Space shuttle Atlantis sped toward Russia’s orbiting Mir space station Thursday to deliver urgently needed repair equipment and a fresh American astronaut to replace the weary one on board.
The shuttle turned night into day as it blasted off before sunrise with a crew of seven, riding a spectacular column of flame into space.
Atlantis is expected to reach Mir late today for the sixth docking with the space station.
The aging 11-year-old outpost has suffered numerous breakdowns and a fire since Atlantis dropped off astronaut Jerry Linenger in January. Although the situation has improved in the past few weeks, it still is serious because Mir’s life-support systems lack functioning spare equipment.