Module problems may keep U.S. astronaut in space longer

March 21, 1995|By Orlando Sentinel

American Astronaut Norman Thagard began his first day of work yesterday aboard the Russian space station Mir but found out he may be staying longer than planned.

The Russians are running two weeks behind in their plans to send up a new module, or room, to connect with Mir in May. And NASA doesn't want to launch the space shuttle Atlantis, which will dock with Mir and bring Mr. Thagard home, until a month after the launch of the new module, called Spektr.

So Atlantis' launch date, originally scheduled for May 24, is slipping until at least June and maybe later, NASA officials said.

"The exact launch date is too early to set right now," said Tommy Holloway, who runs the first phase of the joint U.S.-Russia program for NASA. "I don't think it'll happen in May."

The problem is this: Spektr is the first large room being attached to Mir since 1990, and the Russians want to fix potential docking problems that cropped up after a launch last year, Mr. Holloway said yesterday.

The improvements they made caused the module to be two weeks late in arriving at the Baikonur launch site last month.

"It's clear that they have an awful lot of work to do between now and May to get this thing ready for launch," Mr. Holloway said after returning from Russia during the weekend. "We are waiting till April 15 to pin down the exact launch date."

NASA will launch Atlantis 25 to 30 days after Spektr goes up, Mr. Holloway said.

The Spektr module will deliver a new set of solar panels to Mir to give it power. NASA wants to make sure those arrays are working properly before launching Atlantis. Spektr also will bring materials Mr. Thagard needs for biomedical experiments.

NASA is looking at several options for the Atlantis launch. It may even get pushed back to July, after the scheduled launch of Discovery on June 22, Kennedy Space Center spokesman Bruce Buckingham said.

Mr. Thagard and Cosmonauts Vladimir Dezhurov and Gennady Strekalov will return to Earth aboard Atlantis.

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