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"Columbia' to lift off Thursday

The countdown began Monday for a two-week scientific research flight by NASA's oldest space shuttle, the Columbia.

Meteorologists gave 80 percent odds of good weather for the launch, set for 8:54 a.m. Thursday. The only concern was possible high wind.

The five veteran crew members _ four men and one woman _ will spend 14 days conducting medical and structural experiments and testing a new robot-arm grapple system. Columbia also will carry 12 rats as part of a bone and immune cell study.

Most of the primary experiments will be commanded by remote control from the ground.

This is will be Columbia's 16th flight.

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