After weeks of delay, space shuttle Atlantis was finally launched for its mission to the International Space Station (ISS).
The orbiter will deliver new equipment to the space station.
The mission was due to take place in March but repairs had to be made to the shuttle's external tank, which was damaged by a hailstorm in February.
Golf-ball sized hail stones hit the launcher vehicle system, causing hundreds of dents and minor surface damage to the tank's foam coveriSince the destruction of Atlantis's sister shuttle Columbia and the death of its crew in 2003, shuttle damage has been a major cause of concern for Nasa. ng and to heat shields on the orbiter itself. Columbia's heat shield was damaged during its launch and the ship was destroyed as it returned through the atmosphere 16 days later.
Atlantis has a crew of seven: Rick Sturckow will command the mission and Lee Archambault will serve as Atlantis' pilot. Mission specialists James Reilly, Patrick Forrester, Steven Swanson, John Olivas and Flight Engineer Clayton Anderson make up the rest of the team.
Mr Anderson will replace Sunita Williams on the ISS, who will be returning to Earth aboard Atlantis. Space shuttle Atlantis blasted off into space on Saturday to bring back Indian-American astronaut Sunita Williams after her six month stay at the International Space Station , the longest for any woman.
The crew will be installing a new backbone segment and a set of solar wings on the space station, which is currently being expanded.
Nasa must fly at least 13 more missions to finish constructing the orbiting outpost before retiring its fleet of shuttles in 2010.
However, the delays to Atlantis' mission have meant that Nasa will have to reduce its 2007 programme from five to four launches.