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Monday, April 12, 1999 Published at 11:12 GMT 12:12 UK


Mir cosmonauts to patch holes

A previous Mir space walk, 390km above the Earth

Mir space station crew members will test hole-patching equipment during a space walk on Friday.

It could, however, be the penultimate space walk from the 13-year-old station. Officials have already announced at least two planned space walks will be scrapped due to lack of funds, suggesting the current crew will only attempt one more.

And unless money from outside investors is found to cover the $250m annual costs, the Russian government will abandon the station in August.

Day of rest

Mir's crew enjoyed a day off on Monday, Cosmonautics Day in Russia. It is the 38th anniversary of the world's first manned space flight.

[ image: Russia's desire to save Mir is hindering ISS efforts, believes the US]
Russia's desire to save Mir is hindering ISS efforts, believes the US
But at the end of the week, Russian cosmonaut Viktor Afanasyev and French astronaut Jean-Pierre Heignere will leave Mir, monitored by the third crew member, Sergei Avdeyev.

They will use a hole-repair kit which includes a drill, glue and special patches. The kit was originally designed to plug the punctures in Mir's Spektr module, caused by the impact of a runaway cargo ship in 1997.

However the kit was never used because all of Spektr's leaks could not be found.

Other objectives for the space walk are to set up radiation-monitoring equipment and attach cases of living matter to the outside of Mir, to see how various organisms fare in space.

A French "meteorite trap", installed earlier this year to catch microscopic cosmic debris, will also be recovered.

ISS living module ready

In a Cosmonautics Day interview, the director of the Russian Space Agency (RSA), Yuri Koptev, was optimistic about private investors coming forward to save Mir: "There is much more chance now that funds will be found."

Russia is immensely proud of Mir, an enduring symbol of its success in space, and is loath to see it destroyed. The RSA has started training two more crews to replace members of the present mission on Mir.

But the US still wants Russia to dedicate itself to the new International Space Station (ISS). The $40bn project has been delayed by Russia's inability to build key components on time.

However, the crucial third section of the ISS - the living module - has been given a completion date. A ribbon-cutting ceremony in Moscow on 26 April 1999 will unveil the module.

It is expected to be transported to its launch site at Baikonur in May, launched in September and inhabited in January 2000.

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