Editor's Note: Atlantis' journey to the International Space Station will be NASA's 135th and final mission in the space shuttle program, which began 30 years ago. Tune in to CNN's live coverage of the launch Friday, on CNN.com/Live and the CNN mobile apps. As part of our coverage our teams are the ground are sharing what they are seeing and hearing during this historic day.
[Updated at 1:36 p.m.] Astronaut Julie Payette, a Canadian flight engineer who flew two shuttle missions told CNN: â€śI feel good about it being a grand finale for an extraordinarily successful program.â€ť
â€śThis program has inspired so many people," she said. "It is very inspirational when we do things on the edge and this is one of the edges thatâ€™s hard to reach.â€ť
[Updated at 12:37 p.m.] Dr. Mae Jemison, the first African-American in Space, said the launch today was a "really bittersweet feeling."
"[It's like] you've had a good friend or a car that did a really good job, but now its time to move on," she said.
[Updated at 12:20 p.m.] @NASA tweets: "The STS-135 post-launch news conference now will be held at 1 p.m. EDT."
[Updated at 12:06 p.m.] Linda Johnston from Palestine, Texas wiped tears away from her eyes as the shuttle blasted into space. This was her first launch and the moment was overwhelming. She rose from her wheelchair and looked by the brim of her straw hat as her husband and grandson stood by her side.
She said the shuttle symbolizes patriotism. Why its ending, she doesn't know - she's just happy that she and the three generations of her family got to see this one in the flesh.
Another family from Warren, Michigan came to see the last launch.
"It was something I could never see again," one woman told CNN's Brooke Baldwin as she cried. "But I've never seen it and I wanted to."
5-year-old Parker Mills, who was with the rest of his family explained, "It was ginormous!Â It just went up into the clouds."
[Updated at 11:55 a.m.] Astronaut Leroy Chiao is here to do an interview with CNN International. He's got a"celebration" cigar lit and in hand and said the final launch was "fantastic."
Chiao was the commander of Expedition 10 and lived aboard the International Space from October 2004 to April 2005 and has been aboard three shuttle flights.
[Updated at 11:41 a.m.] "When we saw the bright glare of the shuttle and the chants of U.S.A., U.S.A. started going up, it was hard not to cry, frankly," CNN's Carol Costello says.
[Updated at 11:33 a.m.] Space Shuttle Atlantis has achieved main engine cutoff.
[Updated at 11:31 a.m.] The solid rocket boosters continue to travel upward another 150,000 feet after they are ejected, former astronaut Cady Coleman explains.
[Updated at 11:29 a.m.] A half a ton of fuel per second is being drained from Atlantis' main fuel tank. Engines performing perfectly, NASA says.
[Updated at 11:28 a.m.] "Atlantis flexing its muscles one final time," flight commentator says.
[Updated at 11:27 a.m.] Atlantis is in the middle of its eight-minute ride into orbit.
[Updated at 11:26 a.m.] Space Shuttle Atlantis has lifted off, marking NASA's final mission in the space shuttle program.
"The space shuttle spreads its wings one final time for the start of a sentimental journey into history," launch control said.
The man who is famous for his musical parodies has taken on one of the biggest names in music: Lady Gaga. Yankovic has redone Gaga's latest hit, "Born This Way," and the video for "Perform This Way" premiered on YouTube on Monday. The song was not without controversy, as Entertainment Weekly reported that Lady Gaga's manager initially told Yankovic that Gaga wasn't in support of the song. But after Yankovic took to the Internet to express his frustration, Gaga's manager admitted thatÂ the singerÂ had never seen the video or heard the song.
On his blog, Yankovic wrote of the manager: "Even though we assumed that Gaga herself was the one making the decision (because, well, thatâ€™s what we were TOLD), he apparently made the decision completely on his own. Heâ€™s sorry." Proceeds from the single will go to the Human Rights Campaign.
The 22-year-old from Northern Ireland became the U.S. Open's second youngest champion since World War II when he ran away from the competition over the weekend, posting the lowest four-day total in U.S. Open history, besting Tiger Woods' record set in 2000.
McIlroy's feat is even more impressive after he had a well-documented collapse on the final day of the Masters, costing him the coveted green jacket, which is given to the winner of the famed golf tournament. As one of the games biggest tweeters, McIlroy was noticeably absent the week leading up to the U.S. Open. However, on Sunday, he tweeted a photo of the U.S. Open trophy as well as two words that sum up the weekend: #winning #bounceback.
