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Saturday, August 28, 1999 Published at 12:58 GMT 13:58 UK


Analysis: Russia's changing role in space

Experience gained on Mir will prove useful for Russia

By the BBC's Paul Anderson in Moscow

Mir's last full-time crew returned to a welcome fit for the early heroes of Soviet space exploration.

But for Russia's impoverished space programme, the future is more stark.

Scientists and officials are waking up to the fact that the days when one superpower strives to outdo the other - and the Soviet Union frequently outdid the United States - are over.

The exploration of the cosmos in the 21st Century is about cost-saving co-operation between nations, worked out on the basis of whoever pays the most, sets the agenda for the rest.

Russian expertise

For the first time in the history of space endeavour, Russia, which has struggled to fulfil its obligations on the construction of the International Space Station, is nowhere near on an equal footing with the United States.

Nonetheless, Russia brings unique expertise and findings to the new space station project. Not least the results of research into the effects of weightlessness on the human body.

No-one has anything like the experience of Russian cosmonauts, with their unbelievable tally of days in space. One cosmonaut has accumulated a total of more than two years.

Crisis management

And no-one has spent as much time on space walks as the Russians, on developing the technology of docking, or indeed on orbital crisis management.

The Russians have just the experience for a project which will involve dozens of space walks and dozens of supply visits from Earth.

And Russia can charge a premium for its services.

That, for the Russian Government and the country's space agencies, strapped as they are for cash, is the whole point.

The Russian space programme is no longer a matter of hard ideologies. It's a matter of hard finance and there's little room for nostalgia.

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