They went through six months of hell over Earth. But this morning that should be in the past for weary Mir crew mates Vasily Tsibliev and Alexander Lazutkin.
If all went well early today on the Russian space station - and on Mir lately things rarely go well - Tsibliev and Lazutkin will land on Earth in the remote steppes of central Asia at 8:16 a.m. today. Their Soyuz capsule was scheduled to push away from Mir at 4:53 a.m., after a five-minute farewell ceremony.
U.S. astronaut Michael Foale will stay on Mir for at least another six weeks.
The two cosmonauts spent 185 days on Mir that included a flash fire and breakdowns of the oxygen generating system, the carbon dioxide remover and the air conditioner. Much of their water supply could be tainted with anti-freeze, a radio antenna may be dented and to top it all off they suffered a near-fatal June 25 crash with a cargo ship that left Mir’s power cut in half and destroyed a lab.
“This is absolutely the toughest” situation any crew had to go through in Mir’s 11-year history, said Roald Sagdeev, the top space adviser to then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
NASA shuttle-Mir director Frank Culberston called it “one of the most difficult (missions) people have ever had to go through in space, and I believe that we still owe them a debt of thanks for keeping the Mir going through all of this and the hard work they put in.”
The six months of crises took a personal toll. Tsibliev, Mir’s commander, suffered an irregular heartbeat. The problem caused ground controllers to yank Tsibliev and Lazutkin from a planned Aug. 20 internal spacewalk into the damaged lab to try to restore power to Mir.