Russian space mission at risk

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The Independent Online
MOSCOW (Reuter) - A Russian cargo craft yesterday failed for the second time to dock with the orbiting Mir space station in what could be a tremendous blow to the country's struggling space programme. Russian television showed live pictures of the cargo craft, carrying water, food and technical equipment for the three-man crew, just passing the space station in the second aborted docking attempt in four days.

The failure could force the crew to leave Mir within the next month and might scupper crucial multi-million pound joint missions with European and US space partners. Russian Space Agency (RSA) officials said automatic systems on the unmanned Progress M-24 vessel aborted the docking as it had done during the first attempt on Saturday. It was not yet clear how much fuel remained on board the Progress, which could only stay in orbit another two days.

A reporter for independent Russian television on the scene said that whatever the case, RSA officials would still try to manipulate it enough to carry out one more docking manoeuvre. 'There have been cases where third attempts have succeeded and now all hopes rest on this fact,' he said.

'If there is no luck with the third attempt it looks as though the crew will have to leave the Mir station before the end of September because it will be impossible to live there without food and water.'

The setback is another reminder of the malaise in the once prestigious Russian space programme which, in the Soviet-era days of superpower rivalry with the United States, benefited from a huge budget.

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