The View from Space: If at first you don't succeed
By John Holliman
March 17, 1998
Web posted at: 2:05 PM EST (1405 GMT)
The Monday night docking of a Progress supply ship had some last minute
problems that the cosmonauts aboard had to solve to avoid big trouble.
As the huge unmanned ship approached Mir, the automatic docking system
failed to keep it on course, and ground controllers ordered commander
Talgut Musabayev to take over control of the vehicle. He did, and the
Progress docked successfully.
Astronaut Andy Thomas told a TV interviewer on Wednesday that the docking
appeared normal to him. He says Mir shuddered as the Progress touched
Mir and latches sealed the two ships together.
These dockings have always been routine in the past until last June,
when a Progress crashed into the side of Mir causing a leak in the Spekter
module. After a few tense moments because of the docking problem, the
two cosmonauts and Thomas began unpacking Progress and getting the goodies
from Earth. They have fresh fruits and vegetables for the first time
in weeks, along with a new thruster to keep Mir on course and some new
tools to help them get the space station's airlock open for a spacewalk.
During the first spacewalk attempt by the cosmonauts two weeks ago,
they couldn't get the hatch open. They broke three wrenches trying to
open one of the latches. With a new supply of larger wrenches, the next
spacewalk attempt, scheduled for April 1, should be more successful.
The Russians say they're still going to try to restore the leaking Spekter
module to full operation. The Americans say they don't think this will
We'll watch the spacewalk together to see how the cosmonauts do in
their first effort outside together. Thomas says the main goal will
be to stabilize the solar panels on Spekter which were damaged in the
Progress accident last summer. The American will be inside on the radio
with mission control in Moscow, while the cosmonauts will be outside
bracing the solar arrays to give them more integrity. There's concern
that because Mir and its solar panels turn regularly to generate the
maximum amount of electricity, that loose solar panels could come off
and do more damage to the station.
There are other problems aboard Mir that the Russians and Americans
are not saying much about these days. Thomas says he's experiencing
many things on Mir that he didn't anticipate, including the need to
escape from the Winnebago sized space station from time to time. Since
it's not possible to do that physically, he takes mental escapes by listening
to music, playing computer games, and reading escape fiction. He compares
the Mir experience to taking a long cruise. He says sometimes you're
homesick, but other times you're really interested in seeing things
you never anticipated in the weightlessness of space.
we reported a couple of weeks ago, the new International Space Station's
first segment launches will probably be delayed. NASA officials have
come up with a backup plan to put the first two pieces of the station
into orbit in the August-September timeframe, rather than June and July,
which is the current schedule. The delay is being caused by trouble
getting another shuttle payload ready for launch on time. The first
two pieces of the station, the Russian-built space tug, and the American-constructed
Node One connecting tunnel, are both ready for flight and are at their
respective launch sites in Baikonur and the Kennedy Space center in
The first crew to live on the station is scheduled to start its mission early next year. NASA spokesman Kyle Herring reports from Moscow that this could still happen even if the first two pieces get into orbit late.
Eileen Collins, named this month as the first female shutttle commander, wants
to get out of the glare of TV lights and down to the work of preparing
her crew for its mission aboard shuttle Columbia. Because she's the
first woman to lead a team of astronauts, she's getting lots of publicity,
including an interview here on CNN the week that her promotion was announced.
Space insiders are calling it Al Gore's TV satellite. The vice president
proposed putting a color TV camera into orbit about a million miles
from Earth, to provide round the clock color pictures of the part of
our planet that's in sunlight. He says it would inspire students, and
have tremendous scientific value. The satellite will cost up to $50 million
and NASA is already working on a preliminary design. Gore says
it could be launched from the shuttle and send its pictures back to
the Internet, where a 24-hour a day space channel would be created.
Some of you are asking me if it's worth this much money to provide
a live picture of Earth, particularly when we have weather satellites
that are already doing this. I don't have an easy answer. The weather
satellites can't transmit color pictures, and because of their orbits,
they stay over a fixed position on Earth so they can't see anything
in the dark. The vice president's proposed camera would always look
at the sunny side of the planet and would have to orbit a million miles
away to do that. I'll tell you this: if the satellite gets launched,
and if it provides live pictures of Earth in color 24 hours a day, we'll
have a link here so you can see what the satellite is seeing around
the clock. See you next week.