NASA's final space shuttle mission, , successfully at 8:29 a.m. PDT Friday, as millions of people watched worldwide. Some got to see it from near the launch site at Cape Canaveral, FL. Locally, many people gathered to watch the lift off on a big screen at NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field.
"I thought it was pretty cool to see how the shuttle lifted off and how much speed the shuttle could gain as it blasted off into space," said 10-year-old Tori Coleman from San Jose. "It's part of our history. I think I'll definitely remember it, because I took lots of pictures."
Whether this launch was a first or a last for the spectators, the significance of the end of the space shuttle program reverberated through the large bubble-like structure of the NASA Ames Space Exploration Center. After 30 years, the program will end when Atlantis' four-person crew returns after its 12-day mission to deliver supplies, spare parts and science experiments to the International Space Station.
From the national anthem to the countdown, including the gasp during a brief failure at the 31-second mark, observers collectively shared the excitement at the triumphant launch.
"I have followed [the space shuttle program] all along and I wanted to be an astronaut," said Grant Bennett, a 40-something-year-old who took his two children to watch the liftoff. "I wanted my kids to know how it works. I can't believe it's the last one."
His daughter, Isabel, 7, "liked seeing it go up," she said, adding, "I'm glad that it had a nice launch."
Brothers Dwayne and Shane Bhatia, who traveled from Fremont with their father and a friend, had studied up on Atlantis and the history of space exploration.
"I learned that at the end of the 12 days when Atlantis returns, it will be on the same day that Apollo landed on the moon," said 13-year-old Shane. "It was important to me, because it's history."
Their father, Kamal Bhatia, wanted to make sure the kids had this experience.
"I wanted them to be a part of this, and there's no better place to be, being so close to NASA, instead of watching it from a TV at home," he said.
Mountain View's Vice Mayor Mike Kasperzak, in attendance along with Councilwoman Laura Macias, said he remembers seeing the first shuttle launch, the STS-1 Columbia, 30 years ago.
"My only regret was that I never got to see a launch from Cape Canaveral, though I got to see one from the hotel in Orlando two years ago," he said. "Seeing the last shuttle launch is kind of sad."