Casting aside a week of ominous weather, space shuttle Atlantis successfully lifted off at 11:29 AM EST today from Kennedy Space Center. A brief pause in the countdown at :31 seconds to confirm retraction of the external fuel tank's Gaseous Oxygen Vent Arm, or "Beanie Cap," was the only hiccup in what so far appears to have been a flawless launch. It was probably the most awesome thing--as in, literally full of awe--that I've seen in my life.
The sudden, sunny triumph over a 30%-favorable weather forecast added to what was already an incredibly emotional scene here by the big countdown clock at the Kennedy press site, where over 2,000 members of the media joined Kennedy Space Center employees for the shuttle program's farewell. With 45 minutes until the 10-minute launch window, weather conditions were given a thumbs up by NASA officials, and it stayed that way.