(ASTRONET):Money still needed to keep Mir alive
Money still needed to keep Mir alive
Fresh supplies are scheduled to be launched this week to Russia's space
station Mir, which soon will face a crucial milestone in efforts to keep it
At issue is the Russian government's self-imposed April 30 deadline to find
a private company to keep Mir operating. If that doesn't happen, the
station could be abandoned as early as September.
Russia is to launch a supply ship to the outpost Friday, and the crew that
enjoys the fresh food and needed equipment packed aboard may be the last to
live on the outpost.
So far, efforts have failed to raise the $250 million a year needed to keep
crews on Mir. Meanwhile, NASA is urging the cash-starved Russians to close
Mir and devote its scarce resources to the new International Space Station.
However, some observers don't think Mir will be sent on a crash-dive to
burn in Earth's atmosphere as now planned.
"(Mir) is the last thing they have to be proud of in Russia, and if it's
gone, there's nothing left," said James Oberg, a Houston-based engineer and
Russian space expert.
In orbit since 1986, Mir is the last vestige of the former Soviet Union's
glory days in space. In contrast, the new international station is a
NASA-led project that doesn't inspire much enthusiasm in Russia.
That's why some think Russia will find a way to keep Mir open. For
instance, a group of space enthusiasts is trumpeting the station's
potential as a research facility and foothold for human explorers.
"Closing Mir would be like the early settlers building a fort or a cabin
and then tearing it down so the next group of people couldn't use it," said
Rick Tumlinson, a founder of the private Space Frontier Foundation, which
started a "Keep Mir Alive" campaign last year.
Instead of sending Mir to its death, Mir supporters hope it will be boosted
to a higher orbit where it could remain in storage until Russia or some
private investors raise the cash to use it.
"There's a whole range in what you can do with it," said Kathleen Woody of
United Societies in Space, a space advocacy group that has studied options
"Far less funds would be required, for example, to turn on the lights a
couple months a year and keep the station mothballed the rest of the time."