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Russians To Abandon Space Station

.c The Associated Press

MOSCOW (AP) -- Russia's space agency confirmed Tuesday that the Mir space 
station would be left unmanned following its crew's departure in August, the 
first step toward discarding it early next year. 

By leaving it empty instead of abandoning it immediately, Russian space 
officials are putting off the painful moment of parting with the Mir -- the 
last symbol of the nation's space glory. Last week, 31 leading Russian space 
designers suggested that the station continue orbiting unmanned until next 
February or March. 

Sergei Gorbunov, the Russian space agency spokesman, said the agency on 
Tuesday formally endorsed the proposal by the space designers, the ITAR-Tass 
news agency reported. It will now be sent to the Cabinet and President Boris 
Yeltsin for final approval. 

The delay is a last-ditch effort to raise the $250 million a year needed to 
keep the Mir aloft. The Russian government has said it would only pay for the 
Mir's operation through August, and efforts to lure private investors for 
further missions have failed. 

If money is found, a new crew will warm the Mir up again. If not, ground 
controllers will lower it to burn in the atmosphere with some fragments 
falling into an uninhabited part of the ocean. 

The American space agency NASA has long urged Russia to discard the Mir so 
that it could concentrate its meager resources on the new international space 
station. Because of Russia's failure to build its key segment on time, the 
first permanent crew isn't expected to move in until next March, almost two 
years behind schedule. 

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