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Thursday, June 10, 1999 Published at 16:22 GMT 17:22 UK


Mir's fate in Yeltsin's hands

Mir is nearing the end of its space journey

By BBC News Online Science Editor Dr David Whitehouse

The final word on the fate of the Russian Mir space station rests with President Boris Yeltsin.

On his desk this week is a recommendation from the Russian Space Agency that Mir be abandoned in August when the current crew's mission ends.

He can choose to accept it and consign Mir to oblivion or reject it, in which case he has to come up with the money to keep it in space.

After being abandoned in August, Mir will either crash into an uninhabited part of the Pacific Ocean next year or be revived by another crew, if the money can be raised.

So far all efforts to raise the $100 million a year it would cost to keep the pride of the Russian space programme in orbit has failed.

Still hope

However, it is clear that even at this late stage intense efforts and political lobbying are taking place within Russia to secure some sort of future for Mir.

The speaker of the State Duma, Gennady Seleznyov, has said that "all efforts shall be used to preserve the pride of the Russian space industry."

Russian space officials and cosmonauts are not giving up on Mir just yet, but the chances of another crew living in it after the current crew leave in August are looking very slim.

Perhaps ordinary Russians could help. That is the hope of two cosmonauts Vitaly Sevastyanov and Gherman Titov.

Titov became the fourth man in space in a 1961 mission and, because the previous three are deceased, he is the world's senior space traveller.

The cosmonauts have launched the "People's Charity Foundation for the preservation of the Mir space station." They have appealed to "every person, every organisation" in Russia to help.

Nearly a decade

Keeping Mir unmanned for six months is a result of Russia's decision to boost it into a higher orbit earlier this year. As such, it cannot easily return to Earth until early next year.

When the inhabitants of Mir leave in August they may reflect that if they had been able to stay onboard it for just one more month, they would have set a record of ten full years of continuous operation.

When they leave, Mir will have travelled over two billion miles in space and orbited the Earth every 90 minutes for thirteen and a half years.

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