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Tuesday, June 1, 1999 Published at 13:44 GMT 14:44 UK


Mir to be abandoned in August

The current cosmonauts are almost certain to be the last

The Mir Space Station will be abandoned in August, the Russian Space Agency has confirmed.

The agency says the most likely fate for Mir is that it will burn up in the Earth's atmosphere in February or March next year.

The decision was made on Tuesday by a panel of top Russian space officials. They were faced with the end of government funding in August and the failure to raise any private finance.

Best option

Vyacheslav Mikhailichenko, a spokesman for the Russian Space Agency, said the best option was to bring down the last three cosmonauts and leave Mir empty.

[ image: Mir's initial lifespan was five years - it has flown for 13]
Mir's initial lifespan was five years - it has flown for 13
Mir currently orbits 380 kilometres (240 miles) above the Earth. From August, the orbit will gradually be lowered. When it falls to around 200 kilometres (125 miles), ground controllers plan to send a final command that will cause it to burn up in the Earth's atmosphere.

Some fragments of the 130 tonne station may survive the descent, but ground controllers are confident that any debris will splash down harmlessly in a remote section of the Pacific Ocean.

Remote control

However, before the cosmonauts leave they will install and test new equipment allowing ground controllers to command the station remotely.

If the equipment works, it will mean Mir is effectively mothballed. If private funding is found in the next few months, the station could be resurrected. Russian space officials have said Mir could safely remain in orbit for several more years if funding was available.

Even a one-year reprieve for Mir would cost $250m and new funding now seems very unlikely. The Russian space programme has also come under pressure to abandon Mir and concentrate its resources on the new International Space Station, currently being built.

But Mir, in orbit for 13 years, is an enduring symbol of Russia's success in space and will only be consigned to history if all other options are closed.

The space officials' plan will now be sent to President Boris Yeltsin's government for final approval.

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