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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mir Crew Faces 2-Week Wait for Repair Ship

The weary crew of the crippled Mir space station, facing a two-week wait for desperately needed repair equipment, struggled with new problems Friday, including a breakdown in the orbiter's steering system.


Emergency supplies to fix the damaged Spektr module can't be launched until July 4 at the earliest, the head of the Russian Space Agency, Yury Koptyev, announced Friday.


Until those supplies arrive, the three-man, Russian-American crew must work in semi-darkness and high humidity to conserve power on the stricken station, a section of which was rammed and punctured Wednesday by a supply craft during a manual docking exercise.


Power on the station was reduced by more than half when the crew disconnected cables from four of the station's 10 solar panels in order to seal off the damaged Spektr module from the rest of the craft.


NASA said the crew temporarily lost control of Mir on Friday as they maneuvered the station to turn the remaining solar panels toward the sun in a bid to restore as much power as possible.


"During the early morning Moscow time, the Mir motion con Officials at the mission control center at Korolyov, outside Moscow, said they were facing a "five-point emergency" after Wednesday's collision, the worst incident in the 11-year-old Mir's history. On the seven-point scale, a "seven" means abandon ship.


The Mir is currently manned by Russian cosmonauts Vasily Tsiblyev and Alexander Lazutkin and British-born, American astronaut Michael Foale.


NASA and Russian Officials insist the crew members are in no immediate danger, but say they would abandon ship aboard the three-man Soyuz spacecraft currently docked at the station if the air pressure fell more than about one-quarter below normal atmospheric pressure.


In this event, the 140-ton Mir could gradually drift back toward Earth and come down randomly after partially burning up in the atmosphere.


The primary concern at the moment, however, is to restore full power to the station.


In addition to constantly having to adjust the station's attitude to face the sun, the crew has been working with ground technicians to find a way to reconnect three of four solar panels on the off-limits Spektr that were not smashed in the collision.


Russian specialists on Earth are constructing a "hermoplate," or airlock, to send up to Mir next month. It would allow the cosmonauts, wearing space suits, to pass through the airlock into the Spektr without losing oxygen from the rest of the station.


Space walks outside the station will be necessary later to repair the postage-stamp-sized hole that caused the Spektr to decompress.


One of the biggest problems confronting the crew is the physical act of passing through the narrow hatches connecting the airless Spektr to the rest of the station while wearing bulky space suits -- something the crew has not trained for.


In a radio link between the station and mission control Friday, Mir commander Vasily Tsiblyev was heard saying that the crew has studied this idea and thinks it might be impossible.


"That's why there must be a practice run," replied deputy mission chief Sergei Krikalyov. "If you say it's impossible, then we will devise a further work plan."


According to the current plan, Foale will occupy the Soyuz emergency descent module while the two cosmonauts attempt to make the delicate repairs.


"Meanwhile Michael will have to sit in the descent craft. You understand this, and Michael also understands this," said Krikalyov.


The crew members have been sleeping in rotation since the accident. Temperatures are reported to be around 25 degrees Celsius inside the craft, with uncomfortably high humidity.


Reuters quoted Yury Semyonov, president of Russia's Energiya space manufacturing company, which built much of the station, as saying the crew "is experiencing emotional and physical stress, and so we plan for them to take a rest Saturday and Sunday."


"We are facing two tasks: to secure safety of the cosmonauts and to carry out repair work to bring the flight system back to life," he said. "We are not going to abort Mir's mission."


The Progress M-34 cargo ship that hit Mir is floating in orbit at a "safe distance" from the station, a spokeswoman for the mission control center said Friday. These craft are routinely steered into the Earth's atmosphere and the remains sunk at sea. Specialists will retrieve all possible data from the M-34's systems to help establish the cause of the incident before allowing it to fall from space.


Wednesday's collision was the latest in a string of accidents this year aboard the aging Mir station, causing some experts and members of the U.S. Congress to demand a full review of the station's safety before any more American astronauts are sent there.