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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russians Prepare to Bid Lucid Farewell

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida -- Russian space officials have only the highest praise and affection for NASA astronaut Shannon Lucid, who has spent the past six months aboard their orbiting station and never complained, even though she's been stuck there an extra 1 1/2 months.

Lucid's assignment is about to end. Space shuttle Atlantis blasted into space to pick her up from Russia's Mir station Monday morning, lighting up the pre-dawn sky with billowing smoke and brilliant light as it roared away at 4:54 a.m. from its launch pad at Florida's Kennedy Space Center.

"You can pass it along to the Mir that Atlantis is on her way," said shuttle commander Bill Readdy as the shuttle slipped into orbit 8 1/2 minutes later.

Accompanying Readdy aboard Atlantis are pilot Terry Wilcutt and mission specialists Tom Akers, Jay Apt, Carl Walz and John Blaha.

However, the shuttle quickly ran into equipment trouble that threatened to cut the mission short.

Soon after Atlantis reached orbit -- more than six weeks late because of mechanical and weather delays -- a hydraulic power unit shut down prematurely, and Mission Control said engineers could not immediately determine what went wrong.

Lucid's return was not in doubt, but other activities might be curtailed or rushed. The mission was supposed to last 10 days.

The docking with Mir remained on track for late Wednesday. Flight directors considered moving the linkup to Tuesday, but decided against that because of all the extra fuel that would have to be used to arrive at Mir early.

Atlantis and Mir are supposed to be docked for five days. Shuttle manager Loren Shriver said it was too soon to know whether Atlantis would have to undock sooner than planned and come home early.

But everyone -- the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Russian Space Agency and most of all, Lucid and her family -- can't wait for her to come home.

"As far as Dr. Shannon Lucid is concerned, I would like to extend my sincerest thanks to the management of the program for making such a selection," General Yury Glazkov, deputy commander of Russia's cosmonaut training center, said Sunday. "Because everybody's fond of you. Everybody loves her."

Lucid, 53, a biochemist and mother of three grown children, was supposed to return to Earth in early August. But problems with shuttle booster rockets and two hurricanes stalled Atlantis' trip to the Russian space station Mir.

Every time Lucid was notified of a shuttle delay, she took the news well. In fact, she reacted like Russian cosmonauts do when informed in orbit that their missions are being extended, said Valery Ryumin, a Russian space manager.

The Russians deliberately choose cosmonauts "who are strong enough not to show any feelings" when receiving bad news, Ryumin said. "Probably they are shocked, I don't know, but they never let us understand that."

By the time Lucid returns to Earth, she will have spent at least 188 days in orbit, a U.S. space endurance record as well as a world record for a woman. The previous female record-holder was Russian cosmonaut Yelena Kondakova, who completed a 169-day Mir mission last year.

"I don't think you've taken the record from us. We have offered this record to you," Glazkov said, chuckling. (AP, Reuters)