Mir cosmonauts Gennadi Padalka and Sergei Avdeyev completed a 3h sortie into the unpressurised Spektr module on 15 September to reconnect cables to the module's solar arrays. The Mir unit was damaged last year in a collision with an unmanned Progress launcher during a docking operation.

If the Spektr arrays can provide power to the station, the Mir's operations could be improved considerably, raising new hopes that it may be kept in orbit beyond the planned June 1999 de-orbit date. The move is being forced on Russia by budget cuts at home and pressure from its International Space Station (ISS) partner, NASA, in the USA.

The Russian Space Agency says that, paradoxically, the current Russian economic crisis may extend the life of the station, particularly if the first ISS construction missions are delayed beyond their 1999 start date.

Budget cuts are likely to delay the launch of a replacement crew in January 1999.

Source: Flight International