Space shuttle launches successfully
US Space Shuttle Atlantis lifted off at 7.45pm this evening after two months of delays. It is on on a mission to deliver the European Columbus space lab to the International Space Station.
It is carrying a crew of seven, including a Frenchman, a German and five Americans.
Just more than one minute after lift off, Atlantis was travelling at nearly 6,000km per hour.
Technical problems that delayed the flight from December have been resolved and weather did not hamper the launch from the Kennedy space station.
The mission is to deliver the 10-tonne European laboratory unit Columbus to the International Space Station, which is being developed as a jumping-off point for exploration to Mars and beyond.
With room inside for three people and operated by ground staff at a control centre near Munich, Germany, Columbus will enable the European Space Agency to conduct experiments related to biotechnology, medicine, materials and liquids.
The lab cost some €1.3bn and was paid mostly by Germany, Italy and France.
The main task for the mission is to use the ISS's robot arm to transfer Columbus out of Atlantis's payload bay and attach it to the space station.
Three spacewalks are scheduled during the mission, which is seen as a major step forward for European ambitions in space.