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Tuesday, August 25, 1998 Published at 14:14 GMT 15:14 UK


Another space station delay likely

The new space station: looks a long way off

As three Mir cosmonauts return to Earth trouble is brewing for its successor, the International Space Station. Our science editor Dr David Whitehouse reports.

The three cosmonauts, commander Talgat Musabayev, flight engineer Nikolai Budarin and researcher Yuri Butarin, touched down near the Kazakh town of Arkalyk three and a half hours after undocking from Mir.

Musabayev and Budarin spent 208 days on Mir, Butarin just 12 days.

They leave behind the last crew to live on Mir - Gennady Padalka and Sergei Avdeyev. They will stay on Mir until next year and then the ageing space station will be abandoned.

At 100 tonnes or more, Mir is far too large to burn up in the Earth's atmosphere. It will have to be deliberately brought down in a sparsely populated region of the Indian Ocean.

It will not be easy. Such a large object has never been re-entered this way.

The Mir problem is compounded by Russian space authorities claims that they do not have enough money to complete the task. They are calling on the west to help foot part of the bill.

[ image: Shuttle flight timetable in doubt]
Shuttle flight timetable in doubt
Russia's deepening economic woes are also worrying those involved in the planning and construction of the International Space Station, Mir's successor.

The ISS is already well behind its schedule. Its first component, Russian-built, was to have been launched by a Russian Proton rocket in June. That is now scheduled for November but many space analyists expect it to be later.

Those involved in the project are concerned that President Yeltsin's recent dismissal of his government will make it more difficult to work with the Russians.

Because of these fears Nasa has quietly asked one American space company to investigate how it could help the Russians.

Nasa already has a contingency plan in case Russia is not able to deliver its space station commitments.

Current plans call for a November 20 launch of Russia's first component and a December 3 launch of a space shuttle carrying the first American part.

In 1999 seven flights are planned, five by the shuttle.

But it is looking increasingly likely that another delay in the space station timetable will be announced next month, with the first pieces sent into space in the middle of next year at the earliest.

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