A malfunction of a Soviet spacecraft's guidance system Tuesday forced two cosmonauts to delay their return to Earth for one day. A newspaper said their life support systems would last just two more days and food was running low.
Aboard the Soyuz-TM 5 capsule were Abdul Ahad Mohmand, 29, the first Afghan in space, and Soviet crewmate Vladimir Lyakhov, 47. They were returning from the orbiting space station Mir, where they spent six days.The government daily Izvestia said life support systems aboard the capsule will last just two more days. It reported this exchange between mission control and the cosmonauts:
"How are things with food?" a mission controller asked.
"There is no food," said Lyakhov.
"But in the accident reserves?" the controller asked.
"There is some, but why touch it? We will endure," said Lyakhov.
The problems began shortly after the Soyuz capsule disengaged from the orbiting station Mir at 2:55 a.m. Moscow time, Izvestia and the Soviet news agency Tass reported.
The capsule had brought Lyakhov, Moh-mand and Soviet doctor Valery Polyakov to the Mir on Aug. 31. Polyakov stayed aboard the Mir to monitor the health of two other cosmonauts, who have been in space for more than eight months.
An engine used to slow the Soyuz for re-entry through the Earth's atmosphere fired automatically while the vehicle was out of radio contact with ground controllers, Izvestia said. When contact was restored, Lyakhov reported: "Accident! The engine worked 60 seconds and shut off. A violation of the stabilization regime."
Controllers decided to delay another re-entry attempt for three hours, and in the meantime scientists discovered that an infrared guidance system had malfunctioned and a computer automatically terminated the engine burn prematurely, Izvestia said. The burn was supposed to have lasted 230 seconds.
Seven minutes later, the guidance system was activated automatically again and started the engine but would have put the capsule on a trajectory for a landing in China, instead of its intended destination, the Soviet Central Asian republic of Kazakhstan, the newspaper said. The cosmonauts manually cut off the engine burn after three seconds.
"We will postpone the landing until tomorrow," mission chief Valery Ryumin, himself a cosmonaut, told Izvestia. "Don't worry, nothing terrible has happened yet. The life support system will last for two days."
Radio Moscow said the Soyuz cosmonauts "are feeling well, and there is reliable communication between the aircraft and mission control." It said the landing was postponed so as "not to take risks" and to allow time for a new re-entry trajectory to be programmed into the capsule's computer.
The Tass and Izvestia reports did not say whether it was possible Mohmand and Lyak-hov could return to Mir if they are unable to get guidance systems to work properly.
Lyakhov and Mohmand helped Titov and Manarov conduct medical, geological and other experiments during their six-day stay on the research station.