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Soviet officials tour space center as shuttle is prepared for launch

Russian defense committee lawmakers toured the Kennedy Space Center on Sunday as NASA groomed the shuttle Atlantis for a Thursday launch with a secret satellite that reportedly will spy on the Soviet Union. The committee chief and head of the delegation, Vlaidimir Lapygin, said he was impressed by the facilities, and when asked what he thought of Atlantis' spy satellite, he replied with a smile:

"We have no special secrets. .

.

. I think you are wasting your money."

The unprecedented five-hour Soviet visit here and stops at other U.S. military installations follows a similar trip to that country last August by members of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee.

Among the 23 visitors were 10 members of the Defense Committee of the Soviet National Legislature and advisers on space, disarmament and foreign affairs.

At Launch Pad 39A, workers were buttoning up the shuttle's engine compartment and making other preparations for a darkness launch early Thursday.

The countdown was to start Sunday night.

Because Atlantis' payload is classified, the Pentagon and NASA will not announce the precise launch time until nine minutes before liftoff to make it harder for Soviet satellites and a reconnaissance ship sitting offshore to track the spaceship.

Sources close to the project said Atlantis and its crew of five military officers are to take off at 1 a.m. on the mission that is expected to last four days. The sources said the shuttle's payload is a 37,300-pound satellite that will snap reconnaissance photos and eavesdrop on military and diplomatic communications.

They said the satellite's orbit will cover most of the Soviet Union, including northern areas not previously overflown by shuttle-launched spy satellites. The Soviets have heavy concentrations of naval ships and submarines and several missile bases there.

The satellite will help monitor Soviet compliance with arms control agreements.

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