NASA has decided there is no need to rush a shuttle to the crippled Russian space station Mir to rescue its three-man crew, officials said on Wednesday.
That means U.S. astronaut Michael Foale will have to wait until late September as originally planned to return to Earth. If an emergency develops he can come home in a Soyuz escape capsule attached to Mir.
NASA officials said they were confident in Russia’s plans to repair the damaged station.
Until Wednesday, shuttle managers at Kennedy Space Center had been studying how to move up the launch of Atlantis from mid-September to mid-August.
A decision had to be made this week because Atlantis would have to leapfrog Discovery on the launch schedule and use boosters and a fuel tank being readied for Discovery.
Conditions on Mir have stabilized since it was hit last week by a robot ship during a manual docking test. However, the station is still operating on half power, and the crew is depending on a backup system to supply oxygen.
On Wednesday, the two Russian cosmonauts and Foale worked on a faulty cooling system that forced them to shut off Mir’s main oxygen generator. The repair work is expected to be completed on Thursday.
Also Wednesday, the crew worked on their spacesuits in preparation for an “interior spacewalk” into the damaged and airless module that was punctured by the errant robot ship. The work - designed to restore more power to the station - is tentatively scheduled for July 11.
The ship involved in the accident was commanded to return to Earth and burn up in the atmosphere Wednesday morning.
The ships carry supplies to Mir and then routinely are disposed of after being packed with waste from the station.