website has a great interview with astronaut Rex Walheim, where he talks about how it feels as an Atlantis crew member to see the shuttle for the first time. "You come down here and you see the vehicle and it's hard to get your head around the fact you're really going to fly in that thing."


    Mission commander is 49-year-old former Navy captain Christopher Ferguson. He has spent more than 28 days in space and, more importantly, is the drummer in the astronauts' band, MaxQ.


    Co-pilot on the flight is Douglas Hurley, a 44-year-old Marine Corps colonel from New York state. This will be only his second shuttle mission - his first was in 2009, when the shuttle delivered the Japanese Kibo laboratory to the International Space Station.


    Flight engineer Rex Walheim is 48 and from California. He also has a military background, as a colonel in the Air Force. This will be his third trip into space.


    Sandra Magnus, 46 and from Illinois, is the only civilian member of the crew. She is the load master, in charge of all the supplies being taken to the International Space Station and of overseeing what comes back down. She last went into space in 2008 and stayed at the ISS for four and half months, returning in March 2009.

    Via Twitter The BBC's Jonathan Amos

    tweets: The astronauts climb into their seats. They say it's an uncomfortable wait for launch with O2 bottles and a parachute pushing in your back.


    The shuttle crew spend their last week before launch in quarantine, to avoid picking up any bugs. They can see their partners on the final day but can only wave at others from a distance, including their children.


    The crew in their orange suits wave to the media before heading to the launch pad.

    The Atlantis crew next to their Astrovan

    The four astronauts had a meal, a photo op, a weather briefing and a medical check before they began getting into their suits.


    According to Nasa, supporters lined the hallways and gathered outside the door as the astronauts made their way to the "astrovan". They were met with cheers as they waved to the crowd and boarded the van.


    The astronauts have a list of 27 objectives to accomplish during their 12-day mission, including delivering vital supplies of food and water, carrying out essential repairs and testing the tools and technology which could be used to robotically refuel unmanned satellites in the future.


    Atlantis has visited the International Space Station 11 times before. It also made seven visits to Russia's now destroyed Mir space station and has deployed 14 satellites.


    Pre-dawn Nasa reported there were no technical issues with the shuttle.

    The shutttle on the launch pad
    Jim Doran

    writes on our BBC News Facebook wall: NASA have developed a far more efficient fuel using a giant cannister of Coca Cola and several thousand packs of Mentos :)


    Despite the uncertainty over the weather, Nasa technicians began fuelling the shuttle on time at 0201 local time (0701 GMT). More than 500,000 gallons (about 2 million litres) of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen went into the tanks. Fuelling finished slightly ahead of schedule about three hours later, with the final inspection team then heading in.

    Via Twitter Louie Stowell

    tweets: To people complaining that the shuttle "never went very far, did it?"... It wasn't meant to. It's like complaining that cars can't fly.


    Over the fleet's 30-year history, the total distance flown by all the space shuttles is 864,401,219 km (537,114,016 miles) - more than the average distance from the Sun to Jupiter.


    With thousands flocking to see the last shuttle lift-off, enterprising people are cashing in on the occasion, such as this woman selling "last shuttle flight" souvenir shirts:

    T-shirt seller

    Atlantis has spent 293 days, 18 hours, 29 minutes and 37 seconds in space and has travelled a staggering 120,650,907 miles (194,168,813 km).


    All going to plan - mainly the weather allowing take-off - Atlantis should return to Kennedy Space Centre on 20 July, the 42nd anniversary of man's first steps on the moon.

    Fergus in Glasgow

    emails: Go Atlantis! I always felt sad that I wasn't around during the 60s/Apollo era. This will be the last Nasa flight for some time, hope they "go".

    Via Twitter Jonathan Amos Science correspondent, BBC News

    tweets: Guess what? The sun is shining across Kennedy. Who'd be a weather forecaster? It's the sun, though, that will drive the build-up of showers.


    The astronauts are given as easy a day as possible before launch, to help keep their stress levels down. There are some last minute checks and tests to carry out, but they are mostly allowed to enjoy some free time.

