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Rocket Launch Marks A First

The first American rocket to be powered by a Russian engine successfully delivered a satellite into orbit on its inaugural flight.

It was the fifth launch attempt in 1 and 1/2 weeks for Lockheed Martin Corp.'s new Atlas III, which finally blasted off Wednesday evening.

“I wish I knew the Russian word for awesome, because that's what the engine did tonight,” said company spokeswoman Julie Andrews.

The evening launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station was valued at nearly $300 million, counting the European communication satellite.

The Atlas III should have flown last year but was grounded following a competitor's botched launch. The failed part was common to both.
Since the first Atlas soared in 1957, more than 550 of the rockets have been launched. Probably the most memorable flight was in 1962 when astronaut John Glenn was the payload.

The Atlas III is the strongest version yet.

It relies on a single, powerful engine provided by NPO Energomash near Moscow, builder of the engines that launched Sputnik, the first satellite, and Yuri Gagarin, the first spaceman. The company also made engines for Russia's intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Unlike NASA's often-strained relationship with the Russian Space Agency in building a space station, this collaboration has been a pleasure, said John Karas, a Lockheed Martin vice president. He attributes that to the fact that the dealings have been between businesses, not governments.

The next Atlas III could fly as early as December.

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