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First privately funded manned space mission blasts off for Mir

April 4, 2000
Web posted at: 1:29 a.m. EDT (0529 GMT)

MOSCOW (CNN) -- Two Russian cosmonauts are on their way to staff the empty Mir space station, on the first-ever piloted space mission funded by private investment.

Commander Sergei Zalyotin and flight engineer Alexander Kaleri blasted off Tuesday in a spectacular launch from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Their Soyuz spacecraft is on target to dock with Mir on Thursday morning.

The mission is funded by Netherlands-based MirCorp, which hopes to turn a profit operating the 14-year-old orbiting outpost. The company says it is in discussions with several corporations about possible advertising deals and scientists interested in flying experiments.

Company officials also said they are in active talks with a potential space tourist who would pay a travel fare of roughly $15 million.

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MirCorp plans to keep the two cosmonauts on board for at least 45 days to investigate the station and assess any need for repairs.

If MirCorp cannot raise adequate funding or interest during the mission, the pair could be the last crew to live aboard the space station.

The space station has been empty since it was placed on autopilot seven months ago.

Russia, determined to pursue an independent space program, decided to go ahead with a new mission after getting $20 million from international investors.

Mir, plagued by accidents in recent years, was to have been scrapped this year. The plan was to send it plunging toward Earth so that it burned up in the atmosphere.

mir
Two Russian cosmonauts blast off for Mir on a 45 day mission  

Last month a Progress M1-1 supply ship docked with Mir and resupplied the station with fuel and water.

The task for Zalyotin and Kalyeri is to spruce up the station for possible future crews. Zalyotin said the mission could be extended if more funds became available.

He said one of their jobs was to find the reason for a pressure drop in the station and to fix it.

"The plan is for us to stay for 45 days because we have enough funds for that," Zalyotin said. "But if additional means are found, we may stay until August when we shall be replaced by another crew."

He said that if more funds were not forthcoming, he and Kalyeri would again put Mir on autopilot.

Zalyotin said he and Kalyeri would follow an old Baikonur tradition by watching the classic Russian film "Beloye Solntse Pustinny" (White Sun of the Desert) on the eve of their flight.

Correspondent Miles O'Brien and Reuters contributed to this report.



RELATED STORIES:
Actor's mission on space station Mir canceled
March 16, 2000
Mir to stay aloft with International Space Station hardware
January 20, 2000

RELATED SITES:
MirCorp
Russian Space Agency
Keep Mir Alive


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