Mir crew take a breather

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The lights were back on in the accident-prone Mir station last night, its tumble through space had ended, and its aging bulk was locked onto the sun. But the weary crew, including the British astronaut Michael Foale, may have all but finished their work.

The human error which caused a computer crash and compelled them to shut down most of the station's power seems to have convinced controllers that the crew should not tackle the next vital hurdle facing Mir - the long-awaited sortie into its Spektr module, holed in a collision last month.

It was "very likely" that the repairs mission would now be conducted by a relief crew, deputy mission director Sergei Krikalyov said yesterday. They are due to dock with Mir on 7 August although Dr Foale is scheduled to remain on board until his American replacement, Wendy Lawrence, arrives in September.

Officials acknowledge that the three men on board, who were yesterday ordered to spend the day resting, have been under intense pressure. "This has been a very complicated mission with many stressful situations," Vladimir Solovyov, mission director, said. Thursday's calamity, the latest in a list of mishaps, including a serious fire last February, has strengthened calls for the 11-year-old Mir to be taken out of service. But yesterday the Russians were adamant the station should continue to fly.

The prime minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin, pronounced Mir safe and said its work must continue.

David Aaronovitch, page 17