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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mission Control Postpones Mir Cargo Ship

KOROLYOV, Russia — Russian Mission Control on Thursday called off the launching of a cargo ship to the Mir space station, saying a power failure had shut down the orientation system of the orbiting station.

Such power failures have long plagued the Mir, but there were crews aboard to fix the problem. The Mir has been flying unmanned since last summer, and it is scheduled to be destroyed in March.

Hours before the Progress cargo ship was to have blasted off Thursday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakstan, Mission Control chief Vladimir Solovyov announced that due to problems that developed overnight on the Mir, the launch was being postponed for at least four to five days.

"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 told reporters.

The gyroscopes keep the station stable, which is necessary for a cargo ship to dock. Even a manned cargo ship would have difficulty docking with the station if it were not stable.

Solovyov said a decision on whether to send a manned mission to the Mir would be made by the end of January. It takes two days to reach the station from Earth.

The power outage was just the latest of a long series of problems aboard the 15-year-old station. The Russian government 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 Russian space agency tentatively had scheduled the destruction of the Mir for March 6. After fuel from the Progress is taken on board, Russian ground controllers will fire rockets on the 140-ton station to slow its orbit and send it hurtling into the thicker layers of Earth's atmosphere, where most of the station will burn up. Some parts are expected to survive re-entry and splash into the Pacific Ocean east of Australia.

The space station has survived several accidents, including a fire and a near-fatal collision with an unmanned cargo ship in 1997. The latest glitch occurred in late December, when ground controllers lost radio control with the orbiter, stoking fears of an uncontrolled fall to Earth. Officials blamed that failure on a sudden and unexplained loss of power.