Final Space Shuttle Launch A Success

Jul 8, 2011, 14:24 by Sarah Long

The successful launch of space shuttle Atlantis Friday marked the final flight of the U.S. Space Shuttle Program, which oversaw 135 flights in 30 years.

The shuttles are to be replaced by a new generation of spacecraft that President Barack Obama says will put U.S. astronauts on an asteroid and then on to Mars, Reuters reports.

"Today's launch may mark the final flight of the space shuttle but it propels us into the next era of our never-ending adventure to push the very frontiers of exploration and discovery in space," Obama said in a statement from the White House.

Approximately one million sightseers witnessed the liftoff, which was almost delayed due to cloudy skies, according to Reuters.

"Good luck to you and your crew on this final flight of this true American icon," shuttle launch director Mike Leinbach radioed to the crew minutes before takeoff, as reported by Reuters.

Upon Atlantis' return, about 3,200 space shuttle contractor employees will be laid off, according to Reuters. Most work at the spaceport in Florida.

"We're going to be going through a tough time. Change is hard," said Kennedy Space Center director Bob Cabana, as reported by Reuters.