The space shuttle Endeavour launched right on schedule Monday morning, making its final flight into space, to deliver a key piece of scientific equipment to the International Space Station.

Shortly before liftoff Endeavour’s commander Mark Kelly, whose wife Gabrielle Giffords watched the launch at Kennedy Space Center, said the flight represented the best of America and humanity.

via Flickr user scazon

“It is in the DNA of our great country to reach for the stars and explore,” Kelly said. “We must not stop.”

With Endeavour’s launch NASA has only the orbiter Atlantis to fly before it ends the space shuttle program this summer. After that, the space agency has no rocket and capsule ready to take the shuttle’s place.

Monday’s launch went off with few hitches after being grounded for nearly a month by an issue with an on-board heater that malfunctioned during an April 19 launch attempt.

via Shuttle Endeavour flies safely into orbit | SciGuy | a blog.

Hundreds of thousands of people came to watch the launch, including Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, on a pass from The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research in Houston, where she's recovering from her bullet wounds.

Giffords was there to watch her husband, Shuttle Flight Commander Mark Kelly, make his last trip into space.  It's reported that Kelly is wearing his wife's wedding ring on his final flight.

In case you missed it this morning, here's a video recap of the final launch, as well as footage from inside the shuttle: