After two months of delays, the space shuttle Atlantis blasted off today at 2:45 p.m. ET from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Atlantis and its seven-person crew roared away from the seaside launch pad after overcoming fuel-gauge problems that thwarted back-to-back launch attempts in December.
All week bad weather had threatened to delay the flight. Most recently, the same cold front that spawned killer tornadoes across the South stayed far enough away to cut NASA a break.
(Related photos: "Tornadoes Ravage U.S. South" [February 6, 2008].)
The sky was cloudy at launch time, but rain and thunderstorms remained off to the west.
"All systems are go," launch director Doug Lyons told the astronauts on board. "I'd like to wish you a successful mission and safe return."
Shuttle commander Stephen Frick replied: "Looks like today's a good day, and we're ready to go fly."
Labs in Space
About 300 Europeans gathered at the launch site to see Atlantis take off with the Columbus lab, which is the European Space Agency's primary contribution to the space station.
It will join the U.S. lab, Destiny, in orbit for seven years.
A larger Japanese lab—Kibo, or "Hope"—will require three shuttle flights to get off the ground, beginning in March.
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