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Mir crew will try to fix solar panels today

The three-man crew aboard Russia's Mir space station made last-minute preparations Sunday for a long solar power repair job today in the craft's damaged and airless Spektr science module.

A duty spokesman at Mission Control near Moscow said by telephone that Russian commander Anatoly Solovyov, flight engineer Pavel Vinogradov and NASA astronaut David Wolf are resting and would have to get up at 6 p.m. EDT to prepare for work.The two Russians are due to spend more than five hours inside the Spektr module, which was breeched when it was hit by a Progress cargo tug on June 25 in the worst accident in Mir's 11 years in orbit. The aim is to fix solar power equipment.

"The airlock into the Spektr module is scheduled to be opened at 12:55 p.m. (4:44 a.m. EDT today)," said the spokesman, who declined to be named.

"They have already finished preparing the spacesuits. (Sunday) was a fine-tuning operation - disconnecting cables as the penultimate stage to opening the airlock. So everything is ready."

Solovyov and Vinogradov spent several hours in the spacesuits Friday. Wolf will man Mir's Soyuz escape capsule during today's operation.

Solovyov, 49, and Vinogradov, 43, made the first sortie into the damaged Spektr science module on Aug. 22, two months after the collision.

Vinogradov reconnected a number of electric cables to restore power from three solar panels mounted on the module. A fourth was smashed in the crash.

Solovyov and Wolf's NASA predecessor, Michael Foale, made an external spacewalk on Sept. 6 to improve the orientation of the panels to the sun to soak up more energy.

But the computerized system that allows the panels to track the sun's rays is not working, and Solovyov and Vinogradov will try to hook Spektr's solar batteries up to the directional system from another module.

A Mission Control spokeswoman said last week there were no official plans for them to make a further search for the puncture in the module. It is thought to be somewhere around the mounting of the damaged solar panel.