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SOVIET MODULE FAILS TO DOCK WITH ORBITING SPACE STATION

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Control-system breakdowns forced the Soviets to postpone the docking Saturday of a module addition to the orbiting Mir complex in a major setback for the troubled space-station program.

"An unmanned space module failed to dock with the Soviet Mir orbital station today due to a faulty automatic system controlling the module," the official Tass news agency said.In addition to the malfunction on the Kvant-2 module, Soviet television reported that the automatic control system on the giant Mir station stopped working nine hours before the module's approach, forcing its two cosmonauts to switch over to manual control.

Loss of the expensive module - essentially a building block for the Mir - would be a major setback for the Soviet space program, which has faced mounting criticism from newly emboldened lawmakers questioning its cost and usefulness.

The scheduled 5:55 p.m. docking of the Kvant-2 with the Mir did not take place despite round-the-clock efforts by workers at the Soviet manned space-flight center in Kaliningrad outside Moscow, who had struggled all week to force open a jammed solar power panel on the module.

The Soviets got the solar panel to unfold Thursday, 5 days after the twice-delayed launch of the Kvant 2, but the module's automatic-control system broke down as they were attempting to attach it to the Mir.

"Now it's a race against time because the module is designed to operate on its own for a limited amount of time before it docks with the space station," a Western space expert tracking the mission told United Press International. "The Soviets are using up the time they have."

Tass said the Soviets rescheduled the module docking for Wednesday, but the control-system malfunctions imperiled what was to have been a showcase mission for the embattled space program.

Cosmonaut Vladimir Titov told Soviet television the breakdown of the control systems "is not catastrophic," but he admitted that technicians at the Kaliningrad space center to do not know why the systems malfunctioned.