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Weather may delay shuttle Endeavour

The shuttle launch may be delayed until Saturday

Only 40 percent chance of Thursday launch

January 21, 1998
Web posted at: 10:11 p.m. EST (0311 GMT)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Florida (CNN) -- American astronaut David Wolf may have to spend a couple of extra days orbiting Earth in the Russian space station Mir.

NASA officials say there is only a 40 percent chance that the space shuttle Endeavour will launch as scheduled Thursday night from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The shuttle will carry astronaut Andrew Thomas, who will replace Wolf, who has been on Mir since September.

"Right now, things are looking a little bit iffy," said the launch weather officer, U.S. Air Force Capt. Dave Biggar. The problem is thick cloud cover, which could trigger a lightning strike as Endeavour passes through it, Biggar said.

If Endeavor doesn't launch as scheduled at 9:48 p.m., bad weather could delay the flight until Saturday, he said.

Thomas, 46, is scheduled to be the seventh and last American astronaut to live on Mir as part of a joint U.S.-Russian program, designed to pave the way for development of an international space station.

At the Kennedy Space Center, crews are assembling the first U.S.-built pieces for the $60 billion space station, which are scheduled to be taken into space in a July launch.

Meanwhile, just days after the United States announced plans to send John Glenn into space at the age of 77, the Russians have also decided to send a veteran cosmonaut to Mir at the age of 58.

John Glenn

In May, Valery Ryumin, the director of Russia's end of the Mir-shuttle program, will hitch a ride to Mir on the space shuttle Discovery, in what will be the last scheduled hook-up of a U.S. shuttle and Mir.

Ryumin, who has lost 55 pounds in preparation for the mission, said he wants to inspect the 12-year-old Mir to see how it is holding up in the wake of recent problems, including a fire and a collision with a cargo ship.

"I admit that anybody else could be able to do this task as well," he said. "I understand there is no irreplaceable people in this world. But I was the one to come up with this proposal to my management, and this proposal was approved."

Ryumin has been to space three times, the last time in 1980.

Glenn, who is scheduled for a space shuttle flight in October, has arrived at the Kennedy Space Center to begin training. He said he plans to balance his duties as a senator with his astronaut training and expects to "have adequate time to prepare and train."

National Correspondent John Holliman and Reuters contributed to this report.


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