Originally created 08/16/98

New crew docks with Mir



MOSCOW -- A fresh crew reached the Mir space station Saturday and docked successfully after a minor hitch, space officials said.

A Soyuz TM-28 ship, launched Thursday from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakstan, carried what is expected to be the aging station's next-to-last crew.

At the last minute, the docking was switched from automatic to manual pilot, the ITAR-Tass news agency said. It said mission controllers spotted a minor problem in the automatic docking system.

The docking was carried out at 2:56 p.m. Moscow time, the news agency said. The cosmonauts opened the hatch and entered Mir at 4:29 p.m.

Earlier in the week, space officials reported trouble with Mir's automatic docking system but later said the crew had fixed it. The docking system has failed during previous dockings, but the crew can use manual controls.

Among the replacement cosmonauts is a rookie -- former national security adviser Yuri Baturin, on a mission that was widely ridiculed as a hoax when it was first announced.

Baturin and two other cosmonauts, flight commander Gennady Padalka and engineer Sergei Avdeyev, will relieve a crew that has been on Mir since January.

The new crew is expected to remain until February. However, Avdeyev might remain until June, when the Mir is to be discarded and lowered to Earth.

Yeltsin fired Baturin as national security adviser earlier this year without explanation. Since then, the 49-year-old official, a space physicist by training, has focused on training for the trip.

It has not been clear why Baturin was chosen. Some people have speculated that he was selected to attract attention to the struggling space program.

Baturin told reporters at Baikonur that he would like to work aboard the international space station, which is to receive its first crew next July.