    Pallab Ghosh Science correspondent, BBC News

    Today's launch pad - 39A - is the same one where the first shuttle took off from in 1981. The roads are gridlocked, giant TVs are set up in bars and also outside, and celebrations are expected when lift-off happens.


    This may be Atlantis's last flight but the launch will mark one first, as it carries the first iPhone into space. A special app has been designed for the phone - which will be left on the ISS - to help the astronauts track results of their experiments and which could one day be used to aid navigation.

    George from Cambridge

    e-mails: This is an extraordinary moment in the history of Nasa.


    US astronaut Terry Virts has been describing the experience of lift-off: "There is a lot of noise. It's kind of like an airplane but it sounds like a train - just really loud because there is so much wind pressure on the windows. The vibration is like riding one of those old wooden roller coasters that rattles your head, only a lot more," he told AFP news agency.


    Mr Virts, who was on board the shuttle for two weeks last year, describes his amazement at every moment of the journey: "Around a minute into the flight... I could see the whole East Coast of the country. A couple minutes into my space flight I'm like 'Hey, there's America,' you know? Then a few minutes later I'm floating in space and there's the sunrise and the jets are banging and it sounds like a shotgun going off. They are really loud jets."


    Early arrivals wanted a good spot to view the launch. These people chose to sleep under a pier.

    People sleeping under a pier before the shuttle lift-off
    Via Twitter Nasa

    tweets: Astro_Rex, Mission Specialist Rex Walheim, is the final crew member to board Atlantis. No technical issues. Weather is being assessed.

    1348: Jonathan Amos Science correspondent, BBC News

    Discussion this week at Kennedy has focussed on the future, on what comes after the shuttle. Nasa has been showing off a test mock-up of its Orion crew vehicle which could go to an asteroid or even to Mars. Boeing has been showcasing the low-cost capsule it hopes to sell to Nasa as an "astronaut taxi" to the space station. All thoughts now though are centred on "the final four" - the astronauts who are almost strapped into their seats.

    Paul C. Davies

    e-mails: I hope the legacy left in our hearts by the shuttle continues in making the next 'giant leap for mankind' in whatever the next 'operational' vehicle may be.


    MSNBC have produced a stunning time-lapse gallery of the final four days before launch, showing the preparations of Atlantis and its journey to the launch pad. Some of the images really show how battered the shuttle is after powering through Earth's atmosphere 64 times.


    Professor Andrew Coates, planetary science expert at University College London, says the shuttle has played a huge role in space, including launching - and then fixing - the Hubble space telescope and building the ISS itself. "There is something about it being the last [launch]. It's a majestic sight seeing it on the launch pad, ready to go. But there is a bit of sadness... to be stopping at this point," he says.


    Some space bloggers shared their views on the end of Atlantis with BBC News, including regret, sadness and relief at the end of an era.


    Nasa is holding a two-day "tweet up" at the Kennedy Space Centre for 150 of its loyal Twitter followers. As this picture, tweeted by NasaTweetup shows, they were rewarded with a close-up view of Atlantis as it sat on the launch pad.


    The Nasa tweeters had the chance to hear from two astronauts, Mike Massimino and Doug Wheelock, on what it is like to go into space. They also had a surprise visit from another high profile figure - Sesame Street's Elmo, wearing his own miniature blue flight suit.


    After three decades, the Altantis flight signals the end of the shuttle programme. Our timeline of 20 big moments goes from test flight to final flight, and includes the highlights and tragedies through the years.

    Thomas in Fochabers, Scotland

    emails: Can't wait! This may be a once and a life time opportunity to see such a great moment in space history.


    The shuttle will deliver more than 3.5 tonnes (8,000lb) of supplies to the International Space Station (ISS). A third of the load is food and it will ensure the platform has a year's worth of consumables aboard to sustain its residents.


    One 6.5-hour spacewalk will also be carried out during the mission by two ISS residents, Michael Fossum and Ron Garan. The Atlantis crew has too much to do during their visit to venture outside themselves, but will support the spacewalkers as they remove a failed ammonia pump and carry out other repairs and experiments.

