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Mir News




Mir Station To Work Through August

By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV
.c The Associated Press

  
MOSCOW (AP) - Russia's Mir space station got a new lease on life today when 
the government decided to keep it in orbit through August, using hardware 
previously allocated for the International Space Station. 

Mir has been flying unmanned since its last crew left in August, and the 
cash-poor government had decided to stop financing it and abandon the nearly 
14-year-old station around this March unless private investors came up with 
funds. 

But the Cabinet ruled today that space officials can use booster rockets and 
cargo ships that had been intended for the 16-nation International Space 
Station in the new Mir mission. Russian space agency chief Yuri Koptev said 
the move would help cover government debts to the RKK Energia company, which 
runs the Mir. 

Expecting a negative U.S. reaction to reviving the Mir program, Koptev 
insisted that the decision to use ships earlier allocated for the 
International Space Station would not bring yet another delay in the project. 

``We will explain to them that there will be no damage to the new station,'' 
he said. 

The cost of the two Progress cargo ships, a Soyuz spaceship for the crew and 
three booster rockets to be used in the mission is estimated at more than $18 
million, Koptev said. 

The government will provide the same amount of money to build new spaceships 
and rockets for the International Space Station, which is far behind schedule 
because of the Russian failure to finance its construction. 

A cargo ship with supplies will be launched to Mir on Feb. 1, and a crew is 
set to blast off on March 30 for a mission of 45-72 days, Koptev said. 

If private funds arrive, space officials will discuss plans for another 
mission. If no money comes, they will take steps to discard the Mir after 
August. 

Koptev insisted that the government's ruling did not contradict its previous 
decision to stop financing the station and keep it aloft only on condition of 
finding private investors. He said that foreign investments were expected to 
cover a further $26 million necessary for the mission. 

NASA has long urged Russian space officials to abandon the Mir, which has 
suffered a series of accidents and technical problems in recent years, and 
commit their scarce resources to the International Space Station. The entire 
project has been behind schedule for more than a year, because of the Russian 
failure to build a crucial component on time. 

When the module was almost ready last summer, two crashes of Russian Proton 
booster rockets pushed the launch date back again. Koptev said the segment 
would not be launched until late July or August because flaws in the booster 
rocket needed fixing. 

He also said that Russia was planning to launch one spaceship with a crew and 
two unmanned cargo ships to the international station this year. 

The government has earmarked $42 million for the Russian contribution to the 
international station, Koptev said. 
----
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