Shuttle Atlantis launches on its last mission

Space shuttle and six-man crew lift off for a 12-day mission to bring supplies, spare parts, to space station

NASA's space shuttle Atlantislifted off at 2:20 p.m. EDT today, heading out on the final mission of its 25-year career.

Atlantis and its six-man crew launched into orbit from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The shuttle, on a 12-day mission to bring supplies and spare parts to the International Space Station, entered orbit within nine minutes after liftoff.

NASA had predicted that the shuttle had a 70% chance of clear weather and the spacecraft launched into clear blue skies.

On its 32nd mission, Atlantis will ferry an 11,000-pound Russian-built mini research module to the station, along with new batteries for the facility's solar array, a spare communications dish antenna and scientific experiments.

"Twelve days, three [spacewalks], tons of robotics ... We're putting on spares that make us feel good about the long-term sustainability of the [space station], replacing batteries that have been up there for a while, and docking a Russian-built ISS module," said John Shannon, space shuttle program manager, in a statement. "This flight has a little bit of everything."

The research module is nearly 20 feet long and eight feet wide. It will be attached to the space station and will be used for storage and as extra work space.

Attaching the new module and the spare communications antenna will be the top priorities for the six astronauts during three planned spacewalks.

While this is the last planned mission for Atlantis , which already has logged 115 million miles , NASA has two more flights scheduled with other shuttles before the entire fleet is retired. The final shuttle mission is scheduled for November.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld . Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com .

Read more about emerging technologies in Computerworld's Emerging Technologies Knowledge Center.

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