MOSCOW (AP) - Mir's Russian-American crew took a spin around the space station Friday, videotaping the banged-up Spektr module in preparation for what Russians bill as the toughest repair job in the history of space travel.
The two cosmonauts and their American colleague spent about 45 minutes circling the exterior of the sprawling station in a Soyuz spacecraft, getting their first look at the punctured hull they are preparing to patch.
"I didn't see anything significant," said U.S. astronaut Michael Foale, who manned a video camera and took photographs with a zoom lens. "But I hope the footage will be good. We shall see," he said in Russian.
Space officials said they had not expected the crew to be able to immediately see what are believed to be one or two small holes in the Spektr, damaged in a dangerous June collision with a cargo vessel.
But they hope the footage, taped as the Soyuz slowly sailed 150 feet to 210 feet from the module, will allow them to find the damage.
The crew plans to transmit the footage to Earth on Monday, and technicians will spend several days analyzing it, said Russian Mission Control chief Vladimir Solovyov.
The June 25 cargo ship collision was the worst in a long series of misfortunes to beset the Mir. Others included a fire, breakdowns in the oxygen and cooling systems, and a severe power outage.
The brief trip in the Soyuz escape capsule, which left the station temporarily unmanned, was necessary to free up a port where a cargo vessel will dock with the Mir on Sunday. All three crew members were required to be aboard the Soyuz on Friday - as a matter of policy, no one is ever left on the Mir without an escape vehicle on hand for emergencies.
The Russian crew members, Anatoly Solovyov and Pavel Vinogradov, plan at least two spacewalks in coming weeks.
The first, on Aug. 20, will be an "internal spacewalk" into the airless Spektr module. It will focus on reconnecting power cables to the module's solar panels.
If successful, it should restore the Mir to 90 percent or more of its normal power supply. The station has been running on about half-power since the collision, when the power cables were intentionally disconnected in order to seal off the Spektr.
The second spacewalk, outside the station on Sept. 3, is aimed at pinpointing and possibly patching the holes in the Spektr. If NASA gives permission, Foale may take part, the Russian Mission Control chief said Friday. NASA said it would not make a final decision on Foale's participation until around Sept. 1.
The repairs are a complicated task. At least one cosmonaut, wearing a bulky, pressurized spacesuit, will have to climb through a small hatch to get into the dark module.
The combined effects of weightlessness and the bulky suits make even mundane tasks slow and difficult, but this delicate wiring job under limited lighting will be anything but mundane.
In case something goes wrong, the entire crew will be prepared to abandon the Mir and head to Earth in the Soyuz capsule.
All together, six spacewalks may be needed to complete the job, depending on the location and severity of the ruptures.
Meanwhile, two Mir cosmonauts who returned to Earth on Thursday were reported in good condition as they began a battery of post-flight tests and a review of their troubled six-month mission.
Space officials rallied around the returned cosmonauts Friday, saying it is unfair and premature to blame them for any of the Mir's recent run of problems.
"It was a very difficult flight. They succeeded in some things and not in others. I think they deserve an award," said Mission Control chief Solovyov, who has the same surname as the Mir's new commander.
Vasily Tsibliyev and Alexander Lazutkin endured one of the roughest space trips ever, and already have begun to face questions about whether they were to blame for the accidents and breakdowns.
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