CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) -- Atlantis and four astronauts thundered into orbit Friday on NASA's last space shuttle voyage, writing the final chapter in a 30-year story of dazzling triumphs, shattering tragedy and, ultimately, unfulfilled expectations.
After days of gloomy forecasts full of rain and heavy cloud cover, the spaceship lifted off at 11:29 a.m. -- just 2 1/2 minutes late -- and embarked on the 135th shuttle mission. The crowd of spectators was estimated at nearly 1 million.
"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.
Atlantis' crew will deliver a year's worth of critical supplies to the International Space Station and return with as much trash as possible. The spaceship is scheduled to come home on July 20 after 12 days in orbit.
When Atlantis returns, it will be put on display at the Kennedy Space Center. Discovery and Endeavour already are retired and being prepped for museums in suburban Washington and Los Angeles.