The US space shuttle Endeavour has launched on its final mission. Its thunderous rise into a bright morning sky over the Kennedy Space Center in Florida was watched by hundreds of thousands of spectators.
Among them was Endeavour commander Mark Kelly's wife, Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona politician shot in the head by a gunman in January. Doctors were satisfied enough with her recovery to allow her to travel to Kennedy to see her husband's departure.
"This mission represents the power of teamwork, commitment and exploration," the commander said in a radio call to launch controllers moments before lift-off. "It is in the DNA of our great country to reach for the stars and explore. We must not stop." Endeavour cleared the pad just after 0856 local time (1256 GMT; 1356 BST). It is now on a path to rendezvous with the International Space Station (ISS) on Wednesday.
The ship will deliver a $2bn particle physics experiment, known as the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), and a tray of critical spare parts. On Endeavour's return, the only active ship left in the US space agency's (Nasa) shuttle fleet will be Atlantis. It should undertake its final mission sometime in in July. Read More