Viktor Blagov, deputy chief of Russia's mission control centre at Kalinigrad, has criticised the USA's "exaggerated concerns" about the condition of the Mir 1 space station.

This follows a small fire caused by an oxygen-generating lithium cartridge, the failure of oxygen-generating system units, and leaking ethylene-glycol coolant loops which caused overheating and affected carbon-dioxide removal.

NASA had expressed concern about the Mir's safety performance, and suggested that it might not send another astronaut for a long shift until the problems have been fully resolved. NASA astronaut Jerry Linenger is due to be replaced by Michael Foale on the STS84 in May.

"They are dealing with more problems simultaneously then they have ever dealt with in the past, but I wouldn't say that the station is falling apart," says Frank Culbertson, NASA's Shuttle Mir Mission director, "but the bottom line is that we need fail-safe systems in all life-critical systems."

Blagov says that the canister fire was a minor incident, after 3,000 similar canisters had performed satisfactorily. There had been only one other, minor, canister fire on the Mir in 1994, he said.

Oxygen was being pumped into the Mir from the Progress M34 tanker which docked to the station on 8 April and tools delivered by the tanker will enable repairs to be made to the coolant system. The faulty oxygen-generator units will be replaced by an entire system delivered by the STS84. Blagov admits that this delivery was "essential".

Russia has announced that the Mir resident Russian cosmonaut crew, Vasily Tsiblyev and Alexander Lazutkin, will extend their mission by 35 days, to 197 days, because the launch of the replacement crew has been delayed until 6 August by production difficulties with the Soyuz booster. All future crews will remain for a 200-day period, the maximum guaranteed service life of a Soyuz TM craft.

Source: Flight International