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Saturday, 11 April, 1998, 16:58 GMT 17:58 UK
Mir engine jettisoned into space
Past spacewalks have fixed solar panels and air leaks
Two Russian cosmonauts on the Mir space station have been taking part in a spacewalk to detach a thruster engine to keep the complex aligned towards the sun.

Talgat Musabayev and Nikolai Budarin crawled along a 14-meter (46-foot) support boom to detach the engine and shove it out into space, where it will eventually burn up in Earth's atmosphere.

A further two spacewalks are scheduled for April 17 and 22, when the cosmonauts will install a new orientation engine.

Mir paves the way for an international space platform
The failed engine ran out of fuel during a previous spacewalk last week, forcing the cosmonauts to switch on another engine that restored the Mir's orientation.

The thruster had been in operation since 1992. Orientation engines are not rechargeable and need to be replaced when fuel runs out.

The six-hour spacewalk began at 1.55 pm Moscow time (0955 GMT) on Saturday, with the cosmonauts opening the outer hatch some 20 minutes ahead of schedule.

It took the cosmonauts about an hour to reach the engine. Musabayev said he could see the red-coloured Sahara desert and the Red Sea below him as the spacewalk proceeded.

Two hours into the spacewalk, the deputy Mission Control chief Viktor Blagov said the cosmonauts were "on schedule, down to a minute. Since this is their third spacewalk, they've started to feel comfortable."

Conditions are cramped
The third man on Mir, NASA astronaut Andrew Thomas, will remain inside the station during this month's spacewalks, filming his colleagues' progress, as he has done in the past.

After dismantling the engine, the cosmonauts planned to begin repairs of the station's Elektron oxygen generator, installing a valve that would control the removal of hydrogen from the station. Later, they will proceed to repair the generator from inside the station.

The Mir has had no trouble with its oxygen supply since the station has a second fully operational Elektron generator, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.

After a series of accidents and breakdowns last year, the 12-year-old Mir has been largely trouble-free in recent months.

See also:

09 Jan 98 | Sci/Tech
Cosmonauts fix Mir air leak
19 Feb 98 | Sci/Tech
Chilly return for spacemen
16 Jan 98 | Sci/Tech
Mir's Wolf makes first spacewalk
05 Mar 98 | Sci/Tech
Mir crew breaks the toolbox
11 Apr 98 | Sci/Tech
Russian honour for Foale
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