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"The station is falling apart"
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Station destruction
Yuri Koptev explains how Mir will come down (in Russian)
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Thursday, 16 November, 2000, 11:25 GMT
Date set for Mir destruction
By BBC News Online science editor Dr David Whitehouse

A final decision to destroy the 14-year-old Mir space station has been made by the Russian Government.

We cannot continue this game...which I call Russian roulette

Yuri Koptev
A cabinet meeting has approved a plan to de-orbit the platform between 26 and 28 February, 2001.

The station will be ditched in a controlled descent that will send it hurtling into a remote area of the Pacific Ocean, 1,500-2,000 kilometres east of Australia.

"The government has agreed that (Mir) be taken out of orbit and brought down into the Pacific Ocean in a pre-determined area off Australia between 26 and 28 February," Yuri Koptev, Russia's space agency boss, told reporters after the meeting.

"Nothing can last for eternity - even the Mir."

'Russian roulette'

A crew may visit Mir in January to prepare the platform for destruction.

Many space analysts have said that given Russia's financial problems it was only a matter of time before Mir was abandoned.

For the past year, Russia has sought the backing of private investors to keep the 140-tonne station, once a symbol of Soviet space glory, in orbit. But the money raised has fallen short of that required to pay for the platform's running costs.

The private Netherlands-based MirCorp leased time on the station and pledged to raise more cash through a stock floatation. But the Russian Government has grown increasingly skeptical about the company's ability to raise all the money required.

"We cannot continue this game...which I call Russian roulette," said Yuri Koptev. "We simply don't have the right to do that, because we are a government agency responsible for the safety of the Mir."

No go for Tito

MirCorp declined to make a full comment about the decision to ditch the Mir. "MirCorp is awaiting official notification on the future of Mir, and will provide more details when available," it said in a statement.

Yuri Koptev said the American businessman Dennis Tito, who paid a substantial sum of money to travel to the Mir as a "space tourist" under a deal with MirCorp, will not now be sent to the station.

Grounded: Dennis Tito will not fly to Mir
Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov told Thursday's cabinet meeting that that Russia had an international commitment to discard the Mir safely.

"One of our obligations is to ensure the safety of the final stage of the Mir's flight," he said.

It is likely a cargo ship will be used to push the station quickly into the atmosphere over the Pacific. Officials have said they may even send up a new crew to the Mir in January to prepare the craft for the final descent.

If this really is the final decision on Mir, it will please the American space agency, Nasa. The US has urged Russia to dump Mir and concentrate its scarce resources on the new International Space Station (ISS), a 16-nation project led by the Americans.

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See also:

23 Oct 00 | Sci/Tech
The end for Mir?
20 Jan 00 | Sci/Tech
Mir stays in space - official
16 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
First 'space tourist' announced
04 Oct 00 | Sci/Tech
Financiers confident of Mir future
27 Jan 00 | Sci/Tech
What future for the space station?
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