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Monday, April 26, 1999 Published at 13:53 GMT 14:53 UK


Mir will stay in space

The new module will go up in November

By BBC News Online Science Editor Dr David Whitehouse

The Energiya rocket corporation rolls out the new ISS module
The ageing Mir space station will not be retired this year, say Russian space officials. It may, however, be left unmanned for a while.

This dramatic announcement is bound to increase tension between Russia and the United States. It was made during the unveiling of the long-delayed living module that has held up the International Space Station (ISS).

Monday's celebration for the new module's completion was held at the Energiya rocket corporation outside Moscow.

Yuri Koptev, head of the Russian space agency, signed a notice of completion for the $320m living quarters segment, known as the service module.

Comlex undertaking

It is a year and a half behind schedule because of Russian financial difficulties. It is now likely to go into space in November, with the first three-man Russian-American crew following in January 2000.

[ image: The first two components of the ISS are already in orbit]
The first two components of the ISS are already in orbit
The United States has pressed Russia to retire its ageing Mir station this year to focus its resources on the new station, which space officials say is the most complex technological endeavour ever undertaken.

Mir was due to be retired in June but earlier this year the Russian government promised Energiya, the space corporation which owns the station, funding until August and said it could keep the station flying even longer if private money was found.

Even though at present no extra funding has been found, Energiya head Yuri Semyonov said Mir would not be retired this year under any circumstances.

Temporarily empty

"The Mir station will continue to fly in 1999 and in the beginning of 2000," he said. "If we don't find new investment we will take out loans, not to bring down Mir, but to continue its work, even if we have to stop manned work on the station for a temporary period."

[ image: Construction has been delayed by Russia's financial problems]
Construction has been delayed by Russia's financial problems
Semyonov said efforts to find private sponsors were continuing. Koptev revealed for the first time that the cost of operating Mir had fallen to less than $100m a year, down from about $200-$250m before the August devaluation of the Russian rouble.

Two Russians and one Frenchman are currently aboard the Mir station and are due to return in August.

The first two modules of the new ISS are already in orbit, but cannot support a crew until the living quarters is launched.

The living quarters for the ISS module will be delivered to the Baikonur cosmodrome in early May, where it will undergo about five months of tests before it will be ready to launch.

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