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Rays of hope for faulty shuttle

Cape Canaveral (AFP) - Two of the space shuttle Discovery's thrusters malfunctioned shortly after take-off yesterday, threatening a rendezvous with the Russian Mir space station, the cornerstone of its eight-day mission. The National Aeronautics a nd Space Administration (Nasa) is hoping, however, to turn the craft towards the Sun to melt the frozen fuel believed to be responsible.

Discovery blasted off on its eight-day mission carrying Nasa's first female pilot, a British-born astronaut, and a Russian cosmonaut after a 24-hour delay due to problems with a navigational unit.

It would allow the astronauts to photograph the space station from all angles in preparation for an actual docking of Mir and a US shuttle in June as part of a US-Russian programme to build a new space station.

A total of eight shuttle trips are planned to the Mir station through 1997 before Nasa starts building an international space station with help from Russia and other countries.

The shuttle, commanded by James Wetherbee, is piloted by Lt-Col Eileen Collins. The other crew members are Michael Foale, who was born in Lincolnshire, Vladimir Titov, Ber-nard Harris, and Janice Voss.

Dr Foale, 38, is now a US citizen, having emigrated in 1982 to become an astronaut after gaining a PhD in astrophysics from Cambridge University.

His mother, Mary, said her son had wanted to go into space since he was six years old. "He saw the capsule that John Glenn had come down in on one of his missions and thought, `I could do that'," Mrs Foale told ITN.