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Columbia moves to launch pad

the 185-foot-tall space shuttle columbia, scheduled to fly into space in March, began a snail-like move to its launch pad Monday. The job of moving the 10 million pound assembly 3 1/2 miles from the towering vehicle assembly building to the same pad where the Apollo moon rockets were launched was expected to take about 7 1/2 hours. There were frequent stops to check the stability of the shuttle and its platform, all mounted on a giant tractor-like transporter.

The rollout marks the beginning of final preparations to develop reuseable rocket planes able to haul groups of scientists, workers, and heavy freight into space. If successful, Columbia and its sister ships to come can turn space into a vast scientific and industrial workshop.

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The columbia has cost $8.8 billion and taken nine years to design, build, and test. It is two years behind schedule mainly because of a variety of engine and insulation tile problems. The move to the launch pad, however, is only three days behind the schedule NASA set last July.

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