Too much garbage may have caused the crash that crippled the Russian space station Mir last week.
Russian crash investigators said Monday they are looking at whether too much trash and other waste had been loaded into a robot ship that crashed into the space station during a docking test. After supply ships are unloaded they routinely are packed with waste before being sent to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.
If the Progress resupply ship that hit Mir was overloaded, which the Russians suspect may be the case, that would have made it difficult to control, NASA Shuttle-Mir Director Frank Culbertson said Monday. Mir Commander Vasily Tsibliev probably fired jets on the Progress to slow it down, but a heavier ship would not have responded as expected.
It’s easy to overload the ship because the Mir crew doesn’t have a good way of weighing its trash, Culbertson said. Before sending the ship to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere, Russian space officials decided to test its back-up manual docking system.
Jim Oberg, a Houston expert on the Russian space program, said the Progress ship was coming in too fast during the docking test and weight may not be the sole cause of the crash.
If the ship was too heavy, Tsibliev should have known by the way it responded to his commands something was wrong, Oberg said.
Because Tsibliev waited until too late to hit the “panic button” which aborts the docking and sends the ship off sideways and away from Mir, a crash couldn’t be avoided. That means either Tsibliev made a mistake by not acting early enough or the ship wasn’t overloaded, he said.
Meanwhile, the Russian Space Agency tentatively set a date of late Friday or early Saturday for the launch of another resupply ship that will carry more than 300 pounds of repair equipment to Mir. The ship is expected to dock with Mir on July 6 around 10:30 p.m. PDT.
Once the repair equipment is unloaded, Tsibliev and Alexander Lazutkin will don spacesuits for a seven-hour “interior spacewalk” to repair the Spektr module July 11. They will practice the work on July 9.
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