It was the worst accident that has ever occurred in outer space, with the possible exception of the nearly fatal malfunction aboard Apollo 13 in 1970 -- and the most serious accident aboard a manned spacecraft since the horrific explosion of the Shuttle Challenger shortly after takeoff in 1986.
Space Station Mir, whose name means "Peace" in Russian and whose crews have included several American men and women, is now severely compromised, with a puncture in one of its main sections and fully half of its solar power collectors off line following a collision with an unmanned vehicle during a docking exercise on June 25, 1997.
The extent of damage and danger to the crew were not immediately apparent. Early reports from Russian sources suggested a moderate incident. But soon the tone changed, and within a day after the collision members of the U.S. Congress were loudly calling for a review of NASA's commitment to continued joint missions with the Mir. Russian participation in the new international space station was also called into question.
As of this writing, the Mir is reportedly stabilized and its crew is not in immediate danger, but the situation remains critical and could change quickly for the worse. Emergency evacuation is possible if required.
Following are excerpts from news reports showing the progression of events from June 25 to June 30.
MOSCOW, June 25 (Reuter) -- Russian mission control said on Wednesday a U.S. astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts on board the Mir space station were in no immediate danger following a collision with an unmanned cargo craft.
"The crew said the air pressure on the station was normal and there is no immediate danger," a spokeswoman said by telephone. She added that one solar battery on a scientific module was possibly damaged in the collision. NASA officials said there had been a localised loss of air pressure.
It was not clear what effect the collision would have on the mission. A space expert who requested anonymity said damage to the solar battery could cause serious problems but declined to give details until the full picture emerged.
U.S. astronaut Michael Foale, who mans the station with Russian cosmonauts Vasily Tsibliyev and Alexander Lazutkin, reached Mir on the space shuttle Atlantis in May and was to stay until September.
The spokeswoman said a Progress cargo craft was in the middle of manual docking at 1:20 p.m. (0920 GMT) when it hit the Spektr scientific module attached to the main section of Mir.
The collision caused a partial loss of air pressure. She said the main part of the station was not damaged.
KOROLYOV, Russia, June 25 (Reuter) -- Mission control director Vladimir Lobachyov, speaking after liaising with the three-man Mir crew, told reporters the collision was "the most serious accident in recent times" and said it may have been the result of a technical malfunction.
Mission control officials have made clear the cosmonauts are not in any immediate danger because of the collision.
"The cosmonauts say that on Mir there is a fall in the electrical supply... and as a result of the collision a hole (in Spektr) has developed whose size is still unclear," Lobachyov told a news briefing at the mission control centre just outside Moscow.
Lobachyov said a commission would decide Spektr's fate and added that it might be undocked from the space station.
Progress, which is gradually moving away from Mir, [was] expected to fall to Earth and sink into the Pacific Ocean on Friday.
WASHINGTON, June 25 (Reuter) -- The chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Science Committee on Wednesday called on NASA to begin an immediate safety review of the Russian space station Mir before any more U.S. astronauts went on board for a long-term stay.
Representative James Sensenbrenner, Republican of Wisconsin called for NASA to begin a comprehensive review of safety of Mir immediately and asked the space agency to comply voluntarily with legislation that would bar more U.S. astronauts from going on board Mir for a long-term stay until the safety tests are passed.
The House recently passed a bill, the Civilian Space Authorisation, which contained a requirement that no U.S. astronaut be placed on board Mir for a long-term stay until the National Aeronatics and Space Administration certifies to Congress that the space station meets or exceeds U.S. safety standards. It is not yet law.
White House spokesman Mike McCurry said President Bill Clinton remained "committed to the programme."
"NASA right now is in very close consultation with its Russia counterpart. They're exploring all aspects of the problem and trouble-shooting various aspects of the problem," McCurry said.
WASHINGTON, June 26 (AP) -- The Mir accident is raising fresh questions about the proposed U.S.-Russian space station, already beset by cost overruns, delays and criticism of the Russians' performance.
The Mir accident "is further indication the U.S.-Russia collaboration on the Space Station should be grounded once and for all," Sen. Dale Bumpers, D-Ark., said Thursday.
"The incident at Mir reminds us of ... (dangers) and should prompt further debate over how much we are willing to sacrifice for manned space science," said Rep. Tim Roemer, D-Ind., another longtime opponent of the space station.
