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Russia: More Problems Plague Mir Space Station

Moscow, 22 September 1997 (RFE/RL) - The Mir space station continues to be plagued by mechanical failures, putting into question a weekend docking with the U.S. space shuttle Atlantis. For the fifth time since July, Mir's computer system went down today. Mir's carbon dioxide system failed and a brown cloud appeared outside the station in a possible indication of a fuel leak.

Ground controllers said the crew was working to replace a faulty block in the computer and expected to have it in place by day's end. The computer problem forced the crew to shut down all systems. Only vital life-support systems were left on.

A new computer and a backup are to be delivered on the Atlantis and on the Russian cargo ship Progress. But the present computer must be working for the dockings to take place.

Blagov said the Russians don't want the Atlantis launch delayed, but acknowledged he could not predict how the computer would function. Blagov said the Americans would be consulted before a final decision is made on whether to go ahead with Thursday's shuttle launch.

Soon after the space station's main computer crashed, the crew said "strange drops of brown colour" were coming out of the engines of their Soyuz escape capsule.

Russian Mir Commander Anatoly Solovyov today told Mission Control the crew has seen some brown drops coming from the Soyuz capsule. He said the crew has no explanation for it. Flight engineer Pavel Vinogradov added that the drops were fanning outwards for a long time and then stopped.

A Russian Mission Control spokeswoman said the U.S.-Russian crew -- comprised of two cosmonauts and one American astronaut -- is not in danger.

Just last Tuesday, the three-man crew managed to realign Mir with the sun again after repairing the computer for a fifth time. That computer failure had shut down the 12-gyroscope stabilizing system that keeps the station's solar power panels properly positioned.

While Mir was drifting freely with its stabilizing system shut down, it came close to an orbiting U.S. military satellite.

Meanwhile, U.S. Vice President Al Gore and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin agreed today to continue the joint Mir program, despite the continuing problems. Gore is in Russia for a session of the joint Russian-U.S. Commission on Economic and Technological cooperation.