Mir's saga continues Rambling wreck: Space station's days numbered, but that doesn't lessen need for safety.

September 07, 1997

THERE HAS BEEN some grumbling among Russians that too much emphasis is placed on the continuing problems of space station Mir. After all, the 11-year-old spacecraft is performing far beyond its expected length of service. And the end is near. An international space station is being built to replace Mir. Plans call for any Mir parts that survive re-entry into Earth's atmosphere to crash into the Pacific Ocean in early 1999.

Even considering Mir's unexpected longevity, the space station has had a litany of problems, some due to age, others to neglect. Mir has had 1,500 breakdowns during some 4,000 days in space -- an average of one breakdown every 2 1/2 days. Americans are concerned because U.S. astronauts are spending considerable time in Mir preparing for long tours aboard the new international space station.

Mir apparently will survive its latest problem, damage to a module struck by a cargo ship. A lengthy spacewalk late Friday that included American astronaut Michael Foale should provide a better assessment.

The more trouble on Mir, the less people trust Russia's space program. The Russians admit being three months behind in building a key component of the new space station. But other estimates place the delay at closer to eight months. This despite the millions the U.S. has spent to help pay the Russians' bills.

The Russians say they have secured $140 million in bank loans to complete the project. We in the United States must hope they also have found the money needed to better ensure Mir's safety. Former Mir commander Gennady Strekalov complained that equipment aboard the craft is routinely used until it wears out. That won't do, even for a space ship whose days are numbered, when lives could be at risk.

Pub Date: 9/07/97

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