Two Russian cosmonauts have finished a successful space walk to repair a leak on the ageing space station, Mir. The leak had caused a loss of pressure in the station's docking chamber and raised more doubts about Mir's future. The cosmonauts had assigned six hours to the operation but in the event completed it in three. Our Moscow correspondent, Robert Parsons, reports;
The two cosmonauts completed their mission far sooner than expected quickly identifying the problem. A faulty lock on a hatch which was letting air leak from one of the modules that make up the station.
Using the hatch' auxiliary bolts the cosmonauts resealed the module before going on to recover US experiments installed on the outside of the station last April. For Commander Solovyov, it was familiar territory.
The world's most experienced space walker has notched up more than 70 hours in open space. But even he still finds it difficult to work in the clumsy suits used for space walks.
It's not easy, he complained. These gloves aren't designed for working with small parts.
The leaky hatch was one of a plethora of problems that plagued Mir last year, most notably a near fatal collision with a cargo ship. The seemingly endless run of incidents raised serious doubts about its future, not least at NASA, which provides much of Mir's funding and still has an astronaut onboard.
The Russians will greet the success of the space walk as evidence that the station's worst problems are behind it. They admit that Mir is struggling as it enters old age but insist it's still viable.