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Atlantis to embark before dawn on mission to Mir


May 14, 1997
Web posted at: 9:08 p.m. EDT (0108 GMT)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (CNN) -- The space shuttle Atlantis was to lift off before dawn Thursday on a mission to swap U.S. astronauts aboard the Russian space station Mir.

NASA's Cape Canaveral launch was set for 4:08 a.m. EDT (0808 GMT) to pick up astronaut Jerry Linenger from Mir and drop off his replacement, Mike Foale.

Launch pad workers at the Florida launch site have handled two minor technical glitches since Monday, shuttle test director Doug Lyons said.

Technicians dried one of Atlantis' steering thrusters because of a moisture buildup in the combustion chamber. Also, engineers got bad readings from two electronic units that are part of the system to separate the solid-fuel rocket boosters and external fuel tank from Atlantis after liftoff.

Lyons said the units appeared to be working well again.

The shuttle's crew of seven, including a Russian woman and a French astronaut from the European Space Agency, were to start taking their seats aboard Atlantis about 1 a.m. EDT (0500 GMT).

Forecasters were optimistic that the weather would cooperate during the shuttle's seven-minute launch window.

Atlantis was to dock with Mir on Friday night. Linenger, a 42-year-old Navy captain and medical doctor, has been working aboard the orbiting outpost since January.


Linenger's four-month stay on Mir has been a rough one. The space station's oxygen-making machine was damaged in a brief but serious fire, and there were a string of breakdowns in Mir's life-support systems. When the air conditioning system broke down, it caused the air cleaner that removes carbon dioxide from the air to fail.

"You should worry about Mir. I worry about Mir, and if our people give a sense you shouldn't worry, the communication process isn't working," said NASA Administrator Daniel Golden.

"Whenever human life is involved, I worry. There have been very severe problems on Mir."

Atlantis's cargo bay is filled with spare parts and replacement systems for Mir, including a new oxygen generator; a valve for a still-unbuilt backup unit for removing carbon dioxide from the air; hoses, clamps and caps for plugging leaks in the cooling system; and carbon monoxide detectors.

Foale, 40, an astrophysicist with both British and U.S. citizenship, is to spend nearly five months on Mir. He said he was more worried about the launch of Atlantis than the time aloft.


"The most dangerous thing I'll do is go out to the space shuttle on launch morning, and that is where the risk lies," Foale said. "Once you're in space with life-support systems running, the risks are less immediate."

Foale will be the fifth NASA astronaut to live on the outpost.

If the shuttle remains on schedule, Linenger will end his stay on Mir just in time to witness the birth of his second child, expected in June.

Correspondent John Holliman and Reuters contributed to this report.


Shuttle mission

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