The University of Central Florida football player's death is in the spotlight this week in an Orlando courtroom, just 11 floors below where the Casey Anthony trial is under way. Plancher's family filed a wrongful death suit against the school, and jury selection for the trial began Monday, the Orlando Sentinel reports.
Plancher, 19, died in March 2008 following an off-season workout that head coach George O'Leary conducted. An autopsy confirmed that Plancher died from complications of a sickle cell trait, and his parents allege the school and its football medical support staff did not properly treat their son, according to the newspaper.
The Sentinel's Mike Bianchi reports the trial's outcome could affect college football programs in the future. He also notes the case is unique because it's going to trial rather than being settled out of court.
The Dallas Mavericks star overcame illness and injury during the NBA championship series against the Miami Heat and was named MVP of the series after the Mavs beat the Heat inÂ six games.
The 7-foot German has been the face of the franchise for 13 years, but the championship has always eluded him and the Mavs.
Nowitzki and the Mavs lost to the Heat in the 2006 championship series, and as Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports wrote Monday, "He's been the most awkwardly graceful star the sport's ever seen, a testament to a game played far below the rim, and deep within the mind."
The wife of Rep. Anthony Weiner is a central, and silent, figure since her husband's sexting admission Monday. Many have asked: Will their 11-month-old marriage survive?
The Washington Post column The Reliable Source praised Abedin for not appearing alongside Weiner on Monday as the suffering wife.
Abedin, 34, was born in Michigan, grew up in Saudi Arabia and returned to the United States to attend college, according to the New York Daily News. Her late father, a college professor, was from India and her mother, also a professor, was born in Pakistan.
A headline Tuesday on the ethnic news site New America Media asked, "Will Huma Abedin Remain Weiner's Good South Asian Wife?"
Abedin is a longtime senior aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, starting out as an intern to the first lady in 1996, according to a 2007 Vogue magazine profile. Abedin and Weiner met during Clinton's 2008 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, the Daily News said.
Not only did Clinton throw Abedin and Weiner an engagement party, but former President Bill Clinton officiated at their wedding. Abedin is Muslim and Weiner is Jewish.
"Abedin has the energy of a woman in her 20s," Clinton said in the Vogue article, "the confidence of a woman in her 30s, the experience of a woman in her 40s and the grace of a woman in her 50s."
These three students dropped out of college to receive a $100,000 grant and mentorship to start a tech company. They are part of the first group of Thiel Fellows - 24 people under age 20 who have agreed to put their formal education on hold for two years for this one-of-a-kind opportunity.
Deming, 17, is developing anti-aging therapies; Zaman, 18, is building mobile payment systems for developing countries; and Burnham, 18, is working on extracting minerals from asteroids and comets. Peter Thiel, the PayPal co-founder and Facebook investor, announced the first group of Thiel Fellows on Wednesday through his Thiel Foundation. He says the fellowship addresses two of the country's most pressing problems: a bubble in higher education and a dearth of Americans developing breakthrough technologies.
"We're not saying that everybody should drop out of college," Thiel told The New York Times.
The fellows can always go back to school. The problem, he said, is that "in our society, the default assumption is that everybody has to go to college."
"I believe you have a bubble whenever you have something that's overvalued and intensely believed," Thiel said. "In education, you have this clear price escalation without incredible improvement in the product. At the same time, you have this incredible intensity of belief that this is what people have to do. In that way, it seems very similar in some ways to the housing bubble and the tech bubble."
Egbert, an 83-year-old anesthesiologist, is being called "The New Doctor Death" by Newsweek. EgbertÂ told The Baltimore Sun he's helped in the deaths of over 300 patients with illnesses ranging from cancer to Alzheimer's.
Egbert, who runs a right-to-die nonprofit called Final Exit Network, faces charges in Georgia, according to The Daily Beast, and was just acquitted in PhoenixÂ in a case involving the death of a woman.
"I never thought of myself as having done anything that I should feel guilty of," he told the Sun. "I don't feel any conflict about helping someone stop suffering."
The group says it will help thoseÂ who "have an incurable condition which causes intolerable suffering," according to its website . The group says there is a full and rigorous evaluation to decide whether to approve an applicant.Â When a person is accepted, FEN assigns â€śexit guidesâ€ť who offer advice on how to "hasten death," though physically they will not do anything to help.
The 19-year-old native of Japan says he will donate all the money he wins on the PGA Tour this year, including this weekend's Masters, to his earthquake- and tsunami-ravaged homeland.
Ishikawa, who shot a 1-under-par 71 in the first round of the Masters, won $2 million last year, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. He said he hopes to inspire his country by playing well.
