Mir crew suffer another narrow escape in space

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The Independent Online
Already dented from one cosmic collision, the Mir space station astronauts got another scare on Monday night when an American satellite whizzed by, forcing the crew into its escape capsule for 30 minutes until the danger passed.

The United States military satellite passed within 470 metres of Mir (right), its closest brush with an unrelated spacecraft during its 11 years in orbit, said Vera Medvedkova, spokeswoman at Russia's Mission Control, yesterday.

The speed of the US satellite and the reason it shifted into an orbit so close to Mir's were not immediately known.

"The crew was sitting in an escape capsule, in case [the American satellite] grazed the station," said Ms Medvedkova.

In Houston, US space officials gave a different account, saying an inoperative American science satellite passed within 1,200 metres of Mir. "It wasn't anything major," said John Lawrence, a spokesman for the US space agency Nasa. "This happens every month."

Meanwhile a recently returned cosmonaut said in an interview published yesterday that Mir was just minutes away from being abandoned after June's collision with a cargo tug.

Alexander Lazutkin, who was the flight engineer when the crash occurred, said he was petrified when he saw the Progress cargo craft drifting inexorably towards its collision with Mir.

"As soon as it hit, the fear disappeared," he said. "We had to succeed, to survive."

The crew had 24 minutes to seal off the damaged Spektr module from the rest of the complex or abandon ship.

"[The station] shook violently," he said. "Just imagine seven tonnes hitting 130 tonnes at nearly three metres a second."