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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — In a brilliant burst of power and light, space shuttle Atlantis took off after the international space station on Thursday to deliver a $164 million portal for spacewalkers.

The rain and storm clouds that NASA had feared all week stayed away, allowing Atlantis and its crew of five to begin their journey after a month’s delay. The shuttle rose through the muggy, pre-dawn darkness as space station Alpha zoomed over the Indian Ocean.

“Congratulations you guys! You’re going to get company,” Mission Control radioed the three residents of the space station.

Atlantis is due at Alpha late Friday night.

The shuttle is carrying a 6-1/2-ton American-made airlock, or pressure chamber, that will enable American astronauts living aboard the station to wear their own spacesuits during spacewalks. U.S. spacesuits are incompatible with the Russian-made systems on the station.

The airlock will be installed this weekend, using the space station’s new 58-foot robot arm.

The space station should have received the new airlock last month. But problems with the shoulder joint on the robot arm had to be fixed first.

NASA

on the webNASA

needs more spacewalking capability in order to finish building the space station. Eighty-two spacewalks are planned over the next five to six years on the U.S. side alone, including three on this mission.

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The airlock will complete a major phase of construction for the space station that began with the launch of the first piece 2-1/2 years ago. Future flights will primarily add more power and other countries’ laboratories.

A new shuttle main engine design, featuring a sturdier fuel turbopump with no welds, made its flight debut during Atlantis’ launch. Preliminary indications are that it worked well.

Atlantis is due back on Earth on July 23.

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