MOSCOW — A Soviet cosmonaut who has spent nearly six months in orbit will return to Earth next week because he shows signs of what might be a serious heart problem, officials said Friday.
The announcement about Alexander I. Laveikin came shortly after a three-man crew successfully docked its Soyuz TM-3 capsule with the Mir space station, where Laveikin and Yuri V. Romanenko have been living since early February.
State-run television carried live coverage of the docking between the Mir and the Soyuz. About 90 minutes after the link-up, after circling the Earth once, the three spacemen moved from their capsule into the Kvant scientific laboratory, which had docked with the 40-foot-long Mir in April.
Laveikin and Romanenko greeted them with smiles, and Lt. Col. Mohammed Faris, 36, Syria's first space traveler, said he was "very glad" to be there.
Deputy flight director Viktor D. Blagov told reporters here that Laveikin, a 35-year-old flight engineer who is on his first space mission, had registered an abnormal electrocardiogram sometime during the mission.
"It may be serious, it may not be serious," Blagov said. "Every normal human being has these changes. But if they repeat, doctors start to think twice."
Laveikin is apparently reluctant to leave the mission, but doctors and flight officials decided to replace him with TM-3's flight engineer, Alexander P. Alexandrov, 44, while they have the chance.
He said the mission of the TM-3, which began Wednesday when it launched from Soviet Kazakhstan, will continue as planned, spending six days linked to the Mir while cosmonauts carry out scientific and medical experiments.
Next Thursday, Faris and the pilot of the TM-3 capsule, 40-year-old Alexander S. Viktorenko, will return to Earth aboard the Soyuz TM-2 capsule along with Laveikin, he said.
Romanenko, 42, who was the flight commander of the TM-2, will remain aboard the Mir with Alexandrov, Blagov said. The TM-3 capsule will remain fastened to the space station.
Blagov stressed that the removal of Laveikin did not necessarily mean he was ill. He said the change in Laveikin's heart pattern may have been caused by weightlessness.