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Shuttle Launch



NASA Starts Countdown for Shuttle Launch

                           By Brad Liston

                           CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) - NASA is
                           counting down toward a Friday launch of the
                           space-shuttle Atlantis on an assembly and
supply
                           run to the International Space Station, a $60

      billion science outpost that is under construction.

      Highlights of the 11-day voyage will include a space walk in which
an
      American astronaut and Russian cosmonaut scamper along the outside
of the
      11-story station as it is docked with the orbiting Atlantis.

      Inside the station, the crew of seven, along with viewers on
Earth, will get
      their first look inside the Zvezda service module since the
Russian Space
      Agency launched it into space in July. Zvezda will be the early
headquarters
      aboard the sprawling construction site once the first
long-duration crew,
      dubbed Expedition One, heads for space in October.

      The space station is being built by a 17-nation consortium led by
the United
      States and Russia, the most experienced space-faring nations.

      Completion is targeted for 2005, and by that time the station
should sprawl
      365 feet (108 meters) at its widest point, host six laboratories
and house a
      crew of seven in pressurized space roughly equivalent to two
modest
      suburban homes.

      The three-day countdown for launch of the shuttle began on
Tuesday.

      Atlantis is scheduled for liftoff about 8:45 a.m. EDT on Friday,
with weather
      forecasters saying there is a 60 percent chance of clear skies and
winds
      acceptable for a launch.

                      The space shuttle crew arrived at the Kennedy
Space
                      Center on Monday night from their training center
in
                      Houston aboard T-38 training jets.

                      ``We're ready to go,'' Commander Terrence Wilcutt,
a
                      U.S. Marine Corps colonel and veteran of three
                      previous shuttle flights, two of them to the
Russian Mir
                      space station. ``We've been training about seven
months
                      and I don't think we've left any stone unturned,''
he told
      reporters waiting on the ground.

      This mission is similar to other recent flights in that Atlantis
will deliver tons of
      supplies to the station as astronauts assemble and wire various
appliances
      and on-board systems. On this trip the station gets a toilet.

      Atlantis last flew about four months ago, making this a very quick
turnaround
      for shuttle operations as the program tries to catch up on past
delays.

      The launch window, often an hour or more long, will be between two
and
      four minutes on Friday. Tightening the window is a way to conserve
fuel, and
      NASA wants to add a 12th day to the mission, if possible, giving
the crew
      time to get ahead of schedule in station assembly.

      Space station construction has been held up more than a year as
the
      cash-strapped Russians struggled to get Zvezda off the ground.
NASA is
      counting on this launch to uncork an ambitious schedule of 15 U.S.
and
      Russian flights over the next year.

      ``There's an awful lot of launches coming up in the next year.
We're all
      looking forward to getting this off on the right foot,'' Atlantis
mission specialist
      Edward Lu said during the crew-arrival ceremony.

      In addition to Wilcutt and Lu, the Atlantis crew includes three
other
      Americans -- pilot Scott Altman and mission specialists Richard
Mastracchio
      and Daniel Burbank -- and two Russians, Yuri Malenchenko and Boris

      Morukov.

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