Mir to control: our problem is sorted ...

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After a last-minute panic over two leaks, Russian cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov, backed by his commander Anatoly Solovyov, finally floated into the vacuum of Mir's Spektr module yesterday to restore power to the station which had been impaired since a collision with a cargo craft in June. The success of the high-risk operation changed the run of bad luck on the 11-year-old complex and went a good way to restoring confidence in Russia's cash-strapped space programme.

Michael Foale, the British-born astronaut who took a back seat while his Russian colleagues carried out the space repairs, said yesterday had been a "super day" which showed that Mir, for all its technical faults, was "fixable".

The media had been led to expect that Commander Solovyov, one of Russia's most experienced cosmonauts, would make the dangerous "internal space walk" into the airless Spektr module, where the least little piece of drifting debris could bring death if it punctured a space suit. But he allowed his junior to become the hero, providing back-up at the hatch while Vinogradov went into the dark hole of Spektr feet-first.

Despite the very real hazards, the cosmonauts kept the mood light by joking with each other and officials at Mission Control. "There are some white crystals flying around like soap," Vinogradov reported as he fumbled about in the cramped capsule, illuminated by torch light.

"I think it's my shampoo," the voice of Foale came over the radio. The guest astronaut, whose sleeping quarters had been in Spektr, was sitting for safety in the Soyuz rocket which all three spacemen would have used in an emergency to evacuate Mir.

It was no laughing matter earlier in the day when two leaks were found, one in the docking chamber just outside the module and one in the left- hand glove of Vinogradov's suit.

Once inside Spektr, Vinogradov began reconnecting 11 cables which had to be unplugged after the June collision. Thus full power returned to Mir, which gets its energy from solar panels covering the exterior, including the outside surface of Spektr.

Walk on the wild side, page 3