"At about 1:15 am (EST) Wednesday they will begin an extremely complicated ballet in space as they approach the Mir," says TIME aerospace correspondent Jerry Hannifin of the planned rendezvous between the shuttle Atlantis and the Russian space station. "We've never done anything quite like this. Flying over Russia and in range of a Russian control station, the Atlantis crew will maneuver the 100-ton shuttlecraft, with this big docking tunnel sticking 15 feet out of its payload bin, very slowly -- at the rate of an inch per second -- through a forest of antenna and solar arrays. It looks like a big mechanical porcupine with five to ten inches of clearance. The Atlantis crew will ram it into the docking port on the Mir. A huge metallic kiss. It's going to require some exquisite spacemanship." If all goes according to plan, says Hannifin, the space ballet will be over by 1:48 am EST. The two crews will greet each other at 3:45 am. "The Americans are bringing some chocolate," says Hannifin, "and about 900 pounds of potable water."