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Atlantis astronauts forced into shorter shuttle survey

Space shuttle Atlantis lifted off from Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on the STS-132 mission to the International Space Station on May 14. Photo: NASA

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA (AP): A snagged cable forced Atlantis' astronauts to resort to a more inconvenient and less comprehensive method of inspecting their space shuttle as they sped toward a weekend rendezvous with the International Space Station.

Mission Control, meanwhile, was monitoring a piece of space junk that was threatening to come too close to the space station. The debris was projected to pass within 9.6 kilometres of the complex on Sunday morning, shortly after the shuttle's scheduled arrival.

Flight director Mike Sarafin said on Saturday that, the estimated gap was right at the allowable limit, and noted that even a small error in determining the location and timing of the junk could have dire consequences. Experts did not know how big the object was or where it originated.

Even if the station has to dodge out of the way, it will not delay the scheduled docking by Atlantis on Sunday.

The condensed safety survey of Atlantis also will not interfere with the docking, Sarafin said.

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