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Damaged Oxygen Generators Repaired on Beleagured Mir

By David Hoffman
The Washington Post
MOSCOW

Two balky oxygen generators aboard the Mir space station were repaired late Monday at almost the same time NASA reported they were malfunctioning. Russian Mission Control officials announced the repair Tuesday with more than a touch of annoyance at the intense scrutiny of every mishap aboard the troubled vessel. The Russian officials said both the primary oxygen system and the backup system, using solid-fuel "candles" to generate oxygen, are in working order. The announcement Monday from NASA in Houston that both were broken had touched off alarms that yet another serious problem could be facing the two Russian cosmonauts and American astronaut on board.

Russian officials said the repairs were completed quickly, by 10:30 p.m. Moscow time Monday evening, or 2:30 p.m. EDT. That was half an hour after NASA's daily status report on Mir was issued, at 2 p.m. EDT, carrying details of the problem.

Russian officials once again expressed surprise and irritation at the extensive news media coverage of Mir's travails. They had not announced the oxygen problem publicly, and they often have regarded malfunctions as just another day's work. There have been hundreds of such small breakdowns over the years on Mir, which has been occupied longer than any other space station.

"I am sorry to say that these small imperfections are presented as lethally dangerous, tragic events," deputy flight director Viktor Blagov said. "It's not correct."

President Boris Yeltsin also jumped to the defense of the 11-year-old space station, whose troubles have become symbolic of Russia's quest to remain a global power on a shoestring budget. At the time it was launched, Mir had a predicted service life of five years, and it is being kept in orbit in part so Russia can claim a role in the planned international space station.

"There is nothing tragic there," Yeltsin said during a visit to the Russian city of Saratov. "And the guys, according to American space specialists, did a good job. They thought the station was written off, that it's impossible to carry out experiments there. Nothing of the sort. The station is alive and will be alive."

Vladimir Solovyev, the Mission Control director, said the latest reports of a breakdown in the oxygen system were "a completely incomprehensible uproar." He told reporters, "to our greatest joy, and I think to your deep disappointment, nothing extraordinary has happened aboard the station."

Meanwhile, Russian officials said Tuesday they are still trying to restore more electrical power to Mir from the Spektr module's solar panels. After the June 25 accident, Mir has been operating on reduced electrical power, which has limited scientific experiments.