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Thursday, September 16, 1999 Published at 17:24 GMT 18:24 UK


Mir: The end

Mir will come down next year

By BBC News Online Science Editor Dr David Whitehouse

Russia is bowing to the inevitable and is giving up all hope of keeping the Mir space station in orbit beyond the middle of next year.

Yuri Koptev, the Director-General of the Russian Space Agency, has said that the Mir space station has completed its life and is to be abandoned, but that Russia should not give up on manned spaceflight.

The announcement, widely expected, will still come as a blow to Russian pride. The 13-year-old Mir space station, unmanned since August, is the centrepiece of their independent space effort and, if only the money could be found, could continue working in space for a few years yet.

When it goes, so does a major part of Russia's autonomy in space.

It was estimated that it would have cost $250m a year to keep Mir operational. But Koptev said that Russia cannot afford it and Mir will return to Earth sometime after March 2000. "We have already made our choice," he said.

There is still confusion about the possibility that a final crew will travel to the space station early next year to prepare it for destruction. Experts are divided about the wisdom and feasibility of the mission.

Russia is a major partner in the International Space Station project which is being led by the United States. But Russia is finding it difficult to fund its commitments to this project as well.

"Under arrangements with the Americans we should be launching 13 spaceships a year," Koptev said. Because of financial difficulties, Russia has so far been able to make only five launches a year.

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