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Friday, January 23, 1998 Published at 06:55 GMT


Endeavour launch marks Mir's final stand
image: [ The US astronaut Andrew Thomas will replace his colleague David Wolf, on Mir ]
The US astronaut Andrew Thomas will replace his colleague David Wolf, on Mir

The United States space shuttle Endeavour is in orbit carrying what Nasa plans to be the last crew member to visit the Russian space station, Mir.

The spaceship, with six Americans and one Russian aboard, took off from Florida at 2148 local time (0248 GMT Friday).

During the five-day rendezvous in space, the US astronaut Andrew Thomas will replace his colleague David Wolf, who will leave the space station after a four-month stay.

Endeavour's crew will also deliver three tonnes of food and supplies to Mir.

Storms had been expected in the area that could have clouded Endeavour's five-minute window for blast-off. But the launch proved successful.

Under a space co-operation program between Russia and the United States, the last and final US shuttle mission to Mir will take place in May.

Mir will be mothballed after the International Space Station (ISS) begins to come on line in 1999. Construction is to begin in mid-1998.

The accident-prone Mir had its worst spate of problems last year, including a fire and a collision with an unmanned supply ship.

But the head of Russia's shuttle-Mir program, Valery Ryumin, said Mir is now trouble-free, apart from a malfunctioning air conditioner which is to be replaced out of Endeavour's cargo.

The shuttle will also deliver a new computer and spare parts.

Both US and Russian space programme officials acknowledge that the joint five-year shuttle program has laid crucial groundwork for the international space station.


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