    Boyd Martin from Lurgan, Northern Ireland

    emails: Nasa's space shuttle mesmerised me as a kid and it still does to this day. It alone shaped my interest in space and science fiction. When Atlantis lifts off the pad for the last time it marks the end of an era in human spaceflight. Personally, I will be sad to see one of mankind's greatest ever machines turned into museum pieces but at the same time it starts an exciting new chapter in space exploration. Having not being around to witness the Apollo 11 moon landing or the very first shuttle launch I can only hope that I am around long enough to see man set foot on Mars. Godspeed Atlantis and have a safe journey.


    While just four astronauts will ride Atlantis into orbit for the last time, shuttles have previously carried up to eight crew members. If there is a problem with the shuttle or the ISS, the Russian Soyuz spacecraft will be used to rescue crew. But the Russian capsule can only carry a maximum three people at a time, and at least one must be Russian.

    Alex Z.

    tweets: Atlantis gears up for final shuttle mission.


    Jim Kelly, who has flown on Atlantis himself, says that as a crew member you don't think about whether bad weather could see take-off cancelled. "You leave that to the professionals. It's not something you control - you just strap in and hope you go."

    Jamie Burn, Tewkesbury, England

    emails: I watched the first flight, and now i'm watching the last, time flies, no pun intended!


    Technicians help the astronauts get buckled into position for take-off.

    Inside the shuttle

    It's just 18 minutes until the hatch is closed and latched for launch.


    The astronauts all have glow sticks built into their flight suits, in case a power failure takes out the shuttle's lights. "We're always looking ahead to the next thing and hoping it doesn't happen," says Jim Kelly.

    Hugh in Leicester, England

    emails: Whilst it's sad that the shuttle is retiring, it represented an expensive dead end in human spaceflight. The future is definitely in commercial spaceflight - governments simply don't have the market incentives to innovate, invest and drive down prices.


    Nasa's timetable says 1032 local time (1532 BST) is when the final decision on take-off is made. Then there's another 54 minutes before launch.


    Ground control have just been testing their communications with the crew on board, telling them: "Nice job Atlantis, we read you loud and clear and this completes the air-to-ground voice check."

    Jez Marsh in Cardiff, Wales

    emails: It's the end of an era. I was just six-years-old when the space shuttle first flew and I have watched the venerable workhorse deploy, repair and build some of the most important pieces of on-orbit hardware man has put into space. A sad day, but one that the whole world can be proud of.

    1413: David Shukman Environment & science correspondent, BBC News

    Might be the wrong type of cloud apparently - too watery.


    The closeout crew, who help with the boarding process, are now removing everything from the shuttle that is not going into space. Each item is carefully checked in and out of the shuttle. "We don't want to leave anything in there that's not meant to be," says one of the crew, Tim Seymour.

    Jonathan Amos Science correspondent, BBC News

    tweets: A pump that pushes liquid oxygen to the shuttle has failed. Nasa says a change to a different pump will not take long. No delay expected.

    Jemma Thomas in Harrogate, England

    emails: I was lucky enough to witness a shuttle launch as a kid many years ago and it literally was the best thing I have ever seen. Good luck Atlantis, have a safe mission and come back to us safely. You are forever part of history.

    1415: David Shukman Environment & science correspondent, BBC News

    Nasa wouldn't let British-born astronaut Piers Sellers take Marmite on his three shuttle flights, he tells me.

    Colin Moffett

    tweets: Historic #shuttle day today. So long to decades of innovation, exploration and American aspirations. What's our next endeavor?

    Ron Gemmell in Warrington, England

    emails: I became alomost obsessionally interested in manned spaceflight back in December 1968, I was ten-years-old. I missed seeing a live Saturn five launch and always hoped to see a shuttle one, it never happened and now never will - disappointed isn't the word.


    The closeout crew are checking every inch of the seal on the hatch door to ensure there are no flaws or dirt which could prevent it from closing properly.

    Rick Packard

    tweets: I think it's ridiculous that there will be no more space #shuttle launches after today!

