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Atlantis Begins Journey To Dock with Mir

Los Angeles Times
Cape Canaveral, Fla.

The space shuttle Atlantis cracked open a robin's-egg-blue Florida sky with a deafening roar Tuesday afternoon as hundreds of spectators and NASA officials cheered and sighed with collective relief.

Pounding rain with lightning had been soaking the area for days, preventing two scheduled launches last week and threatening to keep the five U.S. and two Russian crew members indefinitely on the ground. But the storms held off Tuesday.

Atlantis had to begin its journey during a 10-minute window beginning at 3:32 p.m. (EST) in order to make its planned docking with the Russian Mir space station, now set for Thursday morning. Mir passed over Kennedy Space Center just minutes before Atlantis took off; by the time the shuttle left the ground, Mir was over Iraq.

"Liftoff of the space shuttle Atlantis on a mission that will herald a new day of international cooperation in space," launch commentator Bruce Buckingham said as the shuttle rode into orbit. The blastoff marked the 100th U.S. human trip into space.

The mission is the first joint U.S.-Russian mission since a U.S. Apollo spacecraft linked up briefly with a Russian Soyuz in 1975. This time, the two craft are to mate for five days at more than 200 miles above the Earth, conduct several dozen experiments on biological effects of zero gravity, and set the stage for building an international space station.

Waiting on Mir for a ride home is U.S. astronaut Norm Thagard, who broke the record for the longest U.S. space flight June 6, when he logged 85 days on Mir. His two crewmates, cosmonauts Vladimir Dezhurov and Gennady Strekalov also will be hitching a ride home on Atlantis.

This is to be the first of seven planned dockings, all testing procedures and equipment for the international space station, a partnership between Russia, the U.S., Europe, Japan and Canada. Construction is due to begin in 1997, with occupancy scheduled for 2002.

Americans on Honeymoon Killed By Land Mine in Egypt


They were newlyweds, celebrating their 9-day-old marriage with a dream honeymoon at a Red Sea resort in Egypt.

But Monday the lives of U.S. Army Maj. Brian Horvath, a cardiologist, and his bride, Maj. Patricia Kopp-Horvath, ended together when the off-road vehicle in which they were touring the Sinai desert hit a land mine that exploded beneath the rear axle.

An Army spokesman at the Pentagon, Lt. Col. William Harkey, declined to confirm the Horvaths' deaths until a positive identification could be made in six to 10 days.

But Capt. Dominick Varrone, commander of the Suffolk County (N.Y.) Police Community Response Unit, where Horvath's mother, Arlene, works as an aide, said an Army official from Fort Hamilton in New York City notified the Horvath family of the tragedy Monday evening.

Horvath and his wife, their driver and guide had driven 30 miles north of the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik, according to Michael Sternberg, the chief representative in Israel of the multinational force in the Sinai, where they struck the mine. The driver and guide survived the blast, but their condition was unclear.

A source at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Egypt, said the area where the explosion occurred - just north of the Sinai's southern tip - was well-traveled and was visited frequently by tourists. It was not in any way restricted, the source said.

Simpson Team Debates Whether O.J. Should Take the Stand


O.J. Simpson is determined to take the witness stand, face the jurors and tell them he did not kill his ex-wife and her friend, sources close to the case said Monday.

But while he has even begun preparing in jail with his lawyers for what would be a brutal cross-examination, his defense team is worried about the wisdom of having him testify and is divided on whether it should even be considered.

As the prosecution nears the end of its case, debate among Simpson's lawyers has grown more heated over whether he should testify.

According to sources, lead lawyer Johnnie Cochran, Carl Douglas and F. Lee Bailey are seriously considering calling Simpson to the stand. But Robert Shapiro, Gerald Uelmen, Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld are said to feel strongly that the risks outweigh the benefits.

John Burris, a prominent California lawyer, said the decision is a difficult one. "They're willing to consider it in light of his strong desire to testify," he said. "They have to be mindful, though, that if he doesn't testify and he loses, then you have the potential for an insufficient-assistance-of-counsel argument."