Atlantis Lifts Off on Final Flight

CAPE CANAVERAL, FL. (AP) - The shuttle Atlantis is on its way to the International Space Station for the final time.

The launch happened only a few minutes later than planned. There was only a 30% chance the launch would go as planned.

This will be the 33rd flight for Atlantis and the 135th shuttle mission overall.

The four shuttle astronauts suited up after sunrise.

The mission will last 12 days and will close out the space shuttle program, which started in 1981 with the launch of Columbia.

It will be another three to five years before astronauts blast off again from U.S. soil.

U.S. Senator John Cornyn, (R) Texas, today issued the following statement regarding the launch of Atlantis:

"Today's launch represents a bittersweet milestone for the 30 year-old U.S. program. While many of us are sad to see the era of the shuttle come to a close, we can take pride in the many accomplishments of the men and women at Johnson Space Center and those of the contractors and greater Texas community who provided critical support to the program over the past three decades.

"While today marks the end of the shuttle's chapter, we know this is not the end of human space exploration. I will continue to work with my colleagues in the Texas congressional delegation to ensure our state remains at the helm of a robust human space program, which will help the U.S. maintain its competitive edge and stand as a source of pride for all Americans."

U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) Texas, Ranking Member on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, today made the following statement regarding the final launch of the Space Shuttle Atlantis:

"The launch today of the Space Shuttle Atlantis on the STS-135 mission is a bittersweet moment. It marks the beginning of the end of the Space Shuttle Program, which has been the proud symbol of American human spaceflight leadership and accomplishment for the past 30 years.

"It should also be a proud moment for the hardworking men and women of NASA who have done so much over the past 30 years to inspire and provide the ultimate example of what America is capable of accomplishing.

"But at the same time, it begins a period when this nation will no longer be able to launch humans to space-or to the International Space Station-on U.S. launch vehicles. I am hopeful that NASA will do everything it can to speed up the delivery of Orion Multi-purpose Crew Vehicle, announce plans for the development of heavy lift rockets and work together with Congress so we can embark on a new era of American dominance in manned spaceflight.

"The United States cannot afford to abdicate its leadership role in space, when our innovation and accomplishments have brought so much to the American economy, national security and the quality of life for all mankind."

We'll have continuing coverage today on Newschannel 6 at Noon. You can watch live coverage from NASA TV here.