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Space shuttle Atlantis launched

Atlantis springs into action from Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Image Credit: NASA

FLORIDA (AFP/PTI): The shuttle Atlantis has blasted off carrying vital supplies and spare parts for the International Space Station to push its life past the 2010 retirement of the aging shuttle fleet.

Atlantis launched at 2:28 pm (1928 GMT) on Monday from the Kennedy Space Center near Florida's Cape Canaveral carrying six astronauts and some 27,000 pounds (12,300 kilos) of gyroscopes, ammonia tanks and other equipment.

"A perfect launch, right on time," said a NASA spokesman after the shuttle reached orbit about eight minutes into its flight, hurtling at a speed of more than 15,000 miles (24,000 kilometers) per hour, NASA said.

Moment before the lift-off, launch director Mike Leinback wished the crew godspeed, declaring: "All the vehicle systems are outstanding today, the weather is near perfect for a good lif-toff today."

Space agency officials said the mission was crucial as just five more shuttle launches remain before the planned September 2010 retirement of the fleet and the spare parts will add years to the space station's life.

"You'll see this theme in some of the flights that are going to come after ours as well," said mission director Brian Smith. "This flight is all about spares, basically, we're getting them up there while we still can.

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