Updated: May 14, 2010 at 3:49 PM
Atlantis shuttle launch (16 images)
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., May 14 (UPI) -- The U.S. space shuttle Atlantis roared off its launch pad in Florida Friday and zoomed toward the International Space Station on its final mission.
Just before liftoff from Kennedy Space Center, Launch Director Mike Lienbach wished the six crew members "good luck and Godspeed" and told them to "have some fun out there."
Atlantis reached orbit without incident and was on its way toward the space station at about 17,500 mph, NASA said. The three main engines were shut off and Commander Ken Ham and his crew were to use smaller orbital maneuvering system engines to lift the shuttle higher into space for its two-day pursuit of the 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 minutes leading to liftoff, NASA engineers resolved concerns about the discovery of a ball bearing near the shuttle's payload bay.
The all-male shuttle crew members are on a 12-day mission to deliver an integrated cargo carrier and a Russian-built research module. The are to return to Earth May 26.
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.
NASA's space shuttle "Atlantis" rolls out from the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center on April 21, 2010. The roll began at 11:32 PM. Atlantis is heading to Launch Complex 39A for its final mission, STS 132, which is currently scheduled for May 14, 2010. Atlantis will carry a crew of six and deliver the Russian Mini-Research Module to the to the International Space Station during a twelve day mission. UPI/Joe Marino-Bill Cantrell
The shuttle crawler transporter departs the pad perimeter as NASA's space shuttle "Atlantis" sits on Complex 39A following its rollout at the Kennedy Space Center on April 22, 2010. Atlantis will fly its final mission, STS 132, currently scheduled for May 14, 2010. Atlantis will carry a crew of six and deliver the Russian Mini-Research Module to the to the International Space Station during a twelve day mission. UPI/Joe Marino-Bill Cantrell
NASA's space shuttle "Atlantis" sits bolted on Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center as media photograph the rollback of the Rotating Service Structure on May 13, 2010. Atlantis will fly its final scheduled mission with a crew of six to the International Space Station to deliver the Russian Mini-Research Module during its twelve day mission. UPI/Joe Marino-Bill Cantrell
A family of Osprey are seen outside the NASA Kennedy Space Center Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) in Cape Canaveral, Florida on May 13, 2010. The countdown is on for the May 14th launch of space shuttle Atlantis on its STS-132 mission. UPI/Bill Ingalls/Pool