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"Take-off has been delayed several times"
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Monday, 3 April, 2000, 15:52 GMT 16:52 UK
Cosmonauts set to revive Mir
Cosmonaut farewell
Alexander Kalyer, left, and Sergei Zalyotin wave goodbye
By BBC News Online science editor Dr David Whitehouse

Two cosmonauts will blast-off for the Mir space station at 0501 GMT Tuesday to bring it back to life.

They will dock with Mir two days later and their first task is to find that leak. Their second task is to stay on Mir while more money is found to keep it alive.

We do not have any doubts in terms of safety standards, or else we would not have allowed the flight

Russian space official

Their mission to the 14-year-old Mir is the first since it was put on auto-pilot last August prior to its planned scrapping. However $20 million of private foreign money has been raised to keep it functioning, at least for a while.

"The cosmonauts are healthy and their Soyuz PM-30 spacecraft is also in readiness for the flight," said Lieutenant-General Valery Green, head of a special inter-governmental space commission.

Extended stay

He added that cosmonauts Sergei Zalyotin and Alexander Kalyeri are due to spend 45 days on the station. If all goes well, their stay could be extended.

"The plan is for us to stay for 45 days because we have enough funds for that," Mr Zalyotin said. "But if additional means are found, we may stay until August when we shall be replaced by another crew."
Soyuz rocket
The Soyuz rocket is ready on the pad
He added that if more funds were not forthcoming, he and flight engineer Kalyeri would put Mir back on auto-pilot.

Leak test

The first task for Zalyotin and Kalyeri is to find an annoying air leak.

When Mir was empty, the pressure started to fall slowly. But the crew are not in danger as an unmanned Progress supply craft docked with Mir in early February and boosted its internal air pressure.

For the next 10 days the cosmonauts will try to isolate various sections of Mir and use sophisticated monitoring equipment to pinpoint the leak.

Burn up

In recent years the Russians have found it increasingly difficult to find the money to keep Mir operating. It had been planned to allow it to burn-up in the Earth's atmosphere this year.

This is the course that the US space agency Nasa wants Russia to take. Nasa believes that Russia cannot support Mir and give its full attention to its role in the International Space Station (ISS).

Russian parts for the ISS have been late and Nasa has had to go back to the US government to ask for more money for Russia on several occasions.

Space hotel

Mir has been given its lifeline by a private investor. The Amsterdam-based MirCorp agreed to pay $10-20 million to lease commercial rights on the station.

Mir Corp has offered 'tourist flights' to Mir for wealthy individuals but so far there has been no takers.

Russian Actor Vladimir Steklov was supposed to travel to Mir along with the current crew to make a movie, but space officials cancelled his flight after the filmmakers failed to pay a multimillion-dollar tab for his trip.

Some analysts say that the plans to keep Mir in orbit do not seem solid enough to provide long-term support for the ageing space station. This probably means that Sergei Zaletin and Alexander Kaleri, the 28th crew to work in Mir, may be the last.

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See also:

02 Apr 00 | Sci/Tech
In pictures: Preparing for launch
16 Mar 00 | Entertainment
Mir actor remains grounded
17 Feb 00 | Sci/Tech
Mir to be turned into hotel
03 Feb 00 | Sci/Tech
Cargo spacecraft docks with Mir
16 Sep 99 | Sci/Tech
Mir: The end
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