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Rocket delivered to launch site

ENGINEERS hoisted a Russian rocket bound for the international space station on to its launch pad yesterday.

A flatbed train delivered the booster rocket - and the attached Soyuz capsule - across frigid Central Asian plains to the launch site at Baikonur in Kazakhstan.

Tradition dictates that the spacecraft's crew, already at the remote launch facility for tomorrow's liftoff, steer clear of the ceremonial installation. Instead, Russian commander Gennady Padalka, United States flight engineer Michael Barratt and US space tourist Charles Simonyi were at a nearby training center preparing for weightlessness.

The 60-year-old Simonyi will become the world's first two-time space tourist.

The rocket was put together in a cavernous assembly plant on Monday. Inside the plant, a crane hoisted the 900,000-kilogram craft on to a train, which pulled it out at dawn yesterday and transported it at walking pace about 2 kilometers to the launch pad.

Simonyi, who paid US$35 million for his trip, may be the last private traveler the Russians allow to catch a ride to the space station.

The space station's permanent crew is set to rise from three to six as other partners in the project - Japan, the European Space Agency and Canada - plan to send up their astronauts later this year.

Meanwhile, on the space station, two astronauts who were teaching math and science to middle school students just five years ago went on a spacewalk together on Monday, but could not free a jammed equipment shelf. Astronauts Joseph Acaba and Richard Arnold II pushed and pulled the stuck equipment storage platform, but finally had to give up.

Using a hammer, Acaba and Arnold managed to loosen the pin that Acaba and another astronaut accidentally inserted upside down on the platform during Saturday's spacewalk.

Mission Control instructed the two spacewalkers to tie the platform down using sturdy tethers. But the shelf mechanism would not extend into the proper position.


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