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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mir Crew Can Bank On Advice From a Vet

KOROLYOV, Central Russia -- When the beleaguered crew of the damaged Mir space station calls Moscow for guidance, they can depend on hearing a cool voice that speaks with an authority forged during one of the world's great space careers.

Deputy Flight Controller Sergei Krikalyov is no mere technician or administrator, but a veteran cosmonaut with 15 months experience in space.

Day in and day out since Mir was damaged in a June 25 collision with a cargo craft, Krikalyov has kept a frenetic schedule, meeting with technicians, brainstorming solutions and talking to the crew.

When someone had to plunge into a training tank to simulate the repair job the astronauts will have to make, it was Krikalyov. When the job was explained to the crew, it was Krikalyov on the radio. When the situation needs to be explained to the pack of journalists gathered at the mission control center, it's Krikalyov again.

The 38-year-old former aerobatics champion is supposed to be deep in training for his fourth space flight, but for now he's reconciled to his crucial role on the ground.

"Of course, I feel I could help if I were up there, but right now it's good to be right in the middle of the decision-making process," said Krikalyov, in his soft, fluent English during a rare break Friday. "Especially because we not only have to think what kind of procedure to suggest to the crew, but also to develop and test those procedures."

As specially made repair equipment cruised toward the station 400 kilometers above Earth last weekend, Krikalyov was rac Tsibliyev and Valery Lazutkin must make in space. U.S. astronaut Michael Foale is also aboard.

Mir was rammed by an unmanned Progress cargo vehicle which punched a hole in the station's Spektr science module. To save themselves, the astronauts sealed off Spektr, disconnecting and cutting power cables from Spektr's solar panels. To restore the station to full power, they will have to put in a new hatch plate with holes for the cables to run through.

Down on the control floor at Korolyov, the task is to convey to the station's crew how the theory might work in practice. Contact with the crew is limited to a few crackly minutes of radio contact every time they orbit the Earth, 16 times a day. Born in Leningrad and educated as a mechanical engineer at Leningrad Mechanical Institute, Krikalyov joined NPO Energiya, which built Mir, in 1981. He tested space flight equipment and participated in ground control operations.

Most critically, he was part of the ground team that brought the Salyut 7 space station back to life in 1985 when it failed. That year he was selected for cosmonaut training.

After that, the achievements came quickly. He flew in space for the first time in November 1988 to Mir, returning in April 1989. His second space flight, from May 1991 to March, 1992, may have been the most memorable. The August 1991 coup happened while he was in space and when he returned, the country which had launched him -- the Soviet Union -- no longer existed.

In 1995, he was the first Russian to fly on the American space shuttle. He's also made seven spacewalks and is slated to be part of the first crew on the International Space Station when it comes into use in 1999.

He has been awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union and Order of Lenin, the French title of L'Officier de la Legion d'Honneur, and the new title of Hero of Russia.

Not only does Krikalyov carry his achievements lightly, but he's good at dealing with the trouble-sniffing mob of reporters which assembles at the flight control center these days. Surrounded by a bristling wall of cameras, microphones and spotlights, Krikalyov's calm, unflinching matter-of-factness, in both Russian and English, deftly pitches vague or stupid questions back whence they came.

Krikalyov continues to take the current difficulties on Mir in his stride.

"Any problem we meet now on the Mir is actually a lesson for the future," he says. Krikalyov's unique experience of working in both the American and Russian mission control centers has undoubtedly one reason for his selection to be part of the first three man crew on the International Space Station.

"Now I have to split my time between two things. Training to make the [space station] flight and supporting this flight. This is of course more urgent. I had to slow my courses down a little, but I can catch up."

He feels that the days of U.S.-Soviet competition are giving way to greater camaraderie among his colleagues: "Sometimes it's much easier to find a common language and understanding among astronauts of different countries than we can with managers here, and the same goes for among American astronauts and their managers."

Krikalyov is married to Yelena Terekhina, and they have a 7-year-old daughter, Olga. "My wife also works in the space industry, and sometimes she works in mission control. She knows the details of the space program more than the average person, both the good sides and the bad. Sometimes I think she doesn't like me having this type of profession," he says, looking a bit sad.

And the future?

"I'll stay with the space program as long as I am able, as long as the program needs me."