A Mir Glitch

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MOSCOW: On Mir, failure is something of a given. But you know it’s getting serious when Mission Control won’t let you hear what’s going on up there. After a planned space walk was canceled Tuesday because the cosmonauts were unable to open the hatch, officials on the ground turned off the audio system that lets reporters listen in on the radio traffic. “You’re not supposed to listen to that,” snapped Mission Control Chief Vladimir Solovyov. “You will get the news from me.”

Why so sensitive? Well, the string of accidents that turned Mir into a global joke began just over a year ago, and Solovyov is bound to be wary of a repeat performance. Especially when the news is pretty embarrassing: Not even Nikolai Budarin, the strongest cosmonaut of the current crop, could open that darn hatch -- and he broke three wrenches trying. “I am somewhat distressed that we have failed to open the hatch,” Solovyov conceded. That’s an understatement. The space walk now has to wait until a new stock of wrenches is sent up in the next cargo ship -- and Mission Control has to wait to see if the world noticed.