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Shuttle Crew Docks With Mir

The shuttle Discovery crew docked with Russian space station Mir Thursday.

"Contact and capture, Houston," Cmdr. Charles Precourt radioed to NASA controllers as the shuttle gently docked with the aging space station.

"It looked beautiful from here," astronaut Marc Garneau of mission control radioed back.

The crew is picking up astronaut Andrew Thomas in NASA's final linkup with Mir.

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A malfunction of the shuttle's KU-band antenna prevented Discovery from transmitting TV pictures back to Earth, meaning any live images of the docking came from Mir's cameras, which provide only meager coverage.

Problems aside, Thomas couldn't wait for his ride home after spending four months aboard Mir.

"Oh, excellent!" he exclaimed Wednesday after learning the shuttle was, indeed, on its way. Thomas has spent 140 days on Mir.

Apollo astronaut Tom Stafford, who commanded the first U.S.-Russian space mission in 1975, called Discovery commander Charles Precourt on Wednesday to congratulate the shuttle crew on this week's farewell mission to Mir.

Discovery's flight marks the ninth and final shuttle-Mir docking mission in what NASA calls phase one of the international space station program. Phase two is the assembly of the new station, using lessons learned from the shuttle-Mir program.

The Russians plan to continue flying aboard Mir through 1999, after which they will let it burn up in the atmosphere and turn their attention to the international venture.

"Knowing that our last docking is the beginning of the end for that space station is nostalgic, because we won't be able to go back to it and we'll have to move on," Precourt said.

Following pressure checks to make sure the the docking systems of the shuttle and the station are properly connected, the crews will open the hatches. The crews expect to be united Thursday afternoon.

The shuttle and Mir will be linked for four days, and the astronauts will transport a few thousand pounds of water, food, and other supplies to the Russians.

In addition to Thomas, all of NASA's science gear will return aboard Discovery, scheduled to arrive back on Earth June 12.

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