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Stephen Dalziel, BBC Russian affairs analyst
Can the Russians do Mir and the ISS?
 real 28k

Thursday, 13 April, 2000, 11:37 GMT 12:37 UK
More money triggers Mir confusion
Mir
Mir is in orbit, but for how long?
By BBC News Online science editor Dr David Whitehouse

The fate of the Mir space station seems a little more secure following statements by the Russian premier Vladimir Putin that his government has reversed last year's decision to abandon it.

He said that 1.5 billion roubles (22 million) would be found to support the ageing space station.

But it is a reflection of the current state of Mir that the announcement of more money for orbital platform should add to the confusion that envelops the project. The announcement left space analysts uncertain about how Mir will be operated in the future.

Following that earlier refusal to give Mir any more money, RKK Energia, the company that owns the space station, signed an agreement with Netherlands-based MirCorp to provide a cash injection to keep the platform aloft.

Hotel in space?

MirCorp found $20 million (14 million) to fund the latest manned mission to Mir and intends to exploit the station commercially, though it has not revealed its plans to do this. One idea it has floated is to use Mir as a space hotel but no customers have yet signed up.
Cosmonauts
Cosmonauts are back on Mir
Mr Putin was speaking on the 39th anniversary of the Soviet Union launching the first man into space. He said that the Russian government will find money for Mir and maintain its commitment to the International Space Station (ISS), a project being led by the United States.

Mr Putin's decision to keep Mir working has added to scepticism that Russia will be able to meet its obligations to the ISS, a project that is already months late because of Russia's failure to build key components on time.

Space analysts have said it is not clear where Russia will find the money. After the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia drastically scaled back its space programme, and so far the government has only earmarked about $120 million (80 million) to the programme this year.

Mr Putin said the Russian Security Council would meet soon to discuss financing the space programme.

Yuri Koptev, director of the Russian Aerospace Agency said: "We shall have clarity by the end of the month on funding Mir after August."

Regarding Russia's contribution to the ISS, Mr Koptev confirmed that Russia will launch on 12 July the Zvezda service module, which was originally expected to be sent to the ISS in April 1998.

Microcrack

Meanwhile the crew aboard Mir has been working to transfer it from automatic to manual controls. Cosmonauts Sergei Zalyotin and Alexander Kaleri have been on Mir for just over a week and report that it seems in reasonable shape after its many months unoccupied.

Russian space officials have said that Mir's fate depends on whether the cosmonauts can find an annoying leak.

According to the deputy chief of the Cosmonauts' Training Centre, Vasily Tsibliyev, the crew's main task is to detect what he calls a "microcrack", which is upsetting the pressurisation of the station.

"If they restore pressurisation, the station will fly in future and crews will work. If not, regrettably the station has to be sunk."

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See also:

05 Apr 00 | Sci/Tech
Successful docking for Mir
04 Apr 00 | Sci/Tech
In pictures: Return to Mir
17 Feb 00 | Sci/Tech
Mir to be turned into hotel
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