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Tuesday, April 27, 1999 Published at 14:28 GMT 15:28 UK


$100m Mir ride denied

Regular repair work has kept Mir going

The businessman said to be about to pay $100m to fly on Mir has denied that he will give any money to the company which owns the ageing space station.

An RKK Energiya spokesman said on Tuesday that a benefactor had come forward and would buy a week-long ride on Mir, securing the immediate future of the cash-strapped space craft.

Peter Llewellyn: I'm basically hitching a ride
But UK-born Peter Llewellyn told BBC News Online that he will not pay any money to fly on Mir. However, he claimed he would still make a trip into orbit to raise publicity and sponsorship for a hospital he intends to build in Moscow.

Confusion arose when Energiya's spokesman Sergei Gromov said an agreement with Mr Llewellyn had been signed over the weekend and that money would be transferred to the company soon. When the BBC sought confirmation from the company late on Tuesday, they would only say that negotiations with Mr Llewellyn were underway.

They declined to make any further comment until their President returned to the Energiya headquarters on 4 May.

International space station

The fuss over Mr Llewellyn's involvement in Mir comes just a day after the Russians officially made it clear they would keep the space station flying into next year.

Space Engineer James Oberg: Russian pride is a very significant factor
The Russians had promised the Americans that Mir would be decommissioned at the end of August so that all their effort and limited resources could be concentrated on the new International Space Station (ISS).

When told of Energiya's announcement that a benefactor had come forward, Sergei Gorbunov, a spokesman for the Russian Space Agency, expressed scepticism. He said Energiya had announced deals before that had later collapsed.

"All of us will be very happy if they find an enthusiast eager to finance the Mir, but I think it's too early yet to celebrate," he told the Associated Press news agency.

Mir, which was launched in February 1986, has operated far longer than any other space station. It has endured a long series of breakdowns and a near-fatal collision with a cargo ship in 1997.

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