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Russia says Mir’s coolant leak poses no danger

April 23, 1997

MOSCOW (AP) _ A day after he was quoted as saying that leaking fumes aboard the Mir space station may be at hazardous levels, a top Russian space official denied Wednesday that he made the remarks and said there was no immediate danger to the Russian-American crew.

``We have no intention to evacuate the station,″ Viktor Blagov, deputy chief of Russia’s Mission Control Center, told The Associated Press. ``The Mir is likely to stay in service through 1999.″

Coolant _ 3.4 pints of antifreeze, or ethylene glycol _ has leaked from the cooling system in one of the space station’s six modules, Blasgov said. That has allowed the temperature there to reach an uncomfortable 86 degrees.

But Blasgov denied news reports quoting him as saying that the fumes were at dangerous levels, and said the crew could spend another half-year on the station even at current concentrations of 1 to 2 milligrams per cubic meter.

Moreover, the fumes will soon condense on walls where cosmonauts can easily mop them up.

``They would put on protective gloves and glasses and simply blot the drops with a towel which they would then seal in a hermetic bag,″ Blagov said.

In the United States, NASA officials said they are confident the ethylene glycol levels are safe for the two cosmonauts and their American colleague.

``If they were in immediate danger, they would be on their way home,″ Frank Culbertson, director of NASA’s shuttle-Mir program, said Tuesday.

In an interview broadcast Wednesday, NASA astronaut Jerry Linenger said he and his Russian crew mates have taken steps to minimize the coolant leakage and are in good health.

``The main concern is the long-term effects that it may have,″ said Linenger, who also is a doctor.

Linenger said the crew has been able to depressurize the coolant loops to minimize the escaping vapor. The crew wears masks during the repair work.

``At this point we’re stable, but we have not been able to fix the problem,″ Linenger said.

Linenger and Russian cosmonauts Vasily Tsibliyev and Alexander Lazutkin have fixed two leaks since the trouble first appeared in March.

Now the temperature in different parts of the sprawling station varies from 68 degrees, to 82 degrees in the troubled Kvant-1 module.

Blagov said the crew prevents the module from getting hotter by rotating the station to keep the module out of direct sunlight.

Recent malfunctions aboard the Mir, currently the only manned space station, also have included a small fire in February and the failure of the main oxygen-generating system last month. One of its two generators has been repaired.

Russian officials insist those were minor problems that don’t mean the 11-year-old space outpost, designed to last only five years, has become unsafe.

``The crew now spends only 5 percent of their time making repairs,″ Blagov said. ``That means the station hasn’t served its lifetime yet.″

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