Atlantis' Crew Finally Gets to Fly

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By MIKE SCHNEIDER
The Associated Press
Saturday, September 9, 2006; 11:52 AM

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- The six astronauts aboard Atlantis were supposed to fly to the international space station more than three years ago, but the Columbia disaster and then problems with the shuttle's fuel tank kept them grounded.

Through it all, they stuck together, and their 4 1/2 years of training has set a record. It all paid off Saturday morning as Atlantis blasted into space.

"After Columbia, I wondered if the shuttle was going to fly ... I was concerned that we might not get to do this," said Chris Ferguson, Atlantis' pilot who is on his first space flight.

The long training period together has created a tight-knit group, said Brent Jett, Atlantis' commander.

"You're with a group for an extended period of time, you've become really like family," Jett said. "Just like any family, we have our own inside jokes."

Noteworthy personal details about the Atlantis six:

_ Two are rookies on their first space flights.

_ Three astronauts will conduct their first spacewalks.

_ Five are parents. Among them they have a total of 11 children.

_ One comes from the Canadian Space Agency and will be the first Canadian to operate the space station's Canadian-built robotic arm.

Here is a more detailed look at each astronaut:

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© 2006 The Associated Press

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