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Mir Cosmonauts Prepared to Repair Damage to Module

By Carol J. Williams
Los Angeles Times

With deep breaths and mumbled prayers, Russian Space Agency officials Wednesday declared all systems go for a perilous spacewalk Friday from the troubled Mir space station into its damaged Spektr research module.

Two days after an unexplained computer failure sent Mir into an orbiting tumble, the glitch has been fixed, solar batteries have been recharged, oxygen is being generated and the Russian and U.S. crewmen have declared themselves ready for the dangerous repair job. Mir commander Anatoly Solovev and flight engineer Pavel Vinogradov are expected to don bulky spacesuits and helmets Friday to venture into the airless module that has been sealed off from the rest of the station since a June 25 accident.

Mir has suffered at least 10 serious accidents in the past six months, including three incidents dire enough that they could have justified abandoning the 11-year-old complex - which was built to last five years. But because it is the world's only existing training facility for the Alpha international space station set for launch in 1999, both Russian and U.S. space officials have been pressing for every last effort to salvage Mir.

Since a manual docking practice with a cargo drone went awry eight weeks ago and punched a hole in Spektr's hull, Mir has been limping along on about half power at the best of times and with little more than the momentum of orbit in weightlessness at others.

When the cargo capsule collided with Spektr and air began leaking into the vacuum of space, the crew that was then on board Mir had to seal off the damaged module and conserve pressurization elsewhere on the space station. More than a dozen power cables carrying solar energy from batteries outside Spektr through its portal into the main power grid had to be severed.

Friday's repair mission is aimed at replacing those cables and reconnecting the isolated solar panels so Mir can recover full power and resume normal life-support systems as well as some of the scientific experimentation that is the space station's main purpose.

Spektr was used as the ship's primary laboratory and as U.S. astronaut Michael Foale's quarters. Most of the equipment, experiments and data inside is thought to have been destroyed or damaged during the collision.

The planned five-hour spacewalk to restore the lost solar capacity is considered hazardous because the crew does not know what sharp-edged objects or substances might be floating inside the dark, cramped module. Mir also has lost power and oxygen-generating abilities several times lately, and there are fears of such an occurrence while the crewmen are tethered to the life-support systems.