Fwd = Russia to Send Crewmen to Mothballed Mir Station
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Original Date: Mon, 3 Apr 2000 01:25:34 +0200
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Sunday April 2 5:30 AM ET
Russia to Send Crewmen to Mothballed Mir Station
By Maria Eismont
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia is to send a new two-man crew to its aging
Mir space station this week in a sign that the Kremlin intends to
pursue its space program despite funding problems and recurring
Sergei Zalyotin and Alexander Kaleri have been at the Baikonur
cosmodrome in ex-Soviet Kazakhstan since last week to prepare for the
launch Tuesday of a mission due to last at least 45 days.
The main aim is to spruce up the station, unmanned since mid-1999 and
originally due to be scrapped this year by sending it crashing into
the atmosphere. Space industry officials now want to make the craft
viable for future commercial operations.
Sunday, engineers at the cosmodrome prepared a Soyuz PM-30 spacecraft
for the flight, trundling it along rails on a train carriage and
hoisting it upright.
``Irrespective of the fact that there have been no piloted flights for
over a year, the cosmodrome's specialists are working well,'' said
Nikolai Zelenshchikov, vice-president of Russia's RKK Energiya which
President-elect Vladimir Putin is keen to re-establish Mir as a symbol
of success and know-how inherited from the communist era.
``The reasons for maintaining Mir are convincing and we will work to
put them into action,'' Putin told officials last month at Star City,
a space training center outside Moscow. He described Mir as ``not a
prestige project but an essential one.''
But he was also careful to restate Russia's support for the
International Space Station (ISS) project, backed by the United
States, the European Union and Japan.
Worries Over International Space Station
The U.S. has expressed concern that Russia's decision to extend Mir's
life will distract it from proceeding with its commitment to
contributing to the $60 billion ISS.
Russia is to launch the living quarters for the international station
in July, two years behind schedule -- a vital step for sending up the
first crews to the station later in the year.
The decision to prolong Mir's working life was taken in January when
foreign investors came up with $20 million to finance new missions.
Officials say the craft is still spaceworthy, but the crew will have
to work hard to make it fit for further activity.
A Progress M1-1 supply ship docked with Mir last month to replenish
fuel and water supplies and to restore pressure inside the station,
which had been slowly leaking air.
The first section of Mir was launched in 1986, designed to last five
A group of investors led by a U.S. millionaire set up MirCorp earlier
this year to develop Mir's commercial potential and announced plans to
rent the station as a sort of ``space hotel.''
A MirCorp statement last month said commander Zalyotin and engineer
Kaleri would work toward adapting Mir for ``operations ranging from
industrial production and scientific experiments to space tourism and
advertising in orbit.''
Some officials remain concerned that Putin's pledge to keep the
station in operation might prove short-lived.
``We have not had a single government that did not promise its
support,'' Sergei Gorbunov, spokesman for the Russian Aviation and
Space Agency, told Reuters last month.
``But our budget is still not enough and financial questions remain.''
Copyright � 2000 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.
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