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Space shuttle Atlantis lifted off Friday morning on the final mission of America’s 30-year shuttle program, a thunderously poignant moment that drew people from around the world to watch.

Some of the thousands of onlookers chanted “U.S.A.” Others shed tears as Atlantis roared aloft atop its powerful rockets on what a NASA commentator called a “sentimental journey into history.”

“Godspeed, Atlantis,” read a sign held up by a saluting member of the ground crew whose job it was to seal the shuttle’s hatch for the last time.

Inside the launch control room, even normally sober engineers acknowledged choking up. Launch Director Mike Leinbach threw his arm around a colleague and said, as they watched the shuttle ascend, “We’ll never see that again.”

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