Mir power shut off as station spins

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The Independent Online
The Russian-American team on Mir yesterday shut down all but its most vital life-support systems to save energy after a computer failure disoriented the ailing 11-year-old space station. An official at Mission Control spoke of the complex "chaotically spinning". But displaying the most remarkable sang-froid, he said that there was no immediate danger to the crew.

Russians glued to the space drama had just breathed a sigh of relief at a tea-time television report of a successful docking operation when a later bulletin brought them a fuller picture and more bad news. The docking of a Progress cargo craft to Mir had had to be done manually, it turned out, because of a computer failure, which had implications for the whole station.

"We have turned off all energy-consuming equipment and left only life support operations," said Vladimir Solovyov, a senior official at Mission Control. It was likely to take 24 hours to correct the computer malfunction and until then Mir would be "chaotically spinning", he said.

"We've had such situations earlier," he said. "It's not a super-complex situation." He said the crew was trained to deal with such situations.

Kathleen Maliga, a guest from the United States space agency, Nasa, at Russian Mission Control, commented: "It's a situation that we're watching carefully but we are not worried."

As a result of the latest set-back, the crew will not now be able to go ahead tomorrow with plans to repair Mir's Spektr module, which was damaged during a clumsy manual docking of another Progress cargo craft in June. The station has been running on half power since the bump to the module, which had to be disconnected from the rest of the station.

Mir gets its energy from the Sun, whose rays hit the solar panels all over its outer surface. The loss of Spektr meant the loss of the energy that its panels contributed. Now that the whole station is disoriented, even fewer of the Sun's rays are being captured.

Anatoly Solovyov, the highly experienced commander of the crew, which also includes Pavel Vinogradov and British- born Michael Foale, may be able to correct Mir's position in relation to the Sun. They could use the thrusters on the Progress cargo craft and the Soyuz transport rocket which brings the astronauts up and takes them back to the Earth. But this is not a long-term solution; and it is essential that the computer is fixed if the station is not to be evacuated.

Meanwhile from his Cambridge Michael Foale's father, Colin, said his only concern was why it was taking until tomorrow to fix the computer problem. "Has anyone asked why it is taking so long? They are going to have to manually keep level with the sun and that's a rough night by anybody's standards."

As well as the computer, the oxygen generating and humidity recycling systems have been playing up on Mir which, when it was launched in 1986, was only supposed to serve for five years. The Russians are hoping that, if the repairs are a success, they can keep the orbiting banger going until a new international space station is ready in the next century.

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