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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NASA Delays 'Go' Decision on Mir Mission


Another Page 1 article, "NASA Delays "Go" Decisions on Mir Mission," should have said the space shuttle Atlantis is scheduled for launch at 6:34 a.m. Friday, Moscow time.

The countdown to the launch of the space shuttle Atlantis kept ticking Tuesday, but the top U.S. space official said a final decision on the flight to the damaged Mir space station was still in the balance.

NASA chief Daniel Goldin, visiting Moscow with U.S. Vice President Al Gore, told journalists the decision would be made after his return to Washington on Wednesday. Officials earlier had said a decision was expected Tuesday.

Gore said NASA was conducting an "intensive review" to decide whether it was safe to send another American astronaut to the trouble-plagued, 11-year-old station. Atlantis was set for launch at 6:34 p.m. Friday, Moscow time.

Mir suffered more problems this week as Gore and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin met to discuss economic and technical questions, including U.S.-Russian space cooperation.

By Tuesday, the Russian-U.S. crew appeared to be coping with the latest breakdowns, said space officials, having restarted the main computer, and re-established the ship's automatic orientation toward the sun.

An air-purifying system was still out of order, and no explanation had been found for the apparent leak of a brown substance from the outside of the station. But Chernomyrdin said Mir was not due for retirement just yet.

"We'll go on flying. No problem," he said at Tuesday's meeting.

The Russians, who need to send a new main computer and other essential spare parts to Mir on Atlantis, hope NASA will not postpone the launch.

The shuttle would reach Mir two days later, docking by means of a specially adapted section of the station. Atlantis is due to deliver American David Wolf to Mir for a four-month stay, replacing astronaut Michael Foale. NASA had earlier said it would make the decision on Wolf's flight by Tuesday. But the breakdown of the computer -- the third in three weeks -- has raised fresh doubts about leaving another American aboard the station, and about whether Atlantis could safely dock with the station if its computer fails again.

On Tuesday, the head of the Russian Space Agency, Yury Koptev, said it would be possible to keep the station stationary even if the main computer goes down again. He was apparently referring to micro-thrusters on the station and the two spacecraft moored to it that can be used to turn Mir when the main computer-controlled gyroscopic system fails.

Mir has suffered a string of problems this year, from a fire to a collision with a supply ship in June that reduced power on board and left part of Mir depressurized.

Repair work since June has improved the situation, but repeated loss of control and electrical power when the computer fails is increasingly jeopardizing NASA's use of Mir by making it harder to perform the scientific experiments that are the astronauts' primary reason to be there.

The National Aeronautic and Space Administration is paying the Russian Space Agency $473 million over five years to place astronauts on Mir, the world's only functioning space station. Ahead of the construction of the 14-nation International Space Station that starts next year, Mir provides NASA with valuable experience in long-duration space flight, shuttle rendezvous and docking operations.

Two new computers are in fact to be delivered to Mir, one on Atlantis and one on a Progress supply ship due to blast off around Oct. 8. They are being delivered separately, said Koptev, because "we do not want to put all our eggs in one basket."

If the Atlantis flight is delayed or cancelled, Russian controllers are looking at the possibility of bringing forward the Progress launch.

Preparations for the Atlantis mission continued Tuesday. On Mir the crew slept until 5:00 p.m as they gradually switch over to a nighttime work regime for the docking, said Irina Gorishnyakova, a spokeswoman at the mission control center at Korolyov outside Moscow.

Cosmonauts Anatoly Solovyov and Pavel Vinogradov were to spend the evening repairing the Vozdukh carbon dioxide removal system, while Foale assembled the 420 kilograms of scientific equipment to be brought down to Earth on Atlantis, she said.

Foale's replacement, David Wolf, said he was feeling good about the flight despite the new problems on the station as he arrived Monday in Houston, Texas, with other members of the shuttle crew. Wolf insisted he has no second thoughts or last-minute worries.

"I think I got the oven turned off, the refrigerator closed and all that,'' he joked upon arriving at Kennedy Space Center, the Associated Press reported.