Another American aboard Mir Dangerous mission: But there's never a guarantee of safety in space.

September 27, 1997

SPACE AGENCY Director Daniel S. Goldin made the right decision in letting another U.S. astronaut spend a few months aboard Russian space station Mir. But he will be severely second-guessed if something goes wrong. And it could.

Mr. Goldin is not taking this situation lightly. The NASA executive has done as much as he can to assure that the Russians make Mir as safe as possible. But the unexpected is always part of space flight.

And Mir has had more than its share of unexpected maladies, a breakdown of varying degrees every two days by some calculations. Still, the battered old space ship serves a purpose.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., argued against David Wolf's joining the Mir crew, saying the space craft's troubles had turned astronauts into ''Mr. Fixits.'' Yes, but that is the point. A stay aboard Mir not only provides scientific knowledge on the effects of long-term space flight, it provides experience for astronauts on handling emergencies.

There is mounting evidence that the collapse of the former Soviet Union led to such severe cost-cutting in the Russian space program that safety aboard Mir has been compromised. Mr. Goldin went to Moscow to get personal assurances that will no longer be the case. He made the Wolf decision his return.

The astronaut, who is set to transfer to Mir today, will spend four to five months there, during which time more computer glitches and assorted space station problems are likely. The Russians, with U.S. assistance, have so far managed each problem and kept Mir in orbit.

Meanwhile, NASA must look ahead to other joint space missions. If life aboard Mir becomes too perilous, the astronauts must be brought home immediately. If necessary, they could train on Earth for duty on the international space station being built to replace Mir.

Pub Date: 9/27/97

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