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Repair team nears space station

Space shuttle Atlantis and a repair team closed in on the international space station Saturday for a 200-mile-high linkup and tune-up.

The shuttle's 17,500-mph chase to reach the space station was due to end just after midnight with a docking above Ukraine.

Commander James Halsell Jr. guided the shuttle as flight controllers in Houston and Moscow prepared the space station for the astronauts' arrival by turning up the thermostat in the chilly outpost and beginning to cleanse its stagnant air.

Halsell and six crew members will be the first humans to enter the space station in a year.

No one was supposed to return until a critical Russian service module was in place, but with the module grounded until at least July and the space station losing its orbit, NASA dispatched a shuttle crew to replace dying batteries and give the sagging station an orbital boost.

Despite the urgent nature of their work, the six Americans and one Russian won't be rushing inside. The hatches between the two spacecraft will remain sealed until Monday night.

The crew's first job will be to conduct a spacewalk tonight.

During NASA's last visit to the space station a year ago, astronauts failed to properly install a crane on the outside. The crane is flapping back and forth, and needs to be locked securely in place. Jeffrey Williams and James Voss also will attach another crane to the station and replace a broken antenna.

Just one day into their flight, the astronauts already were experiencing some shuttle trouble.

A valve in Atlantis' left orbital maneuvering engine may be stuck open. The backup valve is working, as is the engine, which is needed for the return to Earth. As a precaution, Mission Control ordered the crew not to use the left engine until landing day, May 29.

Fishing tournament helps

delay rocket launch

CAPE CANAVERAL _ A fishing tournament and a last-minute technical problem sank a rocket's launch attempt Saturday evening.

Lockheed Martin Corp.'s new Atlas III rocket was poised to blast off for the fourth time in less than a week. But more than 70 fishing boats taking part in an annual charity competition failed to return to shore on time and, instead, lingered in the launch-danger area.

After waiting two hours for the area to clear, launch managers finally resumed the countdown. But with only two minutes remaining, flight controllers saw a computer message they did not understand and the countdown was halted for good.

Launch officials said they would try again this evening.

Probe takes readings of

Jupiter's largest moon

PASADENA, Calif. _ NASA's Galileo spacecraft zoomed by Jupiter's largest moon early Saturday, taking new measurements of Ganymede's magnetic field and images of the surface.

The $1.4-billion probe flew within 502 miles of the moon _ roughly the distance between San Francisco and San Diego _ at about 4 a.m., said Jim Erickson, Galileo's project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

"We've passed Ganymede itself and recorded about half of the observations that we planned on this encounter already," he said. "They're safely on the tape."

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