Mir Crew Fails to Open Mirror, Will Try Again




KOROLYOV, Central Russia -- Russian cosmonauts failed in an ambitious attempt to reflect the sun's light and illuminate dark corners of Earth from space on Thursday because a giant mirror failed to open.


"There is an emergency situation. The mirror is not unfolding," spokesman Vsevolod Latyshev told reporters at mission control at Korolyov, just outside Moscow.


The mirror's failure on the unmanned Progress supply ship, which had undocked from the Mir space station, cast doubts over the Znamya 2.5 experiment intended to show whether such mirrors can light up the Russian north or other areas with long dark winters.


Gennady Padalka and Sergei Avdeyev, the two cosmonauts on Mir, sent a command to the unmanned Progress to unfold the 25-meter Mylar mirror. But the mirror's fabric became tangled up with one of the supply ship's antennae and did not open.


The cosmonauts switched the Progress to manual control and eventually managed to shake the mirror off the antenna, leaving it hanging limply in space.


They hoped later to use centrifugal force to put the craft in a spin and open the mirror, said an official from the Energiya rocket company which is carrying out the experiment.


"It was not a crew mistake. It appears to be a programming error," the official said. "They will try to use centrifugal force to open it later. They will probably try to continue the experiment. They may do that tomorrow."


Skeptics say the experiment is a harebrained scheme doomed to fail. But the designers say a series of mirrors or one giant mirror could harness the sun to overcome darkness and even help boost agriculture by lengthening the day.


Russian space officials had hoped a light spot of between 6 and 8 kilometers in diameter would be visible inparts of Europe and in Canada.


The first place to view the mirror - which should have resembled a bright star in the sky - was to have been Karaganda in northern Kazakhstan. Residents there said they would not have seen it anyway because of cloud cover.


Russia carried out a more modest space mirror test in 1993. Cosmonauts on Mir were able to see the mirror, although it was not visible from Earth.


Russian space officials had been hoping for a spectacular success to boost their efforts to attract private funds to keep Mir in orbit past its scheduled retirement in June.


The plan to extend Mir's life has irritated the United States because Russia has repeatedly fallen behind in its commitments to the new International Space Station. The U.S. space agency NASA is not collaborating with the Znamya project.