Contact: Atlantis, Mir dock

By Marcia Dunn Associated Press Published:

To the relief of the 10 people in orbit and hundreds of flight controllers below, the main computer on the dilapidated Mir did not break down during the rendezvous, nor did anything else of note.

As soon as the hatches swung open, shuttle commander James Wetherbee hand the Mir crew a new computer.

"You guys have done a great job up here," Wetherbee said.

Laughter filled the giant orbiting complex.

"Good to see you buddy," one crewman said. "How've you been?" asked another.

And for American Michael Foale, who's been living on Mir since May, there was this loud, happy greeting: "Mikey!!"

Wolf, whose four-month mission was approved just last week, on Sunday will replace Foale, whose 4 1/2-month tenure included the worst wreck ever in space and a barrage of computer crashes. There wasn't enough time to make the switch before Saturday's bedtime.

Despite three breakdowns in as many weeks, Mir's central computer kept the station in the proper position for docking, and only a minor shuttle shift was required as Atlantis snuggled up to Mir 250 miles above the Russian-Kazak border. Engineers had spent days debating what to do in case the computer failed at the last minute.

Besides the new computer, Atlantis has batteries for the 11 1/2-year-old Mir as well as plugs for holes, pressurized air tanks, fresh water, food and other crucial supplies. The shuttle and station are to remain linked for six days, the amount of time it will take the seven Atlantis and three Mir fliers to swap gear.

Unlike his five predecessors on Mir, Wolf is ready for anything. The 41-year-old doctor, engineer and aerobatic pilot took a crash course in Russian spacewalking repairs before leaving on the potentially perilous mission.

Wolf said it's hard to imagine anything worse than what's already happened: a fire in February that sent chunks of molten metal shooting every which way and a collision in June that ruptured the station and slashed its power. Each time, the crew almost had to abandon ship.

Afraid someone eventually is going to get hurt or worse, leaders of the House Science Committee and others implored the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to stop putting more Americans on the increasingly run-down Mir. Even the space agency's own inspector general urged caution.

But after receiving two last-minute outside reviews that found Mir to be no more dangerous than when the first American arrived in 1995, NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin announced Thursday _ just hours before Atlantis' liftoff _ that Wolf's mission would proceed as planned.

Foale, 40, a British-born astrophysicist, also encouraged Goldin to send Wolf, saying the cooperation between the two space programs and the future of the international space station are worth it.

Atlantis has docked six times before with Mir. Only two more shuttle-Mir linkups are planned after this one _ in January to retrieve Wolf and drop off another astronaut and in May to pick that last American up.

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