Today, the Space Shuttle program came to a cloudy, fiery conclusion. The thrill and beauty of a launch was undeniable. Join along—we've got a livestream of the mission's progress below.
It's been 30 years since the first Space Shuttle hurdled into Earth's orbit, the beginning of an age of space exploration that may never be matched in scope, in achievement, and in tragedy. And while we'll surely find our way back to the stars, be it through private industry or a far-flung NASA renaissance, nothing will match the memories stirred by names like Columbia. Challenger. Discovery. Endeavour. And now, finally, Atlantis.
12:16 PM: Welp, they're up there safely, just configuring Shuttle systems and equipment. Good job, guys. We'll be waiting for you down here! 11:51 AM: All things looking good onboard Atlantis as it sets up shop in orbit. 11:45 AM: Mission Control has confirmed "handshakes all around" in Houston. 11:40 AM: It was a couple minutes late, but Mission Control is reporting a flawless launch as Atlantis enters its preliminary orbit. 11:37 AM: Main engine shutoff confirmed. External tank has separated. She's floating on her own. 11:36 AM: The Shuttle is moving at 4 miles per second. Something to think about! 11:33 AM: Mission Control reports Atlantis' rockets are "performing perfectly." 11:31 AM: Atlantis just flicked on its afterburners. 11:31 AM: Solid rocket booster separation. Down it goes! 11:30 AM: Atlantis is already 15 miles in the air, 2,600 MPH. 11:29 AM: Thar she blows! Good luck, Atlantis. 11:27 AM: Launch failure detected, clock is stopped. 11:25 AM: Two minutes. 11:22 AM: We're at T-Minus 5 11:20 AM: Shuttle access arm is retracting. They're stuck on there now! 11:16 AM: Mission Control says weather forecast is an "acceptable risk." 11:14 AM: Lots of strong words flying around in Mission Control. "Let's light this fire one last time." 11:13 AM: Launch team has checked in as go. 10:58 AM: Our Mark Wilson describes the Shuttle in pretty perfect terms: It's "strapped to massive explosives. It's Looney Tunes tech sitting there. That's basically an acme rocket." 10:50 AM: Mission Control is reporting sunshine. Good! I'm sure these four (unbelievably brave) people are excited. 10:49 AM: Atlantis just passed a crucial pre-launch software check, and weather's holding at a green light. Keep your fingers crossed. No rain dances, please.
Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty