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Space Station Flying High

Russian and U.S. ground controllers Monday adjusted the orbit of the new international space station's first module to prepare for a rendezvous with another module next month.

The Russian-built Zarya module has been smoothly orbiting Earth since a flawless launch on Friday. "All Zarya's equipment has been working without a glitch," said Vera Medvedkova, a spokeswoman for Russian Mission Control.

Early Monday, Zarya's orbit was adjusted for the third time since the launch. After another maneuver Tuesday, its orbit will be shifted from an elliptical one to a more circular one, at about 240 miles above the Earth.

This is the position required for a rendezvous with the American space shuttle Endeavour, which is to be launched Dec. 3 carrying the Unity connecting module. The shuttle crew is to capture Zarya using the Endeavour's robot arm and then attach the two modules in three space walks.

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According to Medvedkova, Russian ground controllers were guiding Zarya from a separate room at the Mission Control outside Moscow that has been turned into a control room for the new space station.

Workers in a separate hall in the same building control the Russian space station Mir. Russian space officials had decided to discard the aging Mir next June, but recently said that its life may be extended if they are able to raise funds.

NASA also has been monitoring Zarya from its newly inaugurated Mission Control Center for the international space station at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Zarya's launch was held back for a year because the cash-strapped Russian space agency had failed to meet its obligation on building a crucial follow-up component that would house the crew.

The 41.2-foot Zarya, built for NASA by the Russian Khrunichev company, is designed to serve as a space tugboat in the early stages of the project, providing propulsion, power, and communications.

The station, involving 16 nations, will consist of more than 100 elements that will take 45 assembly flights to complete. It is due t be completed by 2004.

The station will weigh 500 tons and is expected to cost at least $40 billion, with the United States picking up $24 billion of that amount. It will serve as an orbital home for visiting astronauts and cosmonauts for at least 15 years.

The new station will not be inhabitable until at least early 2000, following the launch of the Russian-made crew module, which is set to blast off next July or August.

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