Space Shuttle Atlantis heads to the ISS

The last-ever space shuttle launch has taken place, despite some last-minute glitches that saw the countdown held at just T-minus 31 seconds.

Coming in the last few minutes of a tight launch window at an overcast day as the computers at Mission Control handed off to those within the Atlantis shuttle itself, the short hold left many wondering if the weather would close in before the glitch was corrected.

Thankfully for all involved, the shuttle launch was able to go ahead without issue - and the crew are now approaching orbit, ready to rendezvous with the International Space Station.

The launch marks the last time that any of the US's stock of space shuttles will be used to take men or cargo into orbit. Created as a reusable craft at a time when most countries were using single-use disposable rockets, the space shuttle programme is considered to be the one of the highlights of the world's efforts to take mankind to the stars.

Sadly, the programme was beset with problems. High-profile failures that resulted in several crew deaths led many to publicly question whether the reusable craft were durable enough for repeated atmospheric entry and exit, and the decision was made to mothball the fleet.

Many are claiming that today's launch marks the last time that the US will be at the forefront of space exploration and exploitation, with the once-leading nation leaving the final frontier to the Chinese and other upcoming nations.