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Oxygen-Generating Systems Restored On Mir Crew Faced Possible Evacuation When Supply Units Failed

Greg Myre Associated Press

The Mir’s oxygen-generating systems were again working today and the crew was safe following a scare that occurred when the station’s air supply units briefly failed, Russian space officials said.

Mission Control spokesman Valery Lyndin said both the main and backup oxygen-generating systems were down simultaneously Monday due to electrical and mechanical problems.

The problem was first reported Monday in the United States by NASA, which said the situation was potentially very serious.

There was a great deal of confusion overnight Monday because Russian Mission Control was not answering its phones and did not release any information.

However, Russian officials said Tuesday morning that the problems were fixed late Monday, before the two Russians and one American on board even went to sleep.

“Everything was fixed last night,” Lyndin told The Associated Press.

When Russian officials spoke with the crew Tuesday morning, they confirmed that the oxygen systems were working properly.

The primary Elektron generator shut itself down Monday after it began over heating, NASA spokesman Ed Campion said from the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Even when both oxygen systems go down, Mir has enough oxygen to last several days, Campion and Russian officials said. But if the systems couldn’t be fixed, the crew would have to abandon ship in the attached Soyuz capsule.

There have been repeated problems with the new Elektron generator, carried up by space shuttle Atlantis in May. But it was the first time since February that a crew had had serious trouble with the backup system, in which solid-fuel canisters are ignited to produce oxygen.

One of these canisters burst into flames six months ago, filling the station with smoke and almost causing the crew to evacuate.

The cosmonauts were trying to ignite a canister, or candle, Monday when the system failed, according to NASA. They replaced the igniter mechanism but the canister still would not burn.

On a positive note, Mir commander Anatoly Solovyov reported Monday that power was flowing through the makeshift hatch that he and Pavel Vinogradov installed during an internal spacewalk Friday to restore power.

Russian flight controllers verified that an additional 40 amps of electricity were flowing into the station. But commands sent to move three of the four solar panels mounted on the outside of the ruptured lab module were unsuccessful.

Until Monday, the station had been flying at half-power as a result of the June 25 collision with an unmanned cargo ship.

Russian space officials, meanwhile, disclosed Monday that the collision may have left as many as seven tiny holes in the sealed-off Spektr lab module.

Space officials previously said they believed only one or two holes were punched in the Spektr module.

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