Monday, October 11, 1999 Published at 09:50 GMT 10:50 UK
Two crews prepare for Mir mission
Mir: Floating free in orbit
Two cosmonaut crews are in training for a new mission to the Mir space station, the Russian Tass news agency reports.
One crew comprises Sergei Zaletin and Alexander Kaleri, a representative of the Energia rocket and space company which owns the commercial rights to Mir.
The back up crew has been named as Salizham Sharipov and Pavel Vinogradov. The announcement was made at a news conference organised by the charitable foundation trying to preserve the ageing orbital platform.
Mir's supporters say the complex, which weighs more than 130 tonnes, is in a good enough condition to carry on working for the next three or five years.
Western space experts doubt this assessment, but even if Mir is technically sound there are insufficient funds to keep it flying. It is said Mir requires 1.2 billion roubles a year to maintain it in orbit and the Russian Government has told Energia it must find private backing if it wants the project to continue.
Mir is currently empty. Its last crew, Viktor Afanasyev, Sergei Avdeyev and Jean-Pierre Haignere, pulled out of the station at the end of August, having first shut down all but the most essential systems.
Ground controllers are expected to slowly lower Mir_s orbit over the next few months, bringing the craft close to the point of re-entry. Space analysts believe it is then, in February or March, that a manned mission may go up to prepare Mir for destruction.
The aim of such a mission would be to ensure that none of the debris that survives the intense heat of re-entry strikes populated areas.
However, those campaigning for Mir_s continued existence will be hoping enough private money might have been secured by that time to keep the platform flying.