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Friday, July 23, 1999 Published at 21:28 GMT 22:28 UK


Mir problems mount for Russians

The cosmonauts on board Mir could well be the last

Cosmonauts on the Russian Mir space station have been forced to end a space walk after being told their space suits might overheat.

They struggled in vain for about six hours to install a Russian-Georgian communications antenna the two countries hoped to use on satellites.

After the antenna failed to open automatically, flight commander Viktor Afanasyev and engineer Sergei Avdeyev were reported to have spent about 40 minutes kicking and tugging at the device.

There is expected to be another space walk next week at which it may well be dumped.

[ image: Mir: In orbit since 1986]
Mir: In orbit since 1986
Russian space officials said the cosmonauts also decided that a leak causing a loss of air pressure is not of immediate danger but could eventually curtail the ability of a crew to live on Mir.

"The leakage is above the allowable limit," Deputy Flight Director Viktor Blagov said.

"The process is not developing for the better."

The current team, two Russians and a Frenchman are due to return to earth next month, leaving the craft unmanned.

Russian officials concede that they may well be the last cosmonauts to live on Mir.

Duration record

State funding for the project is to be withdrawn and the station could fall back to earth if private sector sponsors are not found.

Sergei Avdeyev has now set a new record for overall space flight duration spending, 712 days in space.

The problem comes on the same day that US space shuttle Columbia sent a huge X-ray telescope into Orbit, one of the most powerful space observatories ever put into orbit.

It will spend at least five years, searching for black holes and looking at galaxies, quasars and exploded stars.

Mir problems get Russians down

From time to time cosmonauts aboard Mir have encountered small pressure leaks, often caused by a hatch that did not close perfectly.

The most dramatic pressure leak occurred in 1997, after Mir collided with its cargo resupply ship.

The crew was reported to have come within minutes of death before they were able to seal off the leak.

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