February 4, 1999
MOSCOW (CNN) -- An ambitious experiment in orbit -- using a giant mirror to reflect the sun's light to dark corners of the Earth -- was called off for the day Thursday when the crew of Russia's Mir space station was unable to unfold the umbrella-like mirror.
"There is an emergency situation. The mirror is not unfolding," Mir Mission Control spokesman Vsevolod Latyshev told reporters. He added that the crew would continue trying to open it.
The glitch happened aboard the Progress resupply ship which undocked from Mir earlier on Thursday. The mirror was attached to Progress.
At 2:34 p.m. Moscow time (6:34 a.m. ET/1134 GMT) the two-man crew aboard Mir sent a command to Progress to unfold the 25-meter (yards) Mylar mirror, but minutes later they told commanders on Earth the umbrella had got caught up with one of the supply ship's antennae.
A second attempt also failed to free the mirror.
Space officials, contemplating the latest setback to Russia's cash-starved space program, said they would decide by Friday whether to continue their efforts before the Progress is abandoned to burn up as it re-enters the atmosphere.
The mirror is supposed to work like an artificial moon, reflecting sunlight onto several regions in Russia and other former Soviet republics before reaching Germany and the Czech Republic, said another Mission Control spokesman, Valery Lyndin.
Had the daylong experiment gone smoothly and the sky been clear, a circle of light, measuring five to eight kilometers (three to five miles) across on the ground, was to have moved at a speed of about seven meters (yards) a second.
According to the Russian ground control center, the light beam was to have swept across the following areas, in consecutive order:
The mirror's designers had hoped it would serve as a prototype for much larger models that may be used to illuminate sun-starved northern cities.
Such a mirror could illuminate construction sites, disaster areas or wherever else light is needed, officials say. Designers say a series of mirrors or one giant mirror could harness the sun to overcome darkness and even help boost agriculture by lengthening the day.
In the more distant future, such devices may act as "solar sails," using solar wind to push spaceships through space.
Russia ran a similar experiment six years ago, but the crew then didn't try to maneuver the mirror and it was barely visible only to those who knew its position.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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