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The National Aeronautics and Space Administration started fueling the space shuttle Atlantis today for a sunset launch that will carry Destiny, the $1.4 billion laboratory module, to the international space station.

Perfect weather was forecast for the 6:11 p.m. liftoff. But rain and low clouds at the emergency landing sites in Spain and Morocco threatened to delay the mission, already three weeks late because of booster wiring inspections.

Space officials described the module as the "crown jewel" of international space station Alpha. No major science can be conducted aboard the orbiting complex without the lab.

The weeklong mission will include three spacewalks to hook up the electrical connections between Destiny and Alpha.

26 more deaths linked
to Firestone tires

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Twenty-six more deaths from traffic accidents involving Firestone tires have been reported to federal investigators, whose inquiry now is expected to last until at least summer.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has collected reports of 174 fatalities and more than 700 injuries among more than 6,000 complaints citing tread separations, blowouts and other problems with certain Firestone tires.

The agency is examining whether Bridgestone/Firestone's August recall of 6.5 million ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires is sufficient or needs to be expanded to include other models that may have problems.

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