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By 8 July 2011 | Categories: news

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Today is a bitter-sweet day for space exploration, as the most recognisable and iconic space program since Apollo is coming to an end. We are of course referring to NASA's Space Shuttle program, which will be having its final launch today with the liftoff of shuttle Atlantis.

The STS-135 mission sees four astronauts (compared to the usual six or seven) ride shuttle Atlantis to the International Space Station in the final mission for the infamous space planes. STS-135 will have Atlantis delivering the Raffaello multipurpose logistics module to the station, in addition to delivering supplies, logistics and spare parts to the orbiting platform.

While there is still a good chance that weather could disrupt today's launch, spirits are high at NASA that everything will go as planned, with the astronauts already strapped into the shuttle cockpit at this very moment.

Commander Chris Ferguson, pilot Doug Hurley and mission specialists Rex Walheim and Sandy Magnus is taking part in the final mission, with the eyes of the world poised on the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

There were brief fears that lighting strikes last night could have interfered with today's launch, but NASA technicians have since confirmed that while two strikes occurred close to the launch pad, neither had damaged the shuttle or the launch tower.

Atlantis will be docked to the ISS for nearly two weeks, and after it returns to earth the 30 year long space shuttle program will be brought to an end. There is hope on the horizon though, with private companies such as SpaceX set to take on the duties of resupplying the ISS, in conjunction with Russia's Soyuz capsules.

You can view the launch preparations (and hopefully the launch itself) live right now for absolutely free on NASA TV. We've been following the stream since early this morning, and we'd recommend you don't miss the opportunity to witness this history making launch.

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