NASA's last space shuttle blasts into history - WSMV News 4

NASA's last space shuttle blasts into history

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KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL (RNN) -

The space shuttle Atlantis cleared the tower of the Kennedy Space Center's Pad 39A for the last time Friday, ending the 30 year history of America's first renewable spaceship.

"And for the final time … Good luck, God speed and have a little fun up there," Launch Director Mike D. Leinbach told the crew of STS-135 moments before launch.

The final mission of the shuttle, STS-135, and its crew of four are en route to the International Space Station, delivering the module filled with supplies and spare parts to sustain station operations in the shuttle's absence.

Weather nearly stalled Atlantis' final launch as rain drenched the space coast Thursday. A lightning strike 515 feet from the pad delayed final inspections, but the orbiter was later cleared.

After a cloudy start Friday morning, the weather cleared minutes before launch, giving the needed window to send the orbiter on her final voyage.

At about 31 seconds to launch, a minor failure stalled the launch for a short time, but the countdown was resumed.

With the shuttle's departure, NASA looks towards a new future of space exploration beyond the shuttle's limit to lower Earth orbit. It has been almost 40 years since men left earth's orbit on the last lunar mission on the shuttle's predecessor, the behemoth Saturn V.

"Once again, we have the opportunity to raise the bar, to demonstrate what human beings can do if we are challenged and inspired to reach for something just out of our grasp but not out of our sights," NASA administrator Charles Bolden said during a July 1 speech to the National Press Club.

Nearly a decade passed between the last lunar launch and the launch of the first space shuttle, Columbia, in April of 1981. Thirty years later NASA faces a similar absence in space.

Bolden said President Barack Obama is asking NASA to "harness that American spirit of innovation, the drive to solve problems and create capabilities that is so embedded in our story and has led us to the Moon."

NASA will now look to the Russian Federal Space Agency and their Soyuz space ship to fiery astronauts to and from the International Space Station the shuttle played such an integral part in building.

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