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Mir at half power after collision

The damage on Mir

Space station sent spinning but won't be abandoned

June 25, 1997
Web posted at: 4:34 p.m. EDT (2034 GMT)

Latest developments:

HOUSTON (CNN) -- The Mir space station was operating at half power Wednesday after a collision with an bus-sized cargo craft during a docking test caused a loss of oxygen and temporarily sent the Russian orbiter into a slow spin.

It was the latest of a series of troubles that raise questions about the future of the 11-year-old space station.

U.S. and Russian space officials described the accident as serious but said the two Russians and one American aboard Mir were in good shape despite a reduction in life-support systems.

There were no plans to abandon Mir, which was originally intended to last five years. A Soyuz spacecraft, which is always docked to the station for such purposes, apparently was undamaged.

See the video of the damage to Mir

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A spacewalk to repair damage to a Mir module, or compartment, containing scientific equipment was being considered.

The energy loss will force restrictions on scientific experiments. "It'll be a darkened station," said astronaut Jerry Linenger who spent four months on Mir before returning to Earth in mid-May. icon (204K/17 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

"The bottom line is we've got the leak in the module sealed off, and the pressure is holding. But there are big power problems and attitude control problems," Linenger said.

The power shortage will force astronauts to do everything in slow motion to conserve oxygen, Linenger added. The temperature has remained constant.

The three astronauts will be "very careful" before turning anything on, he said during a news conference carried live by CNN from the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Mir-Shuttle Program Manager Frank Culbertson:
"The crew is doing well ..."
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"The decompression is not necessarily attributable to age ..."
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"Power loss on Mir ..."
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"This situation was unforseen ..."
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Because of the crash, Friday's scheduled launch of another unmanned Russian cargo vessel bringing supplies to Mir has been delayed for approximately 10 days, Shuttle-Mir Program Manager Frank Culbertson told reporters.

Appearing on CNN, Rep. James Sensenbrenner, who chairs the House Science Committee, called for a ban on long-term U.S. visits to the Mir until the safety of the Russian space station can be certified.

"We have to make a determination if the science we are doing up there is worth the American lives we are risking," he said.

Spacewalk repair?


Culbertson said a spacewalk would likely be needed to repair a hole, believed to be about a inch-square (3 cm square), that was cut in the side of the module. The crash also damaged a solar panel and a radiator used to control temperatures on Mir.

"The Russians haven't arrived at a plan yet," Culbertson said. "They're still evaluating that." But he said he expected a spacewalk would be necessary "either to regain power or to repair any type of leak, which is what you would expect on any depressurized module."

"EVA (extra-vehicular activity) is going to be part of the picture, one way or the other." Culbertson said.

Slow spin in space

Crew members aboard Mir

The crew -- Russians Vasily Tsibliev and Alexander Lazutkin and Michael Foale of the United States -- hurriedly sealed off the damaged module after the crash to prevent a further drop in air pressure in the rest of the sprawling station.

"It's like having a six-room house and you close off one of the rooms," said Sergei Krikalev, one of the original Mir astronauts, who is scheduled to return to space in 1999.

Immediately after the 5:15 a.m. EDT (0915 GMT) collision, Mir began spinning at the rate of about one degree a second, meaning it made a complete turn after six minutes (360 seconds), sources told CNN's John Holliman. The spinning has now stopped, he reported.

The supply craft, named Progress, was backed away from the damaged module and is now out of harm's way.

What happened

Damaged solar panel

The accident occurred with Tsibliyev at the controls. The seven-ton supply craft was redocking with the orbiting space station after a day of free flight docking experiments.

It approached Mir too fast, however, and could not be stopped in time.

Progress then collided with another portion of Mir, a 50-foot long space station module known as Spektr. "(Progress) didn't land in the right place," said one Russian space official.

The crash poked a hole in the Spektr module where air pressure began to drop before astronauts sealed the leak.

To conserve power, the crew turned off Mir's air conditioning and urine processing system, which uses a lot of electricity to produce drinking water.

Damaged module had scientific gear

Spektr module

The Spektr Remote Sensing module, affixed with solar panels, houses U.S. scientific gear and had served as the living quarters for Foale, the fifth U.S. astronaut to work aboard the Mir space station.

Its equipment is for Earth observation, specifically natural resources, atmosphere and particles in Low Earth Orbit, according to NASA.

Spektr is one of Mir's six compartments, some of them added gradually over the years. The now-damaged unit arrived at the Mir complex in 1995.

The Progress cargo craft, which brought crucial supplies and repair equipment, had been docked with the Mir since its arrival in April.

It was intentionally disconnected from the Mir on Tuesday. The crew was trying to re-dock it on Wednesday when it hit the station on the final stage of approach.

Progress, which is now filled with garbage, was to have been jettisoned for good on Saturday. It eventually will burn up in the atmosphere, as is normal.

History of troubles


Foale joined the two Russian cosmonauts aboard Mir in mid-May. He replaced Linenger, who experienced a series of problems during his visit, including a near-collision with Progress and a fire.

Other problems that have plagued Mir include failed oxygen generators, a malfunctioning carbon dioxide-removal system and a leak of antifreeze in the cooling system.

This is not the first space collision for Mir. NASA spokesman Rob Navias said a supply ship had brushed against the Russian space station once before. There have been similar circumstances involving Soyuz spacecraft, Navias said.

Correspondents John Holliman, Betsy Aaron and Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty contributed to this report.

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