First privately funded manned space mission blasts off for Mir
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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|CNN's Steve Harrigan reports on the efforts to remodel and market the Russian space station.|
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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.
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.
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