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Russia Cargo Craft Ready for Final Mir Mission

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Progress cargo vessel will blast off for the doomed Mir
space station (news - web sites) next week to nudge the Soviet-era craft out
of orbit and into a crash-landing in the Pacific Ocean, Russian space
officials said on Friday.

``The date of the cargo vessel's launch has been set for January 24,'' a
spokesman for Russian flight control told Reuters.

The launch, delayed by almost a week, is part of final preparations to end
Mir's 15-year odyssey around Earth.

The craft will blast off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan almost a
week later than planned, after problems with the accident-prone space
station's navigation system forced the operation to be postponed on

Space officials said last year they were calling time on Mir because it was
too old to operate safely. Those concerns were dramatically highlighted in
December when officials lost contact with the vessel for almost 24 hours.

Russian space experts say they will need two or three days to ensure Mir is
facing the right way for the Progress craft to dock, a procedure that is
scheduled for January 27.

The craft will ferry fuel to Mir and oxygen in case an emergency crew has to
be dispatched from Earth to prepare the station manually for its watery

Experts concede that returning the 130-tonorbiter to Earth is not an exact
science. The bulk is supposed to ditch 1,500-2,000 km (900-1,200 miles) off
Australia around March 5-6, but some debris could strike land, they say.

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