"Let's light this fire one more time": The Space Shuttle Atlantis lifts off

The Space Shuttle Atlantis takes off for its final flight, in spite of predictions that weather might have delayed this final shuttle mission. Click this image to make giant, or right-click and select "open link in new tab."

According to Associated Press:

"Let's light this fire one more time," Commander Christopher Ferguson said just before taking flight.

The shuttle was visible for 42 seconds before disappearing into the clouds.

It will be at least three years - possibly five or more - before astronauts are launched again from U.S. soil, and so this final journey of the shuttle era packed in crowds and roused emotions on a scale not seen since the Apollo moon shots. NASA has set of long-term goal of flying to an asteroid and eventually Mars.

"Take a deep breath. Enjoy a little time here with your families again. But we've got a lot of work to do. We've got another program that we've got to get under way," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told the launch control team after Atlantis reached orbit. He added: "We know what we're doing. We know how to get there. We've just got to convince everybody else that we know what we're doing."

Photo by AP/Terry Renna.