Footsore ordeal for space-walk astronaut

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The Independent Online

Science Editor

Tomorrow, if all goes well, a European Space Agency astronaut will blast off from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for a record-breaking 135-day residence in orbit, during which he will be beaten on the heels 500 times every day.

As a relief from this orbital bastinado, Thomas Reiter will also become the first ESA astronaut to walk in space. ESA scientists hope that his daily 10-minute beating sessions will counter the effects of weightlessness, which leads to a wasting of the bones in the legs and lower body.

The Mir space station will also be transformed into the first orbiting art gallery as part of the Ars ad Astra project. Twenty works of art, selected after a worldwide contest, will be exhibited on Mir and at the Eurospace Centre in Belgium.

Reiter, a German, and his Russian colleagues Sergei Avdeev and Yuri Gidzenko, are scheduled for blast-off at mid-day (British time) aboard a Soyuz TM-71 rocket from the launch-pad used by Yuri Gagarin in 1961. After a two-day flight they will dock with the Russian space-station, Mir.

The joint mission, Euromir 95, comes at a crucial time for the European Space Agency. The organisation faces a financial crisis. In October, ministers representing all its member states will meet in Toulouse to decide its future, amid British demands that the ESA budget should be cut by 25 per cent.

Significantly, one of the highlights of Thomas Reiter's mission - a five-hour spacewalk - is scheduled for 20 October, coinciding with the ministerial meeting. Reiter will install an astrophysics experiment on the outside of the Spektr module of the space station. The device will capture tiny particles of cosmic dust, measuring their velcocity, mass and direction, as the Earth (with Mir orbiting round it) passes through a meteor stream, a trail of dust left behind by comets.

After spending Christmas and new year in space, Reitner will return to earth on 16 January 1996, landing in the steppes of Kazakhstan. A new crew will have been sent up to take over Mir on 10 January.