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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Fatigued Mir Crew Restores Electricity

KOROLYOV, Central Russia -- The crew of Mir managed to turn the space station's solar panels back toward the sun Friday and restore electrical power lost when a crew member mistakenly unplugged a key cable, space officials said.

Though the beleaguered crew has overcome this latest mishap, space officials now say they may wait until a fresh crew arrives on Mir to carry out a difficult space walk to fix power cables disconnected after a June 25 collision with an unmanned cargo craft.

"This is rather complicated work," said flight control director Vladimir Solovyov at mission control outside Moscow. "Maybe we didn't understand that fully. We're coming to the conclusion that it might not be reasonable to do the walk with this tired crew, but with the crew now training for the walk on the ground."

Cosmonauts Anatoly Solovyov and Pavel Vinogradov, plus French astronaut Leopold Eyharts, are training for a mission scheduled for launch Aug. 5 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

But Solovyov said that launch date could be delayed, and that there is a possibility Eyharts, whose assignment is science experiments, not repair work, might stay behind.

The space walk, originally scheduled for Thursday or Friday, was put off when tests showed commander Vasily Tsibliyev was suffering from cardiac arrhythmia said to be related to stress. Tsibliyev was scratched from the space walk, leading Russian officials to turn to U.S. astronaut Michael Foale as a possible substitute. cables leading to Spektr's solar panels, which the crew disconnected when they sealed off the leaking module to save themselves.

Since then, they have struggled to keep the station functioning without the power from Spektr's solar panels.

The most recent troubles started around 11:30 p.m. Wednesday, when a crew member -- flight controllers won't say who -- unplugged a cable out of sequence during training exercises for the space walk. Computer systems reacted by kicking into reserve mode, Solovyov said. The cable was immediately plugged back in, but it was too late. The loss of power shut down the station's gyroscopes, causing the station to drift.

With its solar panels no longer properly positioned toward the sun, Mir could not get enough power. The crew had to use the communications system in the Soyuz escape craft and worked in the darkened station using flashlights.

Flight engineer Alexander Lazutkin was awakened several times Thursday night, working until 4 a.m. Friday to get Mir into position for the sun's rays to recharge its batteries. Medical officials told commander Tsibliyev to take a sleeping pill and rest.

"We needed once again to turn on the computer, get the programs going, and initialize the process," said Sergei Krikalyov, a cosmonaut at mission control who has worked long hours to assist the crew since the collision.

Krikalyov said re-establishing proper orientation was "not really difficult -- it just requires time. As always, working with the computer involves punching the keys. As for physical exertion, it wasn't too hard."

"We were able to solve the problem with the orientation system," said Solovyov. "All key systems are working."

Krikalyov said that next step in booting up the station would involve getting the gyroscopes back on track. The batteries were almost charged up enough to do that, he said.

In an attempt to put a positive spin on this latest incident, Solovyov said Friday, "This has been a very complicated mission with many stressful situations. The crew had an irregular situation almost from the day they got on board."

The crew has dealt with a fire, the failure of oxygen-generating systems, and a cooling-system leak even before the collision.

Solovyov, a former cosmonaut, said that such hazards are part of the job.

"Anyone who opens up new frontiers faces such unpleasantness," he said, rejecting a suggestion that the station's problems would hurt the prestige of the Russian space program.

"We've had difficulties, but the ability to overcome them only raises our prestige."