In a daring plan to restore more power to the crippled Mir space station, Russia decided Friday that two cosmonauts will go into a dead and depressurized lab to install a new hatch and restore full electricity to Mir in mid-July.
Sergei Krikalyov, deputy flight director, told the two Russians they would have to don spacesuits and enter the depressurized Spektr research module while the American astronaut, Michael Foale, waits in the Soyuz emergency rescue craft.
“The only thing you didn’t train for,” Krikalyov said of the need to wear inflated, protective suits while moving into the airless Spektr, which was punctured by a runaway unmanned cargo vessel Wednesday.
The Mir is manned by Vasily Tsibliev, the commander, Alexander Lazutkin, flight engineer, and Foale. One of the Russian cosmonauts, who was not identified, responded to Krikalyov: “I can’t imagine that. It’s impossible to fit in there. We already looked. All the more with those sleeves.”
He was talking about the bulky spacesuits. Krikalyov said, “That’s what you’ll do the training for.” If the cosmonauts say it’s impossible, he added, then something else will be considered.
Officials are worried that during the procedure the cosmonauts could tear their suits on the debris expected to be floating around in the lab. An accident like that could be fatal.
Earlier, as the exhausted crew slept, the system that steers the space station shut off, NASA officials said. The Mir thrusters shut down when an on-board computer lost power, they said, and the thrusters began working again after the computer was reactivated and the data re-entered.
The crew had to use the attached Soyuz capsule to turn the still-functioning solar wings back toward the sun to gather desperately needed energy, the U.S. officials said. This series of events was not reported by Russian officials.
Foale had said earlier that the Spektr was crammed with scientific gear and his personal belongings, including a sleeping bag lashed to a corner. “I feel like I’m living in a garage,” he said.
Russian officials said a resupply vessel carrying spare parts and cables would be launched July 4 or 5. It takes about two days to reach Mir.
NASA and Russian officials are just starting to look into why the robot ship went out of control and crashed into the outpost Wednesday.
Outside space experts have two suspects: pilot error by the accident-prone commander of Mir who was flying the robot ship by remote control; or equipment failure in the cut-rate manual guidance system, which has failed before.
The scientific equipment throughout the Mir was turned down to save electricity. Foale was working on experiments to measure the effect of weightlessness on several generations of plants, among other things.
All of the U.S. experiments inside Spektr - most with medical and biological samples - are almost certainly ruined and unsalvageable, said Frank Culbertson, manager of NASA’s shuttle-Mir program. The biggest loss is logbooks and computer data stored there, he added.
Krikalyov said the situation on the Mir has stabilized, and urged the cosmonauts to rest.
In a televised discussion between the cosmonauts and NASA officials at Mission Control, outside of Moscow, an unidentified voice is heard to say, “You probably survived?”
“Barely,” responds another voice. “We all barely survived.”