    Ture Damtoft in Skive, Denmark

    emails: Thirty years ago the first flight by the space shuttle Columbia was on live television across the world. Today we may say goodbye, depending on the weather obviously, to the most succesful space programme ever, not withstanding the Challenger and Columbia disasters. Unfortunately broadcast mainly on the Internet, and with most news outlets only giving it cursory coverage (well done BBC!). Alas, it shows how far backwards we've gone in our collective perception of manned space flight.


    The hatch door has been closed on the last ever space shuttle launch.


    The cabin is now being pressurised - the closeout crew will check to see whether any air is leaking out. "We have an allowable leak rate but can't go beyond a certain point - if it does, that means we have dirt," says Nasa's Tim Seymour.


    While the final preparations go on, shuttle-watchers are waiting at every vantage point. The skies don't look to clear for a good view, but they have come in their thousands.

    Onlookers in Florida
    Via Email Ian in Aberdare, Wales

    emails: At 16-years-old I skipped school to watch the first launch and cried floods of tears at launch. Now as I watch live, I'm having difficulty holding back as we witness the final chapter for the shuttle. Good luck Atlantis and godspeed.


    Just before he entered the shuttle, Commander Chris Ferguson smiled and gestured to the camera. He's now strapped into position ready for launch.

    Commander Chris Ferguson boarding Atlantis

    If the shuttle does take off, the mission could still be aborted at any stage. If the vehicle is high enough, it could stop in a low orbit before returning. Alternatively, the shuttle could cross the Atlantic and land in Spain or France. If it can't get that far, it could return to the Kennedy Space Center or use one of a number of other landing sites in the US.

    Via Twitter Jonathan Amos Science correspondent, BBC News

    tweets: The weather has gone "red" here at Kennedy. The cloud deck is more than 4,500ft (1.3km) thick. That's a constraint to launch.

    DeRoy Nunoo in Tampa, Florida, US

    emails: President Ronald Reagan watched the maiden voyage of Space Shuttle orbiter Columbia at the White House in 1981. We NASA Engineers watched the liftoff of that maiden voyage at the Engineering Department as we had developed Item 1 critical components to the Orbiter. The predominant American Scientific, Technological and Engineering ingenuity will forever prevail.


    Earlier the astronauts travelled from the crew rooms to the launch pad in the so-called astrovan.

    The astrovan

    The closeout crew are putting on safety harnesses - they're 59m (195ft) up and in an emergency evacuation would have to escape using slide wires.


    Veteran closeout crew member Tim Seymour says that on leaving the shuttle launch pad, the ground crew tend to pause to take one last look at the shuttle. "We look back at it and everything's just pristine."

    Joy Edwards from Wolverhampton

    emails: I well remember the first shuttle launch with excitement wondering where it would lead us as far as space travel is concerned. Good luck to Atlantis and her crew.


    Amid all the high-tech machinery, some have opted for a more traditional approach to recording the event. Here, Larry Moore of McRae Art Studios in Orlando makes his mark with paint.

    Larry Moore paints the final launch.

    The closeout crew have about five minutes of work to do before they begin breaking down the White Room - the sealed room which is the astronauts' last step before the shuttle.


    British astronaut Piers Sellers is demonstrating what happens on lift-off on BBC News using an inflatable bright orange model of the shuttle on the launch pad.


    The pump that was found to be defective has successfully been changed. A spare was already in place so it was a simple matter of swapping some valves. Such spares are always kept ready to ensure last-minute adjustments do not hold up the launch.

    Via Twitter Spacenerd

    tweets: The last shuttle launch is bitter sweet. I promise I will try not to cry.

    Rob, USA

    emails: I set my alarm for 4:30am to watch the first shuttle launch and now I am seeing the last launch - this is hard to believe. This is a sad day but Nasa should be proud.


    The hatch seal has been checked and no problems have been found.


    The window on the hatch is the most optically clear window in the whole shuttle, and is the point from which most of the astronauts' photos of Earth and space are taken.


    "The vehicle is pressurised and ready for flight," says Nasa spokesman George Diller.

