Gina Miller (nanogirl@halcyon.com)
Fri, 4 Jun 1999 13:44:40 -0700

This is CNN's take on MIR
space station could crash on land when it is abandoned because Russia does not have enough money to adequately guide the station's descent, according to a report released Wednesday.

The 130-ton Mir is tentatively scheduled to be discarded early next year. Ground controllers were planning to direct the station -- which would turn into a firebomb in the atmosphere -- over a desolate area in the ocean and let it fall into the water.

But things may not be that simple.

"At present, there are no funds, not only for continuing the manned flight
on the orbital station Mir, but also for carrying out its guided descent into a designated area of the ocean," top Russian space experts in charge of the Mir said in a statement Tuesday.

Earlier Russian space station crashed
The document, which was signed by 31 leading space designers and engineers, was faxed to The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Controlling the descent would require several trips by Progress cargo ships, which would park on Mir and fire their engines to lower the station's orbit.

The American space agency NASA, which wants Russia to concentrate its meager resources on the International Space Station, can't wait to see the Mir go. Because of Russia's failure to build its segments on time, the first permanent crew isn't expected to be able to move in until next March, almost two years behind schedule.

But the Russians have been calling attention to the disturbing possibility of the Mir going out of control on its way down.

There is a precedent. In February, 1991, ground controllers lost control of the 40-ton Salyut-7 space station, and it came crashing down.

The Salyut fell on a sparsely populated area in Argentina's Andes mountains near the Chilean border, and caused no injuries or damage. But the experts warn there is no telling where the Mir, if unguided, might land.

Russia has struggled to keep the Mir -- a symbol of their space glory and national pride -- aloft as long as possible.

But dire financial troubles forced space officials to decide Tuesday that the Mir's current three-man crew should depart in August, and that the station be left to circle the Earth unmanned until early next year.

Then, it would most likely be discarded -- unless the Russians can come up with more money to send a new crew up.

Officials still want to save Mir
Although the chances of that are negligible, space officials seem to be playing for time and hoping for a miracle.

"Abandoning the station right now would be an irreversible decision," said
Sergei Krikalyov, a cosmonaut who twice stayed on Mir and who will be among the first crew to live the International Space Station when it begins operating in March.

"Even if later we become wiser, richer, and review our priorities somewhat,
it will already be too late to correct anything," he told the Echo of Moscow radio.

Krikalyov predicted that Russia's space agency would try to keep the Mir up and put off a decision for as long as possible.

"As long as there is any hope, I think they're going to try with the last
bit of their power to scrape together some money," Krikalyov said.

Copyright 1999 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. Gina "Nanogirl" Miller
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