Yeltsin gives go-ahead to prolong Mir's life
May 21, 1999
MOSCOW (CNN) -- President Boris Yeltsin gave the go-ahead on Friday for Russia to keep the Mir space station in orbit, provided the government doesn't have to pay for it.
The Kremlin issued a statement saying Yeltsin had approved the government's plans to keep the 13-year-old Mir in space longer than planned if private money was found.
The Russian government has said it would only pay for Mir's operation through the end of August. It would then abandon the station unless private investors come up with new money.
Yeltsin, who left for a holiday in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Friday, gave the green light for extending the "period of use of the orbiting Mir station with non-budget funding."
U.S. urges retirement
Russia is sticking with Mir even though the United States has pressed Moscow to retire the orbiting laboratory to focus its resources on the new International Space Station.
The new station brings together Russia, the United States, Europe, Japan and Canada in a $60 billion project but is running behind schedule because of Russian financial difficulties.
Despite the U.S. concerns, and an order by Yeltsin for the government to ensure it meets its commitments to the new project, Russian officials have made clear in recent weeks that they do not intend to retire Mir yet.
"The Mir station will continue to fly in 1991 and in the beginning of 2000," Yuri Semyonov, head of the Energiya rocket cooperation which owns Mir, said last month.
'We'll take out loans'
"If we don't find the new investment, we'll take out loans, not to bring down Mir, but to continue its work," he said.
Energiya officials say a Welsh-born businessman has agreed to help raise the $100 million needed to keep Mir flying for a year, although some officials have privately expressed doubts that the money will be found.
Yuri Koptev, head of the Russian space agency, said last month the cost of operating Mir had fallen to less than $100 million a year, down from about $200 million-$250 million before the ruble crashed against the dollar last August.
Mir has enjoyed several relatively calm months after a suffering host of problems, including a near fatal collision with a cargo ship during a docking maneuver in June 1997 and a dangerous fire shortly before that.
Mir is now occupied by three men -- Russians Viktor Afanasyev and Sergei Avdeyev, and Frenchman Jean-Pierre Haignere.
Reuters contributed to this report.
Office of Space Flight - Mir
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