Originally created 07/11/97

NASA boss to Mir astronaut: `Play it safe'



Mir astronaut Michael Foale got a call today from the boss, who urged him to "play it safe" aboard the Russian space station.

NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin asked Foale whether he felt safe on Mir, ruptured two weeks ago in the worst space collision ever.

"Are you sanguine with it?" Goldin asked in a radio hookup from Johnson Space Center in Houston.

"Oh, I've always been sanguine with it," Foale replied. "I think basically we have time to move, even in pretty extreme situations where we have a leak and the pressure's falling pretty fast. ... The safety concerns, I think, are well met and I'm not worried."

Foale said plans for this month's repairs to salvage power on the crippled station seem to be going well, although he and his crewmates still have a lot of questions about the procedures.

A Russian TV station, meanwhile, today, reported the repairs to open a hatch and fix cables might be delayed. It quoted Mission Control's deputy director, Sergei Krikalyov, as saying the preparations will take a little longer than expected.

NASA officials pointed out that a firm date for the repairs never had been set and, as far as they knew, still were targeted for no earlier than next Thursday.

The Russian-American crew aboard the space station today finished unloading more than 2 tons of equipment from a visiting cargo ship.

Apart from the usual fuel, oxygen, food and water, the ship ferried up vital repair equipment needed to restore the space station's power supply after the June 25 collision with another cargo ship.

Mir's two Russian cosmonauts, wearing pressurized spacesuits, will unseal the airless Spektr module that was punctured by the ship, reattach power cables inside and then install a new hatch designed to let the power flow through. Foale will wait in the attached Soyuz escape capsule.

Foale showed off the center of the new hatch.

"That's one incredible piece of hardware to put together in days," Goldin told the astronaut.

Goldin said such an emergency could occur on the future international space station, "and learning how to work through this is very important and sticking with the mission is very important."

Last week, the NASA chief insisted he would not leave Foale on Mir - and would send no more astronauts there - if the station became too dangerous.

During this morning's brief call, Goldin promised to send pictures of Mars to Mir and encouraged the 40-year-old Foale to keep training - "You're still young enough to go to Mars."

"I must say, I think we're one of the few people, actually we're off the planet, but from Earth who have not seen those pictures yet," said Foale, a British-born astrophysicist.

Goldin ended the conversation with these words: "Our thoughts are with you, and play it safe."

Foale is two months into his four-month mission. Space shuttle Atlantis is supposed to return for him in September.