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Thick clouds delay homecoming another day for shuttle astronaut

After 144 days away from his family and planet, astronaut Michael Foale's return from Mir was delayed Sunday because of thick clouds that prevented a safe landing by space shuttle Atlantis.

NASA waited until the last minute before ordering the seven-member shuttle crew to remain in orbit an extra day.Although the weather was good enough for an unmanned rocket to blast off with a communication satellite, the sky was too cloudy for Atlantis to attempt a tricky touchdown in darkness. Earlier, gusty wind was also a concern.

If he returns Monday as now planned, Foale will have spent 145 days in orbit.

Foale couldn't wait to see his wife and two young children and to dig into some pizza and pasta. Also on his wish list: beer and "a lot of chocolate."

"Ian hasn't been crying for Daddy because he can see my excitement and he knows he's coming home," Rhonda Foale said of their 3-year-old son.

A cargo ship similar to the one launched to Mir from Kazakstan on Sunday plowed into the station in June, one month after Foale arrived.

The Progress M-36 cargo ship lifted off from the Baikonur cosmodrome on schedule at 19:08 p.m. Moscow time (9:08 a.m. MDT), Russian Mission Control said. It entered Earth's orbit 9 minutes later.

The cargo ship will need about two days to align itself with the Mir on its orbit 250 miles above the Earth.

Vladimir Lobachev, director of Mission Control, said the launch was moved up by three days so that veteran space workers, at Baikonur for the 40th anniversary Saturday of the launching of the first satellite in space, Sputnik, could watch.