It's being called a "picture-perfect liftoff:" Space Shuttle Endeavour launched from the pad at Cape Canaveral in Florida this morning at 8:56 a.m. EST, its thrusters sounding off for the last time as it rocketed toward what will be its last mission.
This is NASA's 134th launch of the Space Transportation System — thus STS-134 — and Endeavour, the fleet's youngest shuttle, is tasked with a two-week-long mission to deliver supplies to the International Space Station, Lego kits and the multi-billion dollar Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (or AMS-02).
The AMS-02 is actually part of the reason we still have Space Shuttle missions: the shuttle program was supposed to cut off with STS-133, but a science experiment as expensive as the AMS-02 — which will hunt for undiscovered particles in cosmic rays — as well as worries over supporting the space station helped NASA lobby for another last hurrah or two. Space Shuttle Atlantis, which is scheduled to launch sometime in June, is currently the last Space Shuttle flight on the radar.
On this flight, Mike Fincke, a mission specialist, is expected to set a record for the most time spent in space as STS-134 should put him at 380 days in orbit. This will only be his third spaceflight, but he's spent two tours on the International Space Station. Besides that, he's also setting the record for best pre-liftoff breakfast ever in our books. This morning he had two grilled lobster tails and a baked potato before the launch: