Space Shuttle Countdown

By: The Associated Press
By: The Associated Press

The countdown has begun toward the first space shuttle flight of the year.

Engineers report no major technical problems and the weather forecast looks favorable for a Friday launch of Atlantis.

The shuttle will carry seven astronauts on an 11-day mission to the international space station. They'll deliver a third pair of solar wings which help power the station and will also take three spacewalks to continue construction of the orbiting outpost.

The launch originally was set for mid-March but was postponed after a freak hail storm caused thousands of dings in the insulating foam on Atlantis' external tank.

Technicians spent more than two months making painstaking repairs to the tank.

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