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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016


It looks like the 23rd crew that toughed out the hardest stint in Mir's history will have to answer some unpleasant questions back on Earth. The temptation to ascribe the fatal string of failures to the cosmonauts is too great.

Well, weren't they the ones holding the handle? Didn't they push the buttons? That means they're at fault.

But it's not that simple.

The situation on Mir is now so complicated that experts have been spending more than a month trying to sort it out.

After all, what happened on the station beginning in January of this year has never happened before in the history of the Soviet and Russian space program. Even confirmed materialists have started shouting, "Something spooky's going on here!"

With time, however, a rational explanation is found for every occurrence. But who can explain why the problems occurred in such rapid succession on Mir? As if there were some invisible cosmic forces conniving to bump out of the saddle this crew, which had been dubbed unlucky back on Earth.

Even the big space program managers will hardly dare argue with the idea that space flight is guided by unseen forces. Sergei Pavlovich Korolyov [founder of the Soviet space program] himself believed in luck and, before he allowed a launch, he always performed a special ritual. In part, he made sure that a certain engineer, "N," who was considered unlucky in the engineering department, wasn't anywhere near the launch pad.

It seems that from the very beginning Mir did not want to take these cosmonauts on board. As the Soyuz made its initial approach toward the orbital station, the automatic control malfunctioned, and the ship almost veered away from the docking point. Vasily Tsibliyev had to manually force the ship to dock.

And so it began. The worst fire, the most horrifying thing that can happen in a metal can floating around in space. Official version: A defective oxygen container fell on board. But how? Don't they test them thoroughly on Earth?

A month and a half later, strange interference appeared on the Mir monitor screen. And right at the moment when Tsibliyev was releasing the Progress M-33 and should have maneuvered it into space. The vessel simply went wild and headed toward the ship, aiming at one of Mir's modules. Only at the last moment did the automatic control bring the ship away from the station.

Three months later the situation was repeated. The new Progress vehicle, as if on cue, stubbornly went toward the side of the station, disobeying commands. Bam. The cosmonauts heard the hissing sound of air leaking out of Spektr.

The vehicle, once it was moved away from the station after the accident, was tested. All was in order. So what happened? ...

How and why Fortune declared war on this particular crew is unclear. Maybe there are evil spirits in space. The cosmonauts heard some strange noises from the punctured and depressurized Spektr module. Once they even saw a strange white cloud flying out of the hole in Spektr. (On Earth, scientists thought of everything that could be in the closed module, but they couldn't come up with anything that might be able to turn into a cloud.)

So the cosmonauts could only struggle. And they did that courageously. Up to the moment when, so they think at mission control, Vasily Tsibliyev for some reason unplugged the wrong cable, and it became clear that the chain of events had finally undone him. ...

Komsomolskaya Pravda,

Aug. 15-22.

Democracy Triumphs

The following appeared in a series titled "People Who Have Surprised Us," along with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, eye surgeon and sometime presidential candidate Svyatoslav Fyodorov, British missionary Stephen White and a South African gorilla named Max.

Cosmonaut Vasily Tsibliyev, accused by the president of Mir's demise, returned to Earth yesterday. Observers call his return a triumph of democracy. In times past, after such decisive announcements by the head of state, a cosmonaut suspected of sabotage would either have stayed up on the station or would have asked for political asylum in the hostile Atlantis.

Komsomolskaya Pravda,

Aug. 15-22.