By DAILY MAIL REPORTER
One last hurrah: Atlantis blasts off for the International Space Station on Nasa's last space shuttle mission
The space shuttle Atlantis thundered into orbit today, writing the final chapter in a 30-year story of triumphs, tragedy and, ultimately, unfulfilled expectations.
A million-strong crowd crammed into Cape Canaveral surrounding towns to bid an emotional farewell to the shuttle as they watched it lift off on its 135th and final mission.
They lined causeways and beaches around the central Florida site, angling for a last glimpse of the pioneering ship that has defined the U.S. space program for the past 30 years.
While there were nervy moments as the countdown stalled for two minutes at 31 seconds while engineers fixed a problem with launch pad equipment - nothing could stop the historic lift off.
'Good luck to you and your crew on this final flight of this true American icon,' shuttle launch director Mike Leinbach radioed to the crew minutes before takeoff, adding: 'Have a little fun up there.'
Up, up and away: The shuttle almost didn't get off the ground though, as the giant countdown clock at Kennedy Space Center stuck at 0.31seconds for what seemed like
Just as the spectators at Cape Canaveral in Florida and tens of millions of television viewers around the world had given up hope, Atlantis began to rise
Off to the ISS: The shuttle was visible for 42 seconds before disappearing into the clouds
The final countdown: The shuttle lifts off as hundreds of fans watch a giant clock countdown with 13 seconds to go
Best view in the house: Some of an estimated one million spectators watch the launch
Emotional: Kennedy Space Centre employee Lisa Gorichky, right, cries as the shuttle lifts off while children watch from a nearby park
Fond farewell: The blast-off marks the beginning of the end for Nasa's shuttle programme
Soaring high: Thousands gather in the surf and on sand at Cocoa Beach, Florida to watch the shuttle pierce the clouds
Aerial view: The shuttle seen from a nearby Nasa aircraft as it lifts off. The plane subsequently flew through the remaining exhaust plume, left
One last time: The shuttle left a huge exhaust plume as it lifted off
No stopping now: A plume of smoke rises from the launch pad as Atlantis blasts into space
The final countdown: Commander Chris Ferguson gestures as he is strapped into his seat aboard Atlantis in footage screened on Nasa TV
Breakaway: Atlantis iseparates from its external fuel tank shortly after launch
Ready to roll: Atlantis crew members (from right to left) Commander Chris Ferguson, Rex Walheim, Doug Hurley and Sandra Magnus, head to shuttle Atlantis on launch pad 39-A for the final launch of the shuttle programme
Astrovan awaits: The astronauts wave to photographers before making the short journey to the launch pad
Hope: Nasa engineers fill Atlantis's tanks with rocket fuel this morning ahead of the shuttle's final flight
Lightning: A bolt struck about a third of a mile from Atlantis today. Nasa engineers didn't detect any damage
Wet: The Vehicle Assembly Building is seen through a window during a downpour at Space Center earlier today
Cover: Up to one million people are expected to try to watch the final shuttle launch live. Many are now ducking for cover in bad weather
Raincheck: A TV journalist is shielded by an umbrella as he reports from beside the launch pad
source : dailymail