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Atlantis' 1st day in orbit nearly flawless

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- The space shuttle Atlantis hasn't performed like a ship ready for retirement.

The first full day of the final flight of the aging space shuttle fleet -- the most complicated machines ever built -- was practically flawless.

NASA officials said the unusually small four-person crew of Atlantis worked through lunch Saturday and finished their tasks in near-record time. After Friday's launch they inspected the shuttle's heat shield for launch damage and prepared for this morning's docking with the International Space Station.

So far Atlantis doesn't even have minor glitches. The worst problem is that the crew could not find an eye chart for a vision test, something that caused a chuckle among ground controllers.

"We couldn't be more happy with what we've seen from the crew and Atlantis," flight director Kwatsi Alibaruho said.

Often the first full day in orbit for shuttles has "little nuisance-type" glitches in setting up life in space and is usually one of the most difficult days in a flight, said shuttle mission management team chairman LeRoy Cain. He said hard work and good luck had paid off for Atlantis this time.

And yet when Atlantis lands later this month it will join sister ships Discovery and Endeavour as museum pieces. The 30-year-old space shuttle program is ending as NASA hands over the task of flying astronauts to the space station to Russia and private U.S. companies. NASA will shift its efforts to deep space missions to an asteroid and eventually Mars.

-- AP

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