Originally created 07/03/97

Cargo ship discarded from Mir



MOSCOW (AP) - The garbage-laden cargo ship that punctured the Mir space station shot through the Earth's atmosphere Wednesday and burned up. But the Russians have not said whether the vanishing vessel left any clues to the cause of the collision.

Meanwhile, the two Russian cosmonauts on the Mir tested their space suits in preparation for a difficult trip into the dark, cramped and airless Spektr module that was ruptured in the June 25 crash.

The Mir lost about half its power when the Progress M-34 cargo ship slammed into one of its six modules during a practice docking.

The cargo ship, which had brought supplies to the Mir and was taking garbage away, was ditched Wednesday morning and disintegrated over the Pacific Ocean soon afterwards, said spokeswoman Vera Medvedkova of the Russian Mission Control Center.

It is standard practice to get rid of cargo ships after they deliver their supplies. But the Russians kept this one in orbit for several extra days to see if they could glean anything about what caused the accident.

They haven't announced their findings. Viktor Blagov, a deputy chief of mission control, has played down comments by U.S. space officials that the Progress may have been overloaded.

The two cosmonauts have to go inside the sealed-off Spektr module to make repairs that can replenish the space station's energy supply.

Cosmonauts Vasily Tsibliyev and Alexander Lazutkin examined their spacesuits Wednesday and made other preparations for the mission, planned for July 11, Medvedkova said.

U.S. astronaut Michael Foale will wait for them inside the Soyuz escape capsule, ready to make a quick exit from the Mir with his colleagues if necessary.

It will be a difficult job for the Russians, who will be carrying cables designed to link the Spektr's solar batteries to Mir's main power supply system.

The cosmonauts, clad in bulky spacesuits, will have have to unseal the Spektr and squeeze through a narrow hatch to get into the module.

Once inside, they will have to rely on helmet lights to see what they're doing. The space is cramped and filled with U.S. science experiments and Foale's belongings - from his toothbrush down to his athletic shoes.

Outside Moscow, researchers have been practicing for the operation in a full-size model of the Mir submerged in a 20-foot pool of water. They will pass on their recommendations to the Mir crew.

A new Progress supply ship will blast off Saturday from Kazakstan in Central Asia to take repair equipment and other vital supplies to the Mir, which it will reach Monday.

However, the supply ship will not carry the tools to patch up the postage stamp-sized hole in Spektr, which means it will remain off limits even if the cosmonauts succeed in hooking up the cables.

The Mir's crew had to turn off most of the space station's equipment to save power. But they have accumulated enough power for a scientific experiment that involves lighting plants for several hours every day to study their growth. The experiment has been performed regularly since Monday, Medvedkova said.

The crew encountered a new problem Tuesday when they had to shut down the Mir's primary oxygen generator after a cooling loop became too hot.

They have been using solid-fuel canisters to produce oxygen until the generator can be restarted.