The Soviet Union will use its recently launched Buran space shuttle to retrieve the mothballed Salyut 7 space station and return it to Earth for possible repair and relaunch, Radio Moscow said Wednesday.

The Salyut 7, launched in April 1982, was shut down three years ago when the new generation Mir space station was launched. A total of 21 cosmonauts worked on Salyut 7 during its four years in service.The station had been hounded by bad luck almost since its launch. In 1985, the station's solar batteries malfunctioned, shutting down all power and rendering the complex useless. A Soviet space repair crew managed to revive the station in what still rates as one of the most daring and complex repair operations in the history of space exploration.

During a previous mission, cosmonaut Vladimir Vasyutin became seriously ill while on board Salyut 7, forcing an earlier termination of the flight.

"The experts of the Soviet space program intend to bring back to Earth the orbiting Salyut 7 space station with the help of the re-useable space shuttle Buran," Radio Moscow said.

The Buran, which means snowstorm in Russian, was successfully tested in an unmanned mode last November. Its cargo hold can easily carry the entire Salyut station.

Radio Moxcows did not say when the retrieval mission might take place.