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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cosmonauts Prepare for Risky Job

KOROLYOV, Central Russia -- With power finally restored to vital systems on board the damaged Mir space station, preparations have begun for a daring operation to repair the station's depleted solar power system, Russian space officials said Monday.


Mir's three-man Russian-American crew finally got some rest over the weekend after several nerve-wracking days with little light or power, but they have plenty of work ahead if they are to rescue the stricken station.


Officials at mission control in Korolyov, north of Moscow, instructed the crew on Monday to choose a site to train in their bulky space suits for an attempt to reconnect power cables inside the abandoned, airless Spektr science module.


On Earth, technicians and cosmonauts will try to simulate repairs needed after an unmanned cargo vessel rammed and damaged the station in a docking practice Wednesday. Equipment needed for the operation will be sent up with another Progress cargo ship scheduled for launch July 5 and expected to reach Mir two days later.


"We will work out a number of options and propose what we see as the best to the crew," said Sergei Krikalyov, assistant flight director at the mission control center at Korolyov, just outside Moscow.


"We will try to do more complicated work than they will have to, wearing space suits, to see if it can be done," said Krikalyov. He described current conditions on board Mir as "pretty much close to normal flight mode."


After the collision, the crew hurriedly disconnected cables from four of the Mir's 10 solar panels to seal off the depressurizing Spektr module from the rest of largely restored to the station's oxygen generator, the air conditioning and lighting system, toilet and greenhouse.


With the oxygen generator out of action, the crew was forced to rely on solid-fuel canisters to replenish their air supply. The same sort of canister burst into flames aboard Mir in February, causing the worst ever fire in space.


Finally able to rest over the weekend, Russian cosmonauts Vasily Tsibliyev and Alexander Lazutkin appeared with U.S. astronaut Michael Foale on Sunday in a television link with earth. "Thank God, everything works fine now," Reuters quoted Tsibliyev as saying to officials at mission control.


The three seemed relaxed, and spoke about the aftermath of the collision.


"When we had to fight the loss of pressure after the incident I realized at some point that I was working automatically, without thinking," said Lazutkin. "That shows that the training was really solid."


The U.S. director of shuttle-Mir mission said Monday that overloading of the Progress M-35 cargo vessel may have been one of the reasons it collided with the space station.


Responding to reports the Progress was carrying too much weight, NASA's Frank Culbertson said it was a "potential factor," though he emphasized that the investigation was not complete.


Press reports have cited an overload of almost a ton, which they say was not taken into account when the cargo craft was directed to move in.


Crew morale seemed high during a routine radio link Monday.


"I think we're in good shape here, although I do feel like a dog sleeping in the street," joked NASA astronaut Michael Foale, who lost his regular sleeping quarters and personal effects when the Spektr module was abandoned.


Spektr contained about half the American scientific equipment on board Mir, and much of the data from 40 days of research by Foale is still floating around the module on computer disks.


"If they manage to reconnect the cables, then they may have time to see what can be salvaged," said Catherine Watson, public affairs spokeswoman for the NASA science team stationed at Russian mission control. "This is almost an experiment in itself, seeing how equipment reacted to depressurization."


Russian designers and engineers have been working around the clock to produce special equipment for the repairs. The gear was to be flown Monday afternoon to the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and loaded onto the Progress craft for the July 5 launch.


Work to reconnect the solar panels will be carried out by the Russian cosmonauts, while Foale sits in the Soyuz escape shuttle permanently moored to Mir. No attempt to patch the fractured hull will be made by the current crew.