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AP version Shuttle Launch



Space Shuttle Atlantis Blasts Off

                       By MARCIA DUNN, AP Aerospace Writer

                       CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) - Space shuttle
                       Atlantis and a crew of seven thundered into orbit

                       Friday on a mission to furnish the growing
international
                       space station.

                       NASA had worried for days that rain might delay
the
                       launch. But the approaching storm slowed down and

      stayed far enough offshore, allowing the shuttle to rise from its
seaside pad
      into a cloud sky at 8:45 a.m., right on time.

      Atlantis' 11-day voyage is the first shuttle flight in almost four
months and the
      start of what NASA hopes will be a rapid-fire series of missions
to the space
      station.

      It was an auspicious start - this was the first punctual launch
for the space
      shuttle program since John Glenn's return to orbit in October
1998.

      ``Have a nice trip. Make station into a home,'' launch controller
George
      Gross told the astronauts just before liftoff.

      ``We intend to do just that,'' replied shuttle commander Terrence
Wilcutt.

      The space station was soaring over Hungary, 6,600 miles away, when

      Atlantis took off. The shuttle should catch up early Sunday.

      The five U.S. astronauts and two Russian cosmonauts will be the
first to float
      into the space station's new Russian-made control module, Zvezda,
which
      means Star. Its arrival 11/2 months ago nearly doubled the size of
the station
      to a crowded three rooms.

      Wilcutt and his crew will unload thousands of pounds of supplies
from
      Atlantis and a Russian supply ship that already is docked to the
space station.

      They also will install the toilet, set up the treadmill and lay
cable.

      Until Zvezda's launch in July, more than two years late, space
station
      construction was on hold. Despite the extra time, Zvezda failed to
meet
      NASA safety standards for noise and micrometeoroid protection.
Mufflers
      and shields eventually will be added; in the meantime, everyone
inside,
      Atlantis' crew included, will have earplugs.

      Space shuttle Discovery must follow with the first piece of space
station truss,
      or framework, before the first permanent residents can move in at
the
      beginning of November.

      Altogether, NASA plans eight shuttle flights to the space station
over the next
      year, beginning with Atlantis' mission.

      ``We made use of the delays to get our hardware ready, and now
it's time to
      show that we can deliver on what we said we were going to do,''
said Robert
      Cabana, manager of space station international operations.

      The high point will be the launch of the U.S. lab Destiny in
January. At that
      point, the international space station will be larger than
Russia's Mir. That is
      also when controllers in Houston will take over day-to-day space
station
      operations from their counterparts in Moscow.

      Russia is supposed to supply more cargo ships and more space
station
      components. But because of the country's financial crisis,
everything beyond
      this year is in question.

      Atlantis is due back on Sept. 19, although NASA hopes to conserve
enough
      power to extend the mission by one day.

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