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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cosmonauts Take Fly-By Look at Mir Damage

KOROLYOV, Central Russia -- The new crew of the Mir space station undocked their escape capsule Friday and made a fly-by inspection of hull damage from last June's collision that they will attempt to repair in the coming weeks.


Ground controllers made use of a routine redocking of the Soyuz capsule attached to Mir to gather film and photographic footage of the Spektr science module, which was rammed and punctured by a cargo ship in a manual docking exercise seven weeks ago.


Cosmonauts Anatoly Solovyov and Pavel Vinogradov and NASA astronaut Michael Foale spent four hours inside the Soyuz preparing for the 42-minute flight before the tiny craft disengaged from the space station at 5:29 p.m., Moscow time.


Spectators at mission control at Korolyov outside Moscow watched a grainy, flickering shot of the station as the spacecraft pulled away, relayed from a camera set in the nose of Soyuz.


Radio and video contact was lost for almost 30 minutes as both Soyuz and Mir went out of range, and there was no indication how the flight had gone until contact was reestablished just after 6 p.m. The camera came on line just as commander Solovyov completed a trouble-free docking. Despite the high-powered camera lenses used in the fly-by, the crew learned nothing new about the damage to Spektr during their flight.


"I looked very carefully as we went past, but I couldn't see anything," Foale told ground controllers immediately after the Soyuz was locked onto Mir. "I'll look again [at the video] when we get inside."


Solovyov and Vinogradov arrived at the station last week on the Soyuz TM-26 craft, relieving cosmonauts Vasily Tsibliyev and Alexander Lazutkin, who left Mir on Thursday in another Soyuz craft.


During their six-month mission, they had to deal with a series of accidents and technical problems, including a fire in February, broken down oxygen-generating and air-conditioning systems and depressurization of the Spektr module after the collision.The two returned cosmonauts spent Friday debriefing at the Star City complex near Moscow after landing in the Kazakhstan desert.


The newly arrived Soyuz craft was flown around the station at a distance of about 60 meters and brought into the docking birth vacated by the craft that left Thursday. Soyuz will remain there until the crew is relieved in six months, serving as a permanent lifeboat in case of emergencies. Next Wednesday, the two Russian cosmonauts are scheduled to don space suits and open up the dark, airless Spektr to reconnect solar power cables. Four of Mir's 10 solar panels had to be hurriedly unhooked after the accident to shut off the leaking module.


If Wednesday's operation is successful, full power will be restored on board the station, which has been running at no more than 60 percent since the collision.


On Sept. 3, Solovyov and another crew member will make a second space walk outside the station and attempt to find the hole in Spektr's hull. A patch will be applied during successive space walks, and the crew will then try to repressurize the module before more repairs are made from inside.


"This sort of repair has never been done before, not by Russians or the Americans," said deputy flight director Viktor Blagov. "But we think the work will be completed successfully."


The job will be done using Russian materials only, but Russian space officials anticipate Foale will join Solovyov for the space walk on Sept. 3. NASA officials have not ruled out his participation in the repair work, but officials will give a final decision a few days before the walk.


Flight controllers announced Friday that the main electric oxygen generator on Mir is working again after being out of action for several days, forcing the crew to use the solid fuel system that caused the fire in February. Controllers also said an empty Progress cargo vessel currently floating 100 kilometers from the station will be automatically redocked Sunday.


The craft -- which is serving as a dustbin until it is burned up in the Earth's atmosphere -- was undocked to make room for Soyuz, which arrived at Mir last week.


Russian space forces launched a military satellite early Friday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, The Associated Press reported.


The Proton-K booster carrying the Kosmos-2345 satellite blasted off at 12:49 a.m. Moscow time from the Central Asian launch site, Russian news agencies said, citing space officials.


It is the 285th satellite sent into orbit by the Proton rocket.


Russia, however, has had trouble with its military satellites. In May, a booster rocket carrying a military satellite crashed on the steppes of Kazakhstan less than a minute after launch from Baikonur.