Originally created 04/23/98

Mir's cosmonauts take fifth spacewalk in repair-filled month

MOSCOW -- Taking their fifth spacewalk this month, Mir's two cosmonauts ventured into open space Wednesday and replaced an engine that keeps the space station's solar panels pointed toward the sun.

Talgat Musabayev and Nikolai Budarin have carried out several repair jobs during their spacewalks, wrapping up their work by putting the new orientation engine in place.

"Guys, we've got some good news .... All the connections are working properly," a ground controller said as the two men were completing their 6-hour, 21-minute mission.

The orientation engines adjust the spacecraft's solar panels so they always face the sun and can absorb the maximum amount of energy. The engines are not rechargeable, and need to be replaced when their nearly 900 pounds of fuel is exhausted.

About five hours into the spacewalk, the pair put the engine in place and then unfolded the 46-foot girder to which it was attached, space officials said.

"It's in working position," Musabayev reported.

The old engine ran out of fuel during a spacewalk April 6, forcing the cosmonauts to rush back to the station and switch on another engine that restored Mir's orientation.

Today's mission completed a three-stage engine replacement process. During the previous two spacewalks, Musabayev and Budarin discarded the old engine, then moved some of the equipment on the outside of the Mir to allow them room to work.

Viktor Blagov, deputy Mission Control chief, said the new engine would be started by ground controllers "two or three days after the spacewalk."

As the cosmonauts were discarding used tools and equipment, he advised them jokingly, referring to Musabayev's Kazak origins and prompting laughter from the cosmonaut: "You pass over Russia, approach Kazakstan and then go ahead and drop them."

The third man on the space station, NASA astronaut Andrew Thomas, remained inside the station during the spacewalk, filming his colleagues.

"Did you take the camera?" Musabayev asked Thomas at the start of the spacewalk. "Then film us, don't just look."

Thomas then joked that after the flight, he could work as a cameraman in Hollywood.

After a series of accidents and breakdowns last year, the 12-year-old Mir has experienced no major troubles in recent months.

Russian space officials hope to keep the station manned at least until next year, when a new international space station should be ready. Russia and the United States are among 15 countries involved in the project.

The Russian cosmonauts are expected to make another spacewalk next month to retrieve some of the scientific experiments from outside the station.


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