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Shuttle Launched, Heads for a Perilous Docking With Mir

<i> from Associated Press</i>

The space shuttle Atlantis and its crew dashed after the Russian space station Mir on Sunday, drawing closer for a tricky, and risky, docking.

When Atlantis catches up Wednesday, it will be the first time a shuttle has been used in station assembly, providing NASA with much-needed experience for building an international space station.

Atlantis and its five astronauts began their voyage at 4:30 a.m. PST, punching through low clouds on their way to orbit.

Until the last few minutes of the countdown, it seemed as though the clouds over the launch pad and bad weather at the shuttle emergency landing strips overseas would delay liftoff for the second day in a row. But NASA decided the clouds posed no obstruction, and the sky cleared at two touchdown sites in Spain.

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The first major step of the 245-mile-high rendezvous comes Tuesday, when Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield uses the shuttle robot arm to move the docking port into position for the linkup.


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