Just before the shuttle Atlantis lifted off on NASA's last-ever shuttle mission, the spaceship's astronaut commander and launch director shared some words to start the flight off on a high note.
The final "go" for launch was given by launch director Mike Leinbach less than 10 minutes before the shuttle blasted off at 11:29 a.m. EDT (1529 GMT). The launch team was able to take advantage of a break in the clouds to lift off Atlantis despite predictions of foul weather that threatened to delay the launch.
"Okay Fergie, we're starting to feel pretty good down here on the ground here about this one here today," Leinbach told commander Chris Ferguson from the launch control center. "On behalf of the greatest team in the world, good luck to you and your crew on the final flight of this true American icon. And so for the final time, Fergie, Doug, Sandy and Rex, good luck, Godspeed and have a little fun up there."
Ferguson, strapped onboard the orbiter along with pilot Doug Hurley and mission specialists Sandra Magnus and Rex Walheim, radioed back:
"Hey, thanks to you and your team Mike. Until the very end, you all made it look easy. The shuttle is always going to be a reflection of what this nation can do when it dares to be bold and commits to follow through. We're not ending the journey today Mike, we're completing a chapter of a journey that will never end."
Ferguson went on to thank "you and the thousands of men and women who gave their hearts, souls and their lives for the cause of exploration." [Sad and Proud, Space Shuttle Workers Await Final Goodbye]
"Let's light this shuttle one more time, Mike, and witness this nation at its best," Ferguson concluded. "The crew of Atlantis is ready to launch."
Ferguson and Leinbach weren't the only ones sharing special messages to mark the flight.
After closing the hatch on Atlantis, with the astronauts strapped in inside, seven members of the close-out crew held up a series of placards that spelled out a message. The workers, whose job it is to help prepare the orbiter and crew just before launch, collectively said:
"On behalf of all who have designed and built, serviced & loaded, launched & controlled, operated & flown these magnificent space vehicles, thank you for 30 years with our nation's space shuttles. Godspeed Atlantis! God Bless America!"
Atlantis is on a 12-day voyage to the International Space Station to stock up the outpost with spare parts and fresh supplies to keep it running without future shuttle deliveries. Until a new private American spacecraft is ready, NASA astronauts will rent seats aboard Russian spacecraft to travel to the space station, which is set to operate until at least 2020.
After this mission, Atlantis and its sister orbiters Discovery and Endeavour will be retired to museums to go on public display.