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U.S. Atlantis shuttle to be launched on December 6

MOSCOW, December 4 (RIA Novosti) - NASA confirmed on Tuesday that the U.S. Atlantis shuttle would take off on a mission to the International Space Station (ISS) on December 6.

The shuttle is set to blast off from Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida at 3:31 p.m. local time (09:31 p.m. GMT) on an 11-day mission.

The shuttle will ferry the $2 billion Columbus European science laboratory to the ISS, docking at the orbiting platform at 08:15 p.m. GMT, on December 8.

"Our preparations ... are going exceptionally well for the launch of the space shuttle Atlantis to the ISS," NASA official Steve Paine told reporters.

The crew consists of seven astronauts - commander Stephen Frick, pilot Alan Poindexter, mission specialists Rex Walheim, Leland Melvin and Stanley Love plus European Space Agency (ESA) astronauts, French national Leopold Eyharts and German national Hans Schlegel.

The astronauts will make three spacewalks in an attempt to attach the bus-size Columbus laboratory to the space station.

"The first and second spacewalks, by Walheim and Schlegel, are scheduled for December 9 and 11, the third will be carried out on December 13, by Walheim and Love," a source at Mission Control Center said.

If work on the lab goes as planned, the crew members might carry out a fourth spacewalk to repair the station's damaged solar panels, which are currently unable to track the sun.

Daniel Tani, who flew to the ISS aboard the Discovery space shuttle in October, will be replaced by Eyharts, and will return to Earth on Atlantis.

The shuttle will undock from the ISS on December 15, at 1:21 p.m. GMT, and is scheduled to land on December 17, 5:29 p.m. GMT.

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