Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Last NASA Astronaut Set for Mir

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida -- The countdown has begun for the launch of the space shuttle Endeavor on a mission to the Mir space station.

Endeavor, fresh from an eight-month refit, is scheduled to blast off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center on Friday at 5:28 p.m. Moscow time and dock with Mir two days later.

The shuttle will pick up U.S. astronaut David Wolf, who has been aboard the station since September, and drop off his replacement, Andrew Thomas.

Thomas, the seventh and last U.S. crew member scheduled to live aboard Mir, arrived at the Florida spaceport Monday afternoon with his six shuttle crewmates.

Thomas, who was born in Australia and was granted U.S. citizenship in 1986, was not supposed to fly to Mir. He was a backup to Wolf and moved into the prime position when Wolf took the place of another astronaut who was deemed too small to fit a Russian spacesuit.

"You read sometimes about people getting to do amazing things, and I still have to pinch myself a bit to believe I'm going to get this extraordinary adventure," Thomas said.

The 46-year-old former aerospace engineer is to return to Earth in June, ending NASA's joint missions with Russia to Mir. The three-year cooperative program was designed to pave the way of the $60 billion International Space Station project.

The shuttle's countdown got underway Monday after engineers spent the weekend studying a hydraulic leak in Endeavor's engine compartment. NASA managers decided to press ahead with launch preparations because the leakage did not present a safety hazard, agency spokesman Bruce Buckingham said.

It will be the first flight of Endeavor, NASA's newest shuttle, since May 1996. The orbiter spent eight months at a Boeing Company plant in Palmdale, California, for a $50 million refit that equipped it for dockings at Mir and the International Space Station.

The current crew on Mir lacks the spare parts to fix a leaky hatchway and the repairs will be carried out by the next team in March, officials said Tuesday, The Associated Press reported from Moscow.

Anatoly Solovyov and Pavel Vinogradov ventured into the station's docking chamber Sunday and detected a broken lock which prevented the hatchway from sealing hermetically.

New locks would be brought to the station by a replacement crew scheduled to blast off Jan. 29. It consists of Russian cosmonauts Talgat Musabayev and Nikolai Budarin and French astronaut Leopold Eyharts.

Eyharts will work in orbit for three weeks before returning to Earth in February together with Solovyov and Vinogradov.

Musabayev and Budarin will carry out the repairs in early March, Itar-Tass quoted deputy missioncontrol chief Viktor Blagov as saying.