Two weeks ago the General Accounting Office reported that cost-control problems have steadily worsened for the international space station and "considerable further cost and schedule problems could occur if the Russian government continues to be unable to fulfill its partnership commitment."
The station is to be a partnership among the United States, Russia, the 12-member European Space Agency, Japan and Canada to build a permanent manned space station for a variety of research projects. It is planned to eventually include 19 separate spacecraft, including seven pressurized laboratory modules connected as one orbiting unit.
Russia was made a full partner in the program in 1993. But Russia has experienced delays in completing its share of the work, forcing NASA to adjust its schedule, now eight months behind, according to GAO, the investigative arm of Congress.
Planned completion date for the station is now 2003, NASA spokesman Michael Braukus said Thursday.
He said NASA officials will be going to Moscow in September for a design review to see if the Russians will be able to make a planned December 1998 launch date for their portion, adding that "the Russian service module is apparently on track."
KOROLYOV, Russia, June 27 (Reuter) -- An unmanned Progress cargo craft carrying vital repair supplies to the damaged Mir space station will be launched on July 4 or, at the latest, July 5, Russian Space Agency head Yuri Koptev said on Friday.
He told reporters at Korolyov mission control centre near Moscow that special equipment allowing the three-man Russian-American crew to recover electric power from Mir's damaged Spektr module would be manufactured on Sunday and delivered to the Baikonur cosmodrome on Monday.
Koptev said Mir spent a normal night in orbit after its engines were used to reposition the space station. The crew were still attempting other work to hold the craft in position without using up fuel.
KOROLYOV, Russia, June 28 (Reuter) -- Vladimir Solovyov, who is responsible for flight coordination at Korolyov mission control near Moscow, told reporters on Saturday that 30 to 40 percent of Mir's electric power potential had been lost during Wednesday's accident, but added that there was no need for the two Russians and one American on board Mir to conserve electricity.
Solovyov also said there was enough fuel on Mir for it to carry out manoeuvres as required.
He confirmed that a cargo craft would be launched on July 5 to take equipment to Mir to help restore the power supply. The repair work in the damaged Spektr scientific module will take place between July 10 and 14, he said.
He said the crew -- American Michael Foale and Russians Vasily Tsibliyev and Alexander Lazutkin -- would start training on Monday in preparation to carry out the repair work.
(June 28, AP) -- One of Mir's cosmonauts voiced skepticism Friday when told he'd have to venture next month into the Spektr lab module, sealed since it was smashed by a runaway cargo ship on Wednesday.
He said it would be impossible for a man in a pressurized spacesuit to fit through the hatch.
"That's what the training session is for," came the curt reply from Russia's no-nonsense Mission Control outside Moscow.
Russian flight controllers are proposing that commander Vasily Tsibliyev and Alexander Lazutkin remove Spektr's sealed hatch and connect power cables to desperately needed solar batteries inside. They would replace the hatch with an onboard spare, modified so the cables can poke through without exposing the rest of the station to the vacuum of space.
It's unclear how far the cosmonauts could enter Spektr, filled with experiments that may have burst when the module depressurized.
NASA astronaut Michael Foale would wait inside the attached Soyuz escape module, ready to make a quick getaway with the two cosmonauts if necessary. Most of the station would be sealed off during the spacewalk to keep it pressurized.
Marcia Smith, a specialist in space policy for the Congressional Research Service, said the cosmonauts should have little trouble reinstalling power cables inside Spektr.
But plugging the hole in Spektr is another matter -- and another spacewalk for another day. The crew has no idea where the cargo ship punctured Spektr's thin aluminum hull, or how big the gash is.
"Repairing Spektr, I think, is going to be an extremely challenging task, how challenging they won't know until they see what the damage is," Smith said.
(June 30, AP) -- Russian space officials are considering the possibility that an overloaded supply ship caused last week's accident on the Mir space station.
The garbage-filled Progress supply ship that crashed into Mir last week continued to orbit the Earth as flight controllers tested its guidance system to try to figure out what went wrong on Wednesday.
In orbit, meanwhile, Mir's Russian-American crew finally got the automatic steering system and a primary oxygen generator working today. Some of the station lights already were back on, and the air conditioner was running again.
On Sunday, unlike the four previous days that were crammed with nerve-racking salvage work, the crew enjoyed a slower pace and took time for a brief news conference. They appeared robust, smiling and even laughing at times.
"We are alive, thank God," commander Vasily Tsibliyev told Russia's Mission Control.
Original file name: CNI - Mir Crash
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