A More Relaxing Day On Mir

The Mir astronauts spoke with family and friends, ate a lamb and fish dinner and drank fruit juice on Sunday to celebrate Russia's 'Cosmonauts' Day.'

The Russian cosmonauts, with their American colleague, welcomed the celebratory break after a hectic day Saturday in which they began what was intended to be a six-hour spacewalk to jettison a defunct external propulsion unit on the aging Mir space station.

Talgat Musabayev, Nikolai Budarin and U.S. astronaut Andrew Thomas had three communications sessions with Earth on Sunday, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.

Officials at Mission Control, shown on Russia's independent NTV television, opened a box of chocolates and shouted `Hurrah!' three times to mark the Russian holiday.

The holiday marks the anniversary of the April 12, 1961, flight by the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin. The Soviet cosmonaut made one orbit around the Earth in 108 minutes and landed safely. As the crew of Mir makes external repairs, they too hope to land safely.

Commander Musabayev and flight engineer Budarin stepped out of the hatch on Saturday, while Thomas, a NASA scientist, manned the controls inside the station.

The old engine ran out of fuel during a spacewalk last week, forcing the cosmonauts to rush back to the station and switch on another engine that restored the Mir's orientation.

The station must remain aligned toward the sun because it is partly powered by solar energy.

Saturday, the two cosmonauts planned to remove the thruster, in operation since 1992. Orientation engines are not rechargeable and need to be replaced when fuel runs out.

"Don't rush, boys, better take a rest," a ground controller told the cosmonauts.

Budarin responded, "When we return to Earth, we'll put you in a spacesuit so you can rest in it for some eight hours."

After dismantling the engine, the cosmonauts plan to begin repairs of the station's Elektron oxygen generator, installing a valve that would control the removal of hydrogen from the station. Later, they will repair the generator from inside the station.

On the next two spacewalks, scheduled for April 17 and 22, the cosmonauts will install a new orientation engine. Thomas will film his colleagues' progress.

After a series of accidents and breakdowns last year, the 12-year-old Mir has been largely trouble-free in recent months.

Russian space officials hope to keep the station manned at least until next year, when a new international space station should be ready to handle a crew. Russia and the United States are among 15 countries involved in the project

Written by Anna Dolgov
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