The Space Shuttle Atlantis has launched from pad-39A at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. It represents the last flight of the Shuttle and brings to an end to just over 30 years over flights from this remarkable space vehicle. Despite two tragic failures the Shuttle has been an icon of the manned exploration of space in recent years including its missions to the ISS and its defining missions to repair the Hubble Space Telescope.
Eight-and-a-half minutes later the main engines shut down as Atlantis reached its target orbit to rendezvous with the ISS on 10 July.
Automatic hold due to check on retraction issue with the gaseous vent arm. Countdown restarts after a brief delay.
Atlantis is out of the T-9 minute hold as the weather is still good for launch. The launch at 15:26 UT is in the middle of the 10 minute launch window permitted for rendezvous with the International Space Station. On re-starting countdown the launch sequencing is fully automated and any of the monitoring systems can shut down the launch automously at any point.
In completing the Shuttle programme, Atlantis was responsible for a number of key landmarks - the first to launch a probe to another planet, the first to visit a space station, and the first to fly with a glass cockpit.
After the standard hold at T-20 minutes the countdown has resumed for the launch of Atlantis. The next hold is at T-9 minutes and will last 40 minutes. Weather permitting the launch is still on schedule for just over 1 hour. The hatch to the Shuttle was closed sometime ago and close out crew are in the process of leaving the launch pad.
Despite ongoing concerns about the weather, particularly at the landing site should the Shuttle have to abort on take-off and make an immediate return, the four crew are starting to board the Shuttle and beginning to run through various communications checks.
NASA has also reported some interesting statistics on the history of Shuttle mission since its maiden flight:
The fueling of Atlantis's external tank with over 500,00 gallons of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen is now complete. The weather is still marginal with forecasters giving a 30% chance of launch today. If the launch is cancelled today it is likely that a second attempt will be made on Sunday 10 July. This would create a strange bookend to the Shuttle programme with the original Columbia mission launch also delayed from a Friday to Sunday.
Despite forecasts of poor weather at the launch site, NASA is continuing with the countdown for the final flight of the Space Shuttle. Shuttle mission STS-135 is set to launch at 15:26 UT on 8 July and although there are strong storms in area fueling of Atlantis's external fuel tank is now underway.
* All images are from the NASA website, or captured from their live stream of the launch.