    Richard Thorneloe in Retford, Nottinghamshire, England

    emails: I was lucky enough to witness the last time Atlantis went up in May last year. It was one of the most spectacular sights I have ever seen. It still gives me goose bumps to this day thinging about it. I have my t-shirt on from that day in celebration of one of man's greatest inventions.


    All seven closeout crew members take a commemorative group photo before leaving the White Room.


    A view of the shuttle on the launch pad with surrounding landscape.

    Atlantis shuttle

    If you have Google Earth on your computer or phone, you'll be able to track the shuttle launch in real time, using data from Mission Control in Florida.

    Jackie Tyers, Leicester

    emails: I had the great pleasure of watching Atlantis launch when I was in Florida some years ago with my husband John and son Ryan, it was awesome!! I took lots of photos but realised after I had no film in the camera - my son will never let me forget that.

    Via Twitter Jonathan Amos Science correspondent, BBC News

    tweets: Just spoken with former Nasa astro Garrett Reisman. He looked at the sky and said: "I reckon 50-50" for launch today. He's an optimist.


    The closedown crew are holding up signs to the camera in the White Room, thanking everyone who has ever worked on the shuttle programme over the past 30 years. "God speed Atlantis - God Save America", say their final messages as they leave the room.


    on Lofty Ambitions blogs: Still just 30% go. It's cloudy. But we're all working as if it'll be fine today. The astronauts, in their orange flight suits, walked out to the Astrovan on time at 0736. They got their life support strapped on in the white room and got secured in the crew cabin. The hatch was latched and locked! Now, the cabin gets pressurized.

    Atlantis shuttle. Photo: Lofty Ambitions
    Libby jackson from Munich

    emails: It won't hit me until the landing that this is the end of an era. And it's a sad day, sure, but I'm not upset. It's a chance to move on, and find the next big challenge in space.

    1522: David Shukman Environment & science correspondent, BBC News

    Alison Balch-Smith, the daughter of astronaut Mike Smith, one of the seven people who died in the Challenger explosion in 1986, tells me she was in tears on the bus here but finds strength from meeting others in the space community.


    Hugh Harris was the Nasa commentator in Mission Control for the very first mission in 1981. "I was little bit nervous," he says. "But seeing it get off the ground after all those years, and for all those thousands of people who worked on it, was just tremendous."


    In the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center a large poster says "best wishes Atlantis" and has been signed by thousands of well-wishers.

    A 'best wishes Atlantis' poster in the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
    Steve Jones from London

    emails: All the best to NASA and the crew, and everyone who has worked on this amazing vehicle over the past 30+ years.

    Via Twitter NASAKennedy

    tweets: Shuttle Atlantis' countdown has resumed - T-20 minutes & counting. There is a planned hold at T-9 minutes that will extend about 45 minutes.

    Via Twitter Jonathan Amos Science correspondent, BBC News

    tweets: So, the weather has gone "green". There's more cloud coming but with an hour until launch, we're currently good to go.


    The clock has stopped for another scheduled hold at T-9 minutes.

    Michael from Antigua and Barbuda

    emails: It's just about 1 hour before the scheduled lift off and I hope that the weather holds fair and that the mission goes perfect.

    Douglas Dechow

    tweets: Just interviewed former #NASA astronaut, Karol Bobko. He was originally selected for the Manned Orbiting Lab programme.

    Douglad Dechow infront of shuttle. Photo: Lofty Ambitions
    Niall O'Reilly from Hangzhou, China

    e-mails: Will the new post-shuttle space era be dominated by China?


    As the take-off nears, the excitement is building in Titusville, Florida. Roads are closed and thousands are flocking for a good view.

    Onlookers at Titusville, Florida

    After launch, it will take the shuttle 8.5 minutes to reach orbit - the engines shut down and the fuel tank is lost.

    Gareth from Manchester

    emails: I visited the space center and it was an exciting moment, can't wait to watch it when I get home.


    If you're just joining us, welcome to the BBC's live coverage of the last space shuttle launch. Atlantis is due to take off at 1126 local time (1626 BST). At the moment, the launch is set to go ahead but the weather remains fickle. It's still unclear if Atlantis will even take off as planned.


