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High Drama in Space : Cosmonauts Delay Return After Soyuz Malfunctions : ‘Situation Is Serious’ --Izvestia

Times Wire Services

Two attempts by a Soviet-Afghan cosmonaut team to return to Earth were aborted today in a space drama that left them orbiting with dwindling air and food supplies but on track for a third re-entry attempt within hours.

Aboard the Soyuz-TM 5 capsule are Abdul Ahad Mohmand, 29, the first Afghan in space, and Soviet crewmate Vladimir Lyakhov, 47. They were beginning their return from the orbiting space station Mir, where they spent six days, when the computer problems surfaced.

The government newspaper Izvestia termed the situation aboard the Soyuz “serious,” saying the two cosmonauts have no food on board and only enough air in the life support system for two days.

However, a Soviet space official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the cosmonauts could stretch supplies of oxygen, water and food for up to a week. He did not explain how the oxygen supply could be stretched out.

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Izvestia reported this exchange between mission control and the cosmonauts:

“How are things with food?” a mission controller asked.

“There is no food,” said Lyakhov.

“But in the accident reserves?” the controller asked.

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“There is some, but why touch it? We will endure,” said Lyakhov.

Jokes With Controllers

The newspaper said Lyakhov joked with controllers, saying the sewage disposal system was more a worry than the lack of supplies.

“It really is an extraordinary situation,” Izvestia said of the two abortive re-entry attempts. “This is happening for the first time in the history of space exploration.”

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Soviet television news said a third attempt to bring the cosmonauts down will be made at 5 a.m. Wednesday, Moscow time (6 p.m. today PDT).

Izvestia and Tass reported the problems began shortly after the Soyuz capsule disengaged from the orbiting station Mir at 2:55 a.m. Moscow time.

Tass said about 90 minutes into the return flight the computer-controlled braking rockets failed to fire on time. When the rockets did fire after the spacecraft had already passed the planned re-entry point, Lyakhov was forced to cut them off manually, Tass said.

“They had overflown their planned entry point by 700 or 800 kilometers (440 to 500 miles) and the ship could have landed in China instead of Arkalyk (Soviet Central Asia) without any recovery apparatus,” Izvestia said.

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The landing was then pushed back three hours. On the second attempt Lyakhov fired the rocket by manual control but the flight computer shut down the sequence automatically after just six seconds--long before the end of the scheduled firing of 230 seconds, Tass said.

Horizon Sensor Faulty

Alexander Alexandrov, a mission control-based cosmonaut, told Tass a faulty infrared horizon sensor, which enables the spaceship to orient itself in space, was to blame for the trouble. In any case, Radio Moscow reported the flight computer was to be reprogrammed.

The Soyuz spacecraft is made up of two modules, one for orbital operations and one for re-entry. The orbital module, which is equipped with a navigation radar, was jettisoned prior to the first re-entry attempt. Without it, Lyakhov and his crewmate cannot return to Mir.

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“They are in for difficult hours in orbit till the designated time of landing,” Izvestia said. “The descent vehicle in which they are now in is not provided with everyday living facilities.”

Re-entry problems have long plagued the Soviet manned space program and the deaths of at least four cosmonauts have been linked to re-entry trouble since 1967.


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