Atlantis up and away to Mir
New astronaut heads to troubled space station
September 25, 1997
Web posted at: 10:39 p.m. EDT (2239 GMT)
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Florida (CNN) -- The space shuttle Atlantis blasted off as scheduled Thursday night, headed for a weekend rendezvous with the problem-plagued Russian space station Mir.
On board the shuttle as it cut its way through the Florida night sky was astronaut David A. Wolf, who will spend the next four months as a Mir crew member.
Liftoff came less than 13 hours after NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin announced his final decision that Wolf would go to Mir -- despite opposition in Congress to sending any more Americans to the aging space station that has been the scene of a string of mishaps in recent months.
Wolf, 41, an unmarried doctor and engineer who spent the past year undergoing cosmonaut training in Russia, had said repeatedly that he was eager to move aboard Mir. As he headed to the launch pad Thursday, Wolf shook his raised right fist in triumph and shouted, "Happy New Year, folks!"
Mir docking set for Saturday
Atlantis and its crew of seven astronauts took off as scheduled from the Kennedy Space Center at about 10:35 p.m. EDT (0235 Friday GMT). The shuttle is scheduled to dock with Mir on Saturday.
In addition to transporting Wolf, the shuttle will also bring along a payload of equipment and supplies for the Russian space station. An American astronaut now on board Mir, Michael Foale, will be brought home on Atlantis' return.
Goldin announced Thursday morning that, after evaluating the recommendations of two outside panels of experts, he had decided to send Wolf to Mir.
"As the person who bears the ultimate responsibility for America's space program, I have been diligently reviewing the independent and internal safety assessments," Goldin said at a news conference.
"I have concluded shuttle Mir has had a thorough review process that ensures continued American participation on board Mir and does not put human life in unnecessary peril."
Critic says NASA acting 'negligently'
But the leading critic in Congress of sending more Americans to Mir, Rep. James Sensenbrenner, Republican of Wisconsin, said NASA officials were "acting negligently" by sending Wolf to Mir.
"He is not only being put at unnecessary risk, but the benefits of Mr. Wolf's mission as a result of what has happened on Mir are so reduced that in my opinion the risks outweigh the benefits," he said.
When asked if he believes NASA is being reckless, he said, "I don't think they are acting recklessly. I think they're acting negligently, however."
Sensenbrenner said that he intends to have Goldin defend his decision before Congress.
Experts worried about recurring problems
The 11-year-old Mir has encountered several problems
over the past seven months, most notably a fire and collision
that almost forced the crew to abandon ship.
Despite the drama of those incidents, however, many experts
are more worried about recurring problems: computer crashes,
oxygen-generator breakdowns and malfunctions in the carbon
On Monday, Mir's computer failed for the third time this
month, sending the ship spinning in space. The three-man crew fixed it within a day.
NASA's inspector general expressed concern about the glitches in testimony before the House Science Committee last week, and committee leaders opposed sending Wolf on the mission.
Wolf will be the sixth American to live on Mir and help pave
the way for a planned international space station. The first NASA astronaut to live on Mir arrived in March 1995.
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