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Backers of Russia's Mir Say Systems Still Go 

By Karl Emerick Hanuska

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Despite ominous warnings from Moscow that their tourist 
space attraction may soon crash to Earth, Western investors who want to 
launch James Cameron to space station Mir say all systems are still go.

The director of the film ``Titanic,'' who has said he is prepared to buy a 
ticket to space to fulfil a lifelong dream, is only one of the customers who 
will be disappointed if Russia allows its aging Mir orbiter to turn into a 

Another is America's NBC television, which has announced plans to blast a 
winning game show contestant into orbit during the 2000-2001 TV season as 
part of a true-life show dreamed up by the producer of the mega-hit 

But Wednesday, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Kudrin said Moscow had to 
focus its meager space budget on the International Space Station (news - web 
sites) and stop spending money on Mir.

``One rouble invested in the International Space Station (ISS) gives us more 
in terms of scientific research than a rouble invested in Mir,'' he told a 
news conference. ``We have to pay more attention to the station which has 
better prospects.''

The ISS is being constructed by a 17-nation consortium led NASA (news - web 
sites) of the United States and including Russia, Canada, Japan, Brazil and 
member countries of the European Space Agency.

Kudrin's comments came a day after Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov said a 
committee of designers had recommended ditching Mir because it had outlived 
its effective lifespan.


Mir's demise would blast a big black hole into MirCorp, a joint venture led 
by Western investors who bought the rights to sell tickets to the public to 
fly to the Russian station.

The company said it was unfazed by the comments.

``The long-term business prospects for Mir are extremely positive,'' it said 
in a statement.

Jeff Lenorovitz, a MirCorp spokesman in Washington, said Russia had no need 
to choose between Mir and the International Space Station, since MirCorp was 
already paying Mir's bills.

He said the company had already raised $40 million to keep Mir aloft, paying 
for two space flight since February. He added that MirCorp got the go ahead 
this week to launch a third space flight on October 16 to send up more 

``MirCorp is pulling together investors to cover the cost of operations into 
next year. In the next week or two, we will be meeting with the Russian 
government people to make sure they understand that,'' he said.

The company plans to charge about $20 million to space tourists -- it calls 
them ``citizen explorers'' -- for a week-long trip. One American millionaire 
space buff is already training at the Star City base near Moscow.

Wear And Tear

Mir has been in orbit for more than 14 years, nearly three times what Soviet 
designers planned for it. It has lately suffered some embarrassing glitches, 
including a fire and a crash with a supply ship while U.S. NASA astronauts 
were aboard.

But MirCorp still touts Russia's space program's safety record, saying it has 
had no fatalities in more than 25 years.

Klebanov said the committee's recommendation to ditch Mir was made several 
days ago, but the national space authority had yet to make a final decision.

Moscow has already dropped an earlier decision to scrap Mir.

Energiya, the Russian company which runs Mir and owns part of MirCorp, said 
Wednesday the station could stay up a few more years, but needed government 

Itar-Tass news agency quoted Energiya officials as saying that unless the 
government found money for Mir, it risked causing ``a calamity that would be 
impossible to counteract.''

Mir's ``uncontrollable crash to Earth would have unpredictable catastrophic 
results,'' they warned.

Mir has given the Russians by far the world's deepest experience in 
long-duration manned space flight, expertise that is being used in the $60 
billion International Space Station.

In July, Russia launched the ISS living quarters -- basically an updated Mir. 
But its launch was two years late, and Washington blamed the delay on Russian 
reluctance to scrap Mir. 

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