Russia’s troubled space program suffered yet another setback yesterday when an ambitious attempt to reflect sunlight back to earth failed due to a technical glitch. The crew of the Russian space station Mir had intended to use an 82-foot fabric mirror–named “Znamya” or “Banner”–to reflect a beam of sunlight back to the earth. The Russian designers of the experiment had hoped to learn whether such mirrors are capable of lighting up northern regions or bringing light to disaster areas. Although some specialists have dismissed the notion, the Russian space program was clearly conducting the experiment in the hope that a smashing success might restore some of the space program’s fast fading luster while also boosting much needed fund-raising efforts.
But the Mir crew was never able to fully unfurl the mirror, which was attached to a Progress cargo ship jettisoned from the space station. As the crew tried to unfold the thin membrane by remote control, the membrane snagged on the cargo ship’s antenna. Subsequent crew attempts to manipulate the mirror failed to open it. Meanwhile, a representative of the Energia rocket corporation, which operates Mir, said yesterday that the problems in opening the mirror were the fault of engineers and not of the crew. He said that the experiment could not be repeated for another two to three years. Russian space officials said today that they had decided to scrap the experiment, and would not try again to open the mirror before the supply ship is left to burn up in the atmosphere (Reuters, ORT, February 4; AP, February 5).
MIR AND ISS PROBLEMS GO HAND IN HAND.