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MIR



November 17, 2000
Russia to de-orbit Mir in February
American tourist Tito will not fly to station

By Jim Heintz
Associated Press Writer
MOSCOW (AP) -- Russia's Cabinet decided Thursday that the space station Mir 
will end its 15 years of pioneering achievements and white-knuckle mishaps 
with a fiery plunge into the Pacific Ocean in February. 

Mir's successes and tribulations mirrored the epochal changes that shook 
Russia during its time aloft, and ditching it in a remote corner of the sea 
900 to 1,200 miles off Australia will extinguish a potent symbol for many 
Russians. 

But Mir is deteriorating, foreign investors who bought the station an 
eleventh-hour reprieve this year haven't met their commitments, and Russia 
wants to concentrate its revenues on the 16-nation international space 
station, which received its first crew last month, Russian Space Agency chief 
Yuri Koptev said. 

Koptev said it would be unsafe to leave Mir aloft without new, expensive 
missions to refurbish it. 

"This year has already been rich with disasters," he said. "We must not 
encourage new attacks and speculations aimed against our country." 

Russia's one-time image of technological prowess was severely tarnished this 
year by the sinking of the nuclear submarine Kursk and the fire that engulfed 
Moscow's TV tower, one of the world's tallest structures. 

Russia also was embarrassed by the funding problems that caused it to fall 
years behind in launching a key module of the NASA-led international space 
station. But its launch this summer, followed by the station's first 
Russian-American crew arriving in a Russian space capsule, has restored some 
of Russia's pride. 

For years, NASA has been urging Russia to concentrate its funds on the 
international project. 

"Our concern has only been that the Russians have adequate resources to 
support their commitments to the international space station," NASA 
spokeswoman Debra Rahn said Thursday at the space agency's Washington 
headquarters. 

"We've always said the decisions on Mir are the sole purview of the Russian 
government," she said. 

When Mir was launched Feb. 20, 1986, it was the epitome of achievement for 
the Soviet Union, which had already launched the world's first satellite and 
put both the first man and first woman in orbit. 

The first of a series of mishaps that were to bedevil Mir took place only a 
year later: the station's second module, Kvant 1, was unable to link up 
because of an "alien object" blocking the docking port. The object, later 
reported to be a plastic bag, was removed during an unscheduled spacewalk by 
the crew. 

In 1991, an unmanned cargo ship lost control during its approach to Mir and 
nearly smashed into it. Over the next few years, the station ran smoothly 
even if the Soviet Union didn't. Cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev got the unusual 
distinction of being a Soviet citizen when he blasted off in 1991 and a 
Russian citizen when he returned in 1992. 

Cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov set a space endurance record by staying aboard for 
438 days in 1994-95. 

But 1997 changed Mir's image to a space jalopy. An oxygen-generating canister 
burst into flames, nearly forcing the crew to abandon ship. A cargo ship 
rammed Mir, piercing one of the modules and forcing the crew to seal it off 
before too much air leaked out. Computers failed twice, and the station went 
adrift after a cosmonaut inadvertently disconnected a power plug. 

In 1999, Russia said it lacked the money to keep Mir aloft and planned to 
ditch it over the winter. But the private, Netherlands-based MirCorp leased 
time on Mir and promised to pay for its operation. 

While MirCorp financed a mission to Mir earlier this year, it has failed to 
meet other commitments, forcing the government to divert funds intended for 
the international station, Koptev said. 

"We cannot continue this game ... which I call Russian roulette. We simply 
don't have the right to do that, because we are a government agency 
responsible for the safety of Mir," he said. 

American businessman Dennis Tito, who had hoped to travel to Mir as a "space 
tourist" under a deal with MirCorp and has already spent $1 million in 
training, will not be sent to the station, Koptev said. 

MirCorp representatives did not respond to telephone messages seeking 
comment. 

The company, which said the space station had wide commercial potential, had 
said it aimed to raise about $120 million through a stock offering next year, 
but Koptev indicated Thursday's decision to bring Mir down would not be 
reversed even if new money appeared. 

Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov told Thursday's Cabinet meeting that safely 
discarding Mir is an international commitment for Russia. 

A Soviet satellite crashed into northern Canada in 1978, scattering 
radioactive fragments over a wide area. A year later, the unoccupied U.S. 
Skylab space station fell to Earth when its orbit deteriorated faster than 
expected, scattering debris over western Australia. No one was hurt in either 
incident. 

Koptev said an unmanned cargo ship would be sent to Mir in January and in 
February the cargo ship would fire its rockets to push the station quickly 
into the atmosphere. 
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