Space shuttle Atlantis is on its way to orbit for the last time. Atlantis and an experienced crew of six blasted off this afternoon from the Kennedy Space Center. More than 40,000 guests gathered at the Florida launch site, all of them eager to catch one of the few remaining shuttle flights. NASA said it was the biggest launch-day crowd in years.
The shuttle is bound for the International Space Station. It should reach the orbiting complex Sunday. Atlantis is carrying a full shipment of space station gear. Only two shuttle flights remain after this one. Discovery is due to fly in September, followed by Endeavour in November. The fleet is being retired so NASA can pursue more ambitious exploration. This is the 32nd flight for Atlantis. (Read more Atlantis stories.)