Russian space officials declared the commander of the Mir space station unfit for a grueling repair job Wednesday and said that a U.S. astronaut would begin training to replace him.
However, NASA officials said it was premature to say astronaut Michael Foale would participate in the delicate mission into a sealed-off module that was punctured last month in a collision with a cargo ship.
“He can do some basic things, but no official simulations or the actual spacewalk. None of that’s been approved by NASA yet,” spokeswoman Catherine Watson said from Russia’s Mission Control outside Moscow.
She said a decision likely would be made within a few days.
While Russian officials insisted that Foale would begin training and was “clearly delighted” by the prospect, they also said they wouldn’t decide until next week whether he would actually participate in the repair mission.
The two Russian cosmonauts on the Mir, Alexander Lazutkin and mission commander Vasily Tsibliyev, were to carry out repairs this weekend to return the spacecraft to nearly full power.
But on Monday, Tsibliyev began complaining of an irregular heartbeat. On Wednesday, Vladimir Solovyov, chief of Russia’s Mission Control, said space controllers had decided that the Mir commander was unfit for the difficult repair job, expected to take four to five hours in a bulky spacesuit.