"I understand that people, especially in Sendai, they are living in hell, and I would love to show the energy and power of what golf can bring to those people."
The "non-essential" government worker is one of 800,000 who will not get paid if the government shuts down. The Montana resident works for the U.S. Forest Service and doesn't consider the work he does "non-essential," since some of the work he does includes protecting the U.S.-Canadian border. Thatcher tells CNNMoney.com, "I've worked with the Forest Service over 30 years and I'm damn proud to be a Forest Service employee."
The baseball player at Mount Pisgah, a small private school in Johns Creek, Georgia, is turning heads as a relief pitcher with a reported 85-mph fastball.
But it's not the fastball that has people talking. It's the fact that Sandy is a girl, one of just a few across the country playing high school baseball.
"I've seen and coached with a lot of boy pitchers the same age, and she has got just as much or more talent than half of them," Joey Hamilton, a former major-league pitcher and one of Sandy's private coaches, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
"I love baseball; it's my favorite sport and always has been," Almon told the paper. "I don't know how to explain it other to say that baseball just comes natural to me. Other sports, like basketball, are work. Baseball is not that way."
The Sacramento, California, high school senior has achieved an honor few of her peers can match: A school in Liberia has been named for her.
In gratitude for her work, officials named a new school in Monrovia, the Liberian capital, for her.
"The school is taking enrollment now and it should be starting in the fall. It's the Casey Robbins International School," said Robbins, who visited the site in February. "It's definitely a cool thing for me. I got to have a picture with the sign for my school."
Robbins said she plans to continue and possibly expand the program while attending Stanford University after graduation.
The rocker played a show in China on Wednesday night to a crowd who mostly didn't know who he was, just days after artist and activist Ai Weiwei was arrested for alleged "economic crimes." Dylan's set list had to be approved by the Ministry of Culture, and a few of his most popular songs, including "The Times They Are a-Changin'," were not played, the Los Angeles Times reported. "Foreign acts coming into China are watched much more closely than native Chinese bands," said Nevin Domer, booking manager at D-22, a mecca for student rock in Beijing.
The Florida congresswoman will be named chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, replacing Tim Kaine, who is running for the Senate from Virginia. Two women have previously been the chairs of the DNC: Jean Westwood in 1972 and Debra DeLee in 1994 and 1995. Debbie Wasserman Schultz has risen in the ranks of the Democratic Party since she took office in 2005. The congresswoman is a breast cancer survivor and the mother of three children. Many Americans may recognize her as one of the friends present at the hospital when Rep. Gabrielle Giffords first opened her eyes after being shot in January.
The former Pennsylvania congressman has arrived in Libya to meet with Moammar Gadhafi. Weldon wrote in a New York Times op-ed piece, "I've met him enough times to know that it will be very hard to simply bomb him into submission." Weldon wrote that he's going on the invitation of Gadhafi's chief of staff and called for an immediate U.N.-monitored cease-fire, "with the Libyan army withdrawing from contested cities and rebel forces ending attempts to advance."
The Warren, Michigan, native found a kidney donor for her husband on Facebook. Though an infrequent user of the popular social networking site, Kurze wrote a post lamenting her husband's deteriorating condition, according to the Detroit News. She wrote, "I wish a kidney would fall out the sky," and "If someone knows a living type O donor, let me know." Not long after, Ricky Cisco replied, offering up his kidney.
The 10-year-old from Pittsburgh gave the Super Bowl ring he bought with his college savings for $8,500 back to retired Chicago Bears player William "The Refrigerator" Perry. Perry had to sell the ring several years ago after being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and falling on hard times. Forrest wanted to buy the ring and give it back to Perry, and the avid sports memorabilia collector told ESPN on Monday, "When I Googled Mr. Perry after I got the ring, I saw he had the disease and went through rough times. And I thought he needed it more than I did."
The 40-year-old sumo wrestler, who weighs 405 pounds and has a 60-inch waist, is training to run 26.2 miles in the Los Angeles Marathon on Sunday. Should he manage it, Guinness World Records is prepared to recognize him as the heaviest person ever to finish a marathon.
Gneiting took up sumo wrestling in the late 1990s and has won three U.S. championships. Running a marathon has been his goal since grade school, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times.
Gneiting lives on an Indian reservation in Arizona, the Times says, and has a master's degree in geography from the University of Idaho, according to a bio at nostringsattachedenews.com. His wife and five children live in Idaho.
"I honestly think I'm one of the best athletes in the world," he says.