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Thursday, July 29, 1999 Published at 02:35 GMT 03:35 UK


Mir's walk into history

The antenna unfurled smoothly at the second attempt

Two Russian cosmonauts completed on Wednesday what will probably go down in the history books as the last ever space walk from the Mir space station.

Flight commander Viktor Afanasyev and engineer Sergei Avdeyev successfully released a new Russian-Georgian communications antenna which failed to open in a spacewalk last week.

On that occasion, the two men were reported to have spent about 40 minutes kicking and tugging at the device before giving up.

This time, the space walk lasted for about five hours and 22 minutes. Afterwards, a Russian Mission Control spokesperson said: "The antenna opened up faultlessly."

The third crew member, French astronaut Jean-Pierre Heignere, monitored the spacewalk from inside the station.

Showing its age

The successful walk comes after a string of problems affecting the ageing space staion.

[ image: Last week, the cosmonauts tried brute force but had to admit defeat]
Last week, the cosmonauts tried brute force but had to admit defeat
Earlier this month, scientists detected a drop of air pressure from a leak but have so far been unable to pinpoint the fault.

Last week, Russian space officials said the leak was not an immediate danger but could eventually curtail the ability of a crew to live on Mir.

"The process is not developing for the better," Deputy Flight Director Viktor Blagov said.

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State funding for the project is to be withdrawn and the station could fall back to earth if private sector sponsors are not found.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

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