Future of Mir in doubt after cosmonauts return home
ARKALYK, Kazakhstan (CNN) -- Sergei Zalyotin and Alexander Kaleri
hit the Earth with a bump Friday after having spent two
months repairing the aging Mir space station. Their mission
could be the last to the orbiting outpost.
Unless private investors commit enough funds to send
another manned flight, Russia plans to direct Mir into a
fatal plunge into the ocean later this year. However, space
officials said a new crew was already in training for any
eventual further mission.
A Soyuz capsule carrying Zalyotin and Kaleri touched down by
parachute in the steppes of the former Soviet republic of
Kazakhstan early Friday morning. The two emerged from the
black capsule looking pale but well. They described what was at
times an exhausting mission.
'Conditions on Mir tougher'
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"We must admit conditions on Mir have become tougher," Kaleri
told reporters who had been whisked to the scene aboard a
fleet of rescue helicopters.
"The burden on the crew is high in the initial weeks," the flight
engineer said. "We had to open up Mir and repair
the leak. Before leaving we had to seal it up again. That was
also difficult. After all, the station is fairly old now."
Designed to last five years, Mir has experienced numerous
mishaps during its 14 years of service, including a 1997
collision with a cargo ship that damaged Mir's hull, leaving
minute cracks through which oxygen has slowly seeped into
space. A main task during the last mission was plugging the
Some of the difficulties the two encountered were the result
of Mir being left unmanned for more than seven months. During
their stay they had to resuscitate the station. And before
they departed they had to mothball it again, at least until
autumn, when a group of international investors hopes to send
up another mission.
Zalyotin, the mission commander, said Mir was in "good shape"
and could fly unmanned for another six months, according to
the Itar-Tass news agency.
MirCorp viewed as last hope
The Russian government had planned to dump Mir this spring
because of funding problems but extended its time in orbit
after the Netherlands-based MirCorp signed a lease on the
station and provided funds to send up the new crew.
RKK Energia company, which built and runs Mir, has a
60 percent stake in MirCorp and the remainder belongs to
private investors. MirCorp plans to use the station as an
orbiting hotel for wealthy space tourists.
"The cosmonauts confirmed that Mir is in good working order,
and they demonstrated the value of Mir to the world's
business community," said Chirinjeev Kathuria, one of
MirCorp's main investors, in a statement.
Russian space officials view MirCorp as the last hope to save
Mir, a symbol of the once glorious Soviet space program that
put the first satellite in orbit and the first person into
The U.S. space agency NASA has been vexed by Moscow's
decision to extend Mir's life, saying it diverts scarce
Russian resources from the International Space Station
The new station is behind schedule because of Russia's
failure to deliver a key component, the Zvezda service
module, currently set to be launched July 12.
Reuters contributed to this report.
Cosmonauts back on board Mir
April 6, 2000
First privately funded manned space mission blasts off for Mir
April 4, 2000
Crew poised for return to Mir on Tuesday
April 3, 2000
Mir to stay aloft with International Space Station hardware
January 20, 2000
NASA Shuttle-Mir Web
Where is Mir?
Office of Space Flight - Mir
International Space Station
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