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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mission Control Postpones Cargo Ship Flight to Mir

KOROLYOV, Russia - Russian Mission Control on Thursday called off the launch of a cargo ship intended to bring the Mir space station down after a power failure disabled the orbiter's orientation system.

Such power failures have long plagued the Mir, but there were crews aboard to help fix the problem. The Mir has been flying unmanned since last summer, and the Progress M1 cargo ship was to have carried fuel necessary to push the station down for dumping in a remote area of the Pacific Ocean in March.

Mission Control chief Vladimir Solovyov pledged that the latest glitch would be fixed quickly and would not cause the Mir to spin out of control. He said there was no immediate need to send up an emergency crew to solve the problem.

"We will not allow the uncontrolled descent of the Mir station," Solovyov told reporters.

The Progress M1 was to have blasted off Thursday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakstan, but space officials called off the launch after Mir's voltage suddenly fell and gyroscopes, the preferred, fuel-free system of aligning the station, ground to a halt.

The low power also knocked out Mir's central computer - which controls the orientation system - making the station unstable for a docking.

"The voltage on board some modules dropped below the norm, that is, below 27 volts. This has led to the emergency braking of gyroscopes, the steering bodies that control the station's orientation," Solovyov said.

Mission Control spokesman Valery Lyndin said that ground controllers managed to quickly restart the computer Thursday and would be loading software and test it through most of the day. They hope to switch the gyroscopes back on as early as Friday.

"The Progress could be launched in four or five days," he said.

Last month, an abrupt loss of power caused Mission Control to lose contact with Mir for about 20 hours - stoking fears of an uncontrolled plunge of the 140-ton station.

Solovyov said this time that flight controllers were more careful and prevented the loss of communication when they saw the voltage falling.

"Taught by bitter experience, we didn't allow the loss of contact with the station," Solovyov said.

He said the problem had likely been caused by Mir's old batteries, which have become less capable of holding power.

"When you have an old battery on your car, it's a problem," Solovyov said.

Mir was the jewel of the Soviet space program when it was launched on Feb. 20 1986, and it has far surpassed the three to five years it was expected to last. But as it aged, a long string of accidents, including a fire and a near fatal collision with an unmanned cargo ship in 1997, have drawn comparisons with a rusting jalopy.

After long hesitation, the Russian government finally decided last year to discard the Mir and concentrate resources on the new International Space Station, which the United States has urged for years.

The Progress M1 cargo ship had been scheduled to dock with the Mir next Monday in preparation for the dumping. Carrying twice the usual amount of fuel, it would fire its engines to push Mir down on March 6.

If anything goes awry, an emergency crew is on a standby to blast off for Mir and direct the cargo ship's docking and subsequent descent.