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Storms scuttle shuttle's liftoff

The space shuttle Atlantis made history Friday, but not the type NASA wanted.

Atlantis' launch was the first to be scrubbed because weather was too stormy to fuel the external tank. Lightning streaked within a few miles of the launch pad, preventing workers from safely pumping more than 500,000 gallons of supercold liquid hydrogen and oxygen into the 154-foot tank.

NASA will try again today. This time the agency has 10 minutes and 20 seconds to launch Atlantis on a course to dock with the Russian space station Mir. If weather permits, NASA will try the launch between 4:43 p.m. and 4:53 p.m.

Because of a short window of opportunity, Atlantis must lift off by 4:50 to dock with Mir on Monday and return July 4, as scheduled. Any later, and the docking cannot take place until Tuesday.

The chance of bad weather _ storms, rain and clouds _ during the scheduled launch time is 70 percent today and 70 percent Sunday, said Air Force Capt. David Biggar, the weather officer at Kennedy Space Center.

"We expect a better chance Monday and Tuesday if we don't get it off this weekend," Biggar said. "Due to the nature of the mission, they're having to launch at the worst possible time of year and the worst possible time of day."

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