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Shuttle, Mir link up for last time

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Space shuttle Discovery eased up and docked with Mir Thursday to collect astronaut Andrew Thomas in NASA's final linkup with the Russian space station.

Operating with an automatic steering system that was repaired just days ago, Mir held steady as shuttle commander Charles Precourt guided Discovery toward the outpost at 245 miles above the Earth."Contact and capture, Houston," Precourt said. "It looks beautiful, Houston, just beautiful."

A malfunction with Discovery's communication system prevented the shuttle from transmitting any live images of the linkup.

Problems aside, Thomas could not wait for his ride home after spending four months aboard Mir.

"Oh, excellent!" he exclaimed Wednesday after learning the shuttle was, indeed, on its way.

Thursday's linkup is NASA's ninth and last with the aging Russian outpost. After the mission, the space agency will focus its efforts on the international space station. Construction is set to begin in orbit at the end of the year.