    We're bringing you the build-up for the launch, including expert views, details of the final preparations and the excitement on the ground in Florida, where some estimates say a million people have gathered to watch the take off.


    The four astronauts are in their seats, the hatch has been sealed and the closeout crew have left the shuttle. The countdown continues.

    Via Twitter spaceteam

    tweets Maybe we're just being optimistic, but excitement seems to be building here today at KSC press site.


    The space shuttle Atlantis has orbited the Earth 4,648 times.


    Nasa says there is only a 10-minute launch window for flights to the International Space Station, and 1126 EDT is in the middle of today's window. That's 22 minutes from now.


    Assistant launch director Pete Nickolenko says that other than a few minor issues, it has been a good countdown so far. "The vehicle has been performing exceptionally well." The weather around the launch pad is holding and "we are increasing our optimism", he says.


    However, the weather also needs to be good enough at the potential abort sites, in case something goes wrong and the shuttle has to return to Earth.


    There is the return to launch site (RTLS) abort mode, which is designed to allow the return of the orbiter, crew, and payload to the launch site, approximately 25 minutes after lift-off.


    All eyes are on the launch site.

    All eyes are on the launch site.

    Nasa says there are no constraints for launch.


    Speaking to Nasa controllers, commander of the mission Chris Ferguson said: "We're completing a chapter of a journey that will never end."

    Via Twitter Susan Watts Newsnight Science editor, BBC News

    tweets: Spotted Jim Lovell of Apollo 13 driving into KSC in astronaut shirt and shades - having a problem with traffic


    Atlantis has been cleared for launch on the final space shuttle mission.


    Mission Control tell the crew of Atlantis: "Good luck to you and your crew on your final trip as American icons... Good luck, godspeed and have a little fun up there."


    The countdown clock has restarted. T-9 minutes and counting.

    That UX Dev Guy

    tweets: Watching the shuttle launch. God speed to our brave astronauts!


    Five minutes to go till blast off.


    Nasa test conductor Roberta Wyrick tells the crew: "We salute the entire astronaut force, for your dedication not only to expanding our knowlegde of the universe but for the improvements you have contributed to on Earth."

    Jonathan Amos Science correspondent, BBC News

    The excitement is palpable. People are beginning to walk to viewing positions at a brisk pace. Photographers are double-checking their equipment. They think we're going to launch. We'll know for sure very shortly when the launch director Mike Leinbach polls his teams. Will he get a "go" from everyone, including the weather group? A bit of history awaits. We've come this far, we don't want to come back another day.


    The main engines are in their start position.


    tweets: #STS135 The White Room is leaving Atlantis' side as the orbiter access arm swings away, but it can return quickly in an emergency.

    MetalJohn from Chicago

    tweets: God Speed to the astronauts!!!! Hopefully Nasa brings back the Shuttle's one day before I die.


    No unexpected errors have been encountered, controllers say, telling the crew to close their visors.


    One minute to go until lift off.


    Launch held at T-31 seconds.


    The clock has restarted.


    Main engines have started.


    Atlantis has blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center on the last ever space shuttle mission.


    Nasa spokesman: "The space shuttle spreads its wings one last time for the start of a sentimental journey into history."


    It's travelling at 2,600 miles an hour.


    After two minutes into the flight it's 32 miles high.

    Si Braybrooke

    tweets: Watching the #Atlantis launch, amazing stuff, a true moment of history being made!


    The main engines are now steering the shuttle into orbit. Atlantis is travelling at 3,200 miles an hour.


    At five minutes into its journey, it's travelling at 6,500 mph, is 66 miles high and is 250 miles down range from launch site. It's going faster and faster.

    1636: Jonathan Amos Science correspondent, BBC News

    Expect the unexpected. The meteorologists told us Atlantis was unlikely to go - but she did. The brilliant light from her boosters and engines was blinding. I can still see the streaks on my retinas. And that sound, and that feeling - it goes right through your body. Amazing.


    From the onboard cameras, Earth already looks very far away.


    It's at 12,000 mph now.


