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Friday, 14 January, 2000, 16:04 GMT
Mir may become space hotel

Will Mir be a $40m-a-night hotel? Will Mir be a $40m-a-night hotel?

By BBC News Online's Damian Carrington

The mysterious $21m backer of the Mir space station has come into the open and suggested that Mir would be used as a space tourism destination.

Yes, it's old and yes, it has a few problems. But you don't tear down an old building because it has a few problems. You renovate it.
Walt Anderson
The man with the money is Walt Anderson, 46, a US-based venture capitalist who has made a fortune through telecommunications companies.

Recent claims of funding by Energiya, the Russian company which runs the ailing space station, had been met with some scepticism. But the naming of someone who obviously has the capital and has invested in private space ventures before is a boost for their efforts to save the station.

Mr Anderson is a director of the Rotary Rocket Company who intend their Roton space craft to be the world's first piloted commercial space vehicle.

Deal not yet signed

Business associates of Mr Anderson said that he has put up $7 million and plans to spend another $14 million to lease the 14-year-old station and renovate it for a money-making venture. Such a sum would pay for Mir's upkeep for about a year.

They added that his investment is being channelled through his Bermuda-based holding company Gold & Appel, with the final paperwork due to be completed by the end of the month.

The accomodation will not be five star The accomodation will not be five star
A new company, Mir Corp Ltd, will be formed by Mr Anderson and Energiya, along with other unnamed investors. This new company will take charge of the project, according to Jeffrey Manber, former managing director of Energiya's US division and the new president of Mir Corp.

"There have been other, previous efforts to save Mir which have not been very serious. This is an extremely serious effort and we want to be very careful," said Mr Manber, stressing that the final deal with the Russians had yet to be signed.

"We believe that if we are successful, the renovation of Mir will be one of the great undertakings of the century," he added Manber. "People worldwide will share in the pleasure and the drama of keeping the Mir open for business. But the challenges ahead are great."

$40m holiday

Mr Anderson has not been contactable but did tell the San Jose Mercury News on Thursday: "Mir, which was about to be thrown away, was a huge opportunity. Yes, it's old and yes, it has a few problems. Yet any old building has that. You don't tear down an old building because it has a few heating and air-conditioning problems. You renovate it.''

Walt Anderson
Financial director, Gold & Appel
Founding board member International Space University
Chairman: US Wats, TotalTel USA and WorldxChange Communications
Co-founded Esprit Telecom in 1991
Founded Mid Atlantic Telecom in 1984
Board member: Rotary Rocket Company, Net-tel Corporation, Teleport UK, American Technology Labs and Galactech Corporation.
Mr Anderson added that he had spoken to people interested in flying on Mir and hopes the first "citizen-explorer" will launch within the year. He said the cost of the first space holiday would probably be $40 million and after that "a more reasonable $20 million to $25 million''. Western analysts doubt, however, that there would be many people willing to pay such a price.

But even if the money is available, it is far from certain that Mir can be resurrected. The space station has been drifting empty and without maintenance since August 1999 and is slowly leaking air. A proposed visit by cosmonauts in March will assess the prospects.

Mr Manber concedes the uncertainty saying that the feasibility of repair "is a very big unknown".

If so, then with a station in orbit and Russian rockets already made, the chances of seeing the first real space tourist may be much lower than ever before.

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See also:
13 Jan 00 |  Sci/Tech
New crew to visit Mir
11 Jan 00 |  Sci/Tech
New delay for space station
02 Mar 99 |  Sci/Tech
First private space shuttle unveiled
27 May 99 |  Sci/Tech
No Mir flight for British businessman
11 Jan 00 |  Europe
Respite for Mir?
11 Oct 99 |  Sci/Tech
Two crews prepare for Mir mission
16 Sep 99 |  Sci/Tech
Mir: The end

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