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Russian Deputy Prime Minister: Mir space station may be brought down

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - A Russian minister said Tuesday that a committee of designers had recommended ditching the aging Mir space station in the Pacific Ocean, but the national space authority still had to make a final decision.

Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov said Mir had outlived its scientific usefulness compared to the International Space Station, which is spearheaded by the United States.

The Russian designers had debated the issue at mission control near Moscow as the corporation running Mir said cash was needed fast to keep it from crashing to Earth.

``This decision was taken by chief designers several days ago,'' Klebanov told reporters accompanying President Vladimir Putin on a visit to India. ``The final decision has still to be made by the Russian Space Agency.''

``In the past three years (Mir) has mainly been used as a testing ground for the International Space Station, and we see no way to provide research programs for it,'' he said.

``If the decision is made, Mir will be downed in a prearranged location in the Pacific Ocean, quite a safe place.''

Mir has been in orbit for 14 years, nearly three times its planned lifespan.

Moscow has already rolled back an earlier decision to drop Mir, the last vestige of the ambitious Soviet space program, despite being part of a multi-nation project to build the $60 billion International Space Station (ISS).


The United States has blamed slow progress with the ISS on Moscow's unwillingness to give up Mir, suspecting the accident-prone craft was draining resources. Russia launched the living quarters for the ISS in July after several delays.

Klebanov said the decision to keep Mir flying had resulted from a ``coincidence of circumstances,'' and that it cost $20 million a year to keep it in operation.

``It has no more scientific prospects today,'' he said. ``It's a pity, but maintaining it is quite expensive. You must remember that a lot of cash will be needed even to end Mir's existence.''

One space expert in Moscow suggested that the committee's recommendation might have been made as a way to put pressure on the Russian government to come up with more financing.

The Energiya corporation which operates Mir said in a news release posted on its Internet site that the participants in the meeting ``stressed ... that the flight of the space complex might degenerate into an ungoverned fall to earth with unpredictable, catastrophic consequences.''

MirCorp, a group of foreign investors, has spent some $20 million to keep Mir in operation for tourism and other money-making prospects. It declined to comment on the talks.

The experts' meeting said a Progress cargo ship would be sent up in October with a payload of fuel to keep Mir flying. It said Russia would prepare two more spacecraft to help steer Mir into the Pacific once the government decided its fate.

-- Carl Jenkins (, October 03, 2000

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