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Friday, 9 February, 2001, 15:28 GMT
Russians protest over demise of Mir
Mir: Russia's extra-terrestrial pride and joy
By BBC Monitoring's Peter Langer and Mike Rose

Many Russians are unhappy at the imminent demise of the Mir space station, which is due to plummet to Earth some time in March.

The craft, launched by the Soviet Union in February 1986, has long been regarded as an enduring symbol of the country's status as a superpower.

Russia's space industry will be gradually reduced to nothing

Space scientist Vladimir Melnikov
According to reports by the ITAR-TASS news agency, about 200 people recently rallied outside Moscow's city hall to protest against Mir's impending destruction.

The protesters called for a fuel delivery to be used to raise, rather than sink, the space platform.

National pride

The number of endurance records set by Mir, which has been visited by over 100 Russian and foreign cosmonauts, is a great source of national pride.

One Russian cosmonaut set a record for extra-vehicular activity, spending a total of more than 30 hours outside the station. Another colleague spent a total of over two years in orbit.

Thousands of scientific experiments have been conducted on board which, aside from the benefits to science, have proved a valuable source of revenue for Russia.

There are also fears that Mir's demise will affect Russia's overall competitiveness in space.

With Mir gone, the new International Space Station will be supplied by a multi-national operation, with Russia losing the former monopoly it enjoyed with Mir.

For example, a European cargo ship will probably replace the Russian Progress freighter, and is likely to be put into orbit by a French Ariane rocket, rather than a Soyuz booster.

Production of both Progress and Soyuz will be put in jeopardy, threatening a further loss of revenue to the already cash-strapped Russian space programme.

Beginning of the end

A top scientist at the Energiya Space Rocket Corporation, Vladimir Melnikov, warned that within seven years, "Russia's space industry will be gradually reduced to nothing and will be no use to anyone."

Tens of thousands of highly qualified scientists, engineers and technicians will be on the streets without work, he said.

"Space technologies will be lost beyond recall, while regaining them in the future will require tens of billions of rubles," Melnikov lamented.

Melnikov's fears have been echoed by many top scientists and politicians. Indeed, a "Save Mir" industry has flourished, with pleas both within Russia and internationally to preserve the space station, typified by the web site "Keep Mir Alive!"

Russian Soyuz TM rocket
Doubts over future of space programme
The Russian parliament, the State Duma, recently called on the government to rescind the decision, concerned that Mir's demise "will result in Russia's expulsion from international manned space programmes and other large-scale science projects".

Politicians also said it could have "negative international consequences in the financial and political spheres".

A recent poll shows that over 40 per cent of Russians are in favour of keeping Mir.

However, the cold economic realities tell a different story. Burdened by the communist legacy, the country is simply unable to find the annual multi-million-dollar funding to keep Mir in orbit.

With the Russian space agency's budget one ninetieth that of its American counterpart, the station's fate is sealed.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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