    That's 4 miles per second. Roughly speaking.


    Tanks separate from the shuttle, allowing the astronauts to photograph them as they fall away.

    Florida Today Space

    Awesome, awesome, awesome


    Atlantis blasts off.

    Atlantis launch

    "Atlantis is safely in its preliminary orbit following a flawless launch from the Kennedy Space Centre, albeit two minutes late," says Nasa.


    All three engines have worked perfectly, but Atlantis could now reach orbit with just two if needed.

    Kev from Manchester

    emails: Waited for the launch, it stopped at 31 seconds, went to the loo and missed it!


    Mission Control staff look very calm and are working hard. The launch is nearly over but there's a lot left to do.


    The slight - but nerve-wracking - delay on launch was because technicians had to check a vent hood had fully retracted.

    Paul Stead from Doncaster

    emails: Absolutely fantastic! I saw the 1st launch and I've seen the last. Only regret I never saw it live or got the chance to ride on it!

    Via Twitter NASAKennedy

    tweets: Main engine cutoff! Atlantis' astronauts have arrived safely in orbit after a spectacular -- and bittersweet -- final liftoff.

    Keith from Oklahoma

    emails: Just as exciting as watching the moon landing when I was 3. God speed Atlantis!

    Pip from Scarborough

    emails: A bit of history. Watched it with my 9 year old son who's interested in space.

    Via Twitter Astro_ron

    tweets Just watched the launch of Atlantis live #FromSpace onboard the #!SS God Speed #STS135! See you in a couple of days #NASA


    If you want to watch the dramatic launch again, Nasa's website is already running replays.


    The crew of the International Space Station will be eagerly awaiting their colleagues, who are due to arrive with their cargo of food, supplies and technical equipment on day three of their mission.


    The space station was 220 miles above and to the east of Christchurch, New Zealand, when Atlantis launched. Now there's the small matter of meeting each other in orbit around Earth.


    Here's more of what launch director Mike Leinbach said to crew and staff before Atlantis blasted off: "The shuttle is always going to be a reflection of what a great nation can do when it dares to be bold and commits to follow through."


    "We're not ending the journey today... we're completing a chapter of a journey that will never end. Let's light this fire one more time and witness this great nation at its best," he said.


    There were gasps and smiles, as well as lots of cameras being pointed, as the shuttle took off.

    Spectators watch the launch of Atlantis
    Emily Carney in Titusville, Florida

    tweets: Tearful and the happiest girl on earth. You did well Atlantis, godspeed and thank you NASA for an amazing 30 years.

    1711: David Shukman Environment & science correspondent, BBC News

    The crackle of the sound waves was weird, almost unnerving - the air itself felt ruffled - we all started applauding. Awe and relief.


    Another image of the final launch... here Atlantis disappears into the clouds.

    Atlantis disappearing into the clouds

    The 30-year space shuttle programme has seen more than its share of tragedy. Challenger exploded shortly after launch in 1986, with the loss of all seven crew members. And in 2003, Colombia tore apart on re-entry, killing another seven astronauts.

    Paul Nicholson from the Isle of Man

    e-mails: We were given the afternoon off at school to watch the launch of STS1 30 years ago. Now I'm sat watching the end of an era at my desk at work, but really it's the 11-year-old me from back then that's sat here watching the launch online. Can't help but get a little emotional.


    The official launch time for Atlantis was 11:29:04 EDT.


    Atlantis will return in 12 days, bringing an end to the space shuttle programme.

    Atlantis launch

    We're nearing the end of our live coverage of the last ever space shuttle launch. The shuttle operation proved it was possible to take a rocket into space, return it home and launch it again. It enabled the International Space Station to be built and sent the Hubble Space Telescope on its way.


    But the shuttles have been costly to maintain and Nasa believes contracting out their transport to private companies will be more afforable.


    This policy should free up the agency's resources to invest in technology which could eventually take humans beyond the space station to the moon, asteroids or even to Mars.


    Thank you for staying with us for the spectacular final space shuttle launch. You can continue to follow all our coverage and expert analysis on the BBC News website.


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.