Space Shuttle Atlantis Launched

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., May 14 (UPI) — The U.S. space shuttle Atlantis roared into space from its launch pad in Florida Friday on its final mission to the International Space Station.

Atlantis lifted off and cleared the launch tower at 2:20:50 p.m. EDT and at 2:23:33 p.m. the twin solid rocket boosters fell away as designed, allowing the three main engines to push the spacecraft faster and higher.

In the final seconds before liftoff, the hood over the top of the external tank moved away from Atlantis and the astronauts closed and locked their visors and the three main engines ignited and powered up. Moments earlier, the walkway to the shuttle’s side hatch had swung away from the shuttle.

“Like to wish you all good luck and Godspeed and have some fun out there,” Launch Director Mike Lienbach told the shuttle crew 11 minutes before launch from the Kennedy Space Center.

In the minutes leading to liftoff, NASA engineers resolved concerns about the discovery of a ball bearing near the shuttle’s payload bay.

The shuttle and its all-male crew of six are on a 12-day mission to deliver an integrated cargo carrier and a Russian-built research module.

Just two shuttle flights are scheduled after Atlantis lifts off — one flight by Discovery and one by Endeavour. NASA plans to end the 3-decade-old program by the end of this year.

The station is to remain operational until at least 2020 with NASA astronauts reaching it via Russian Soyuz spaceships until private companies develop spacecraft that can reliably ferry people into space.

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