Originally created 12/18/97

Mir crew aborts experiment after camera fails



MOSCOW - The crew of the space station Mir aborted an experiment involving a powerful new camera Wednesday when the device failed to follow the proper path after it was released.

Space officials said the Inspector, a 3-foot robot equipped with a high-resolution camera, was floating near the Mir but did not pose any danger to the spacecraft.

The Mir's crew planned to try to reorient the Inspector and pinpoint the problem, but the odds of success were considered low, said Vera Medvedkova, spokeswoman at Russia's Mission Control just outside Moscow.

The Inspector never managed to orient itself properly after its release this morning, and ground controllers decided to call off the experiment after several hours, she added.

The Inspector, created by German and Russian firms, was to have spent two days taking pictures of the Mir's exterior.

The device is equipped with a high-resolution camera capable of providing clear images of items as small as .4 of an inch from a distance of 100 yards.

The Inspector was linked to a Progress cargo ship when it detached from the Mir this morning. The cargo ship, filled with garbage, was being abandoned and will burn up in the Earth's atmosphere.

The Inspector separated from the cargo ship after leaving the Mir. Space officials had hoped it would circle the Mir several times Thursday, transmitting video footage, before being discarded.

The Mir's crew, made up of cosmonauts Anatoly Solovyov and Pavel Vinogradov and U.S. astronaut David Wolf, sent commands to the Inspector today, but it did not respond properly, Medvedkova said.

Space officials hoped the Inspector might be able to help locate the holes in Mir's Spektr module, which was punctured in a June space collision. The Mir's crew searched unsuccessfully for the holes during a September spacewalk.

The Mir, which has been orbiting the earth for almost 12 years, was plagued by malfunctions and accidents earlier this year. It had been working more smoothly in recent weeks and the crew has restored most of the power lost in the June collision.