Mir'll Meet Again

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It's the end of an era: Mir and the space shuttle Columbia are set to hook up for a final waltz Friday, after cosmonauts fixed a three-day-old computer glitch that had left the Russian station crippled and isolated without thruster power. Bad software was believed to be the culprit, but engineers eventually came across and replaced a frazzled electronics box. Now nothing stands in the way of Tuesday's shuttle launch -- and after four and a half months, Australian-born NASA astronaut Andy Thomas can finally go home.

This ninth and last Shuttle-Mir mission has all at Houston and Moscow feeling a touch nostalgic, even for the snafus that plagued the program. The last-minute computer breakdown had NASA mission chief Frank Culbertson almost misty-eyed: "It's frustrating to a certain extent, but hey, maybe it's our signature," he said. "It certainly adds some drama to it." After Mir flames out next year, the U.S. and Russia may have to wait as late as 2006, and the completion of the International Space Station, to enjoy such drama again.