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Sep 28, 1998 ABCNEWS web site
Mir May Live On
By Jim Oberg, Special to ABCNEWS.com

It’s easy to understand the reluctance of many Russians to trade in their own Mir space station for a role in the grander International Space Station.
Mir has weathered plenty of mishaps, though recently it has been sailing through space relatively trouble free.
In contrast, the ISS has become a worldwide joke in its repeated delays and redesigns, as the international partnership seems to be crumbling faster than desperate program managers can repair it.
Space officials in Moscow and Washington agree that Russia’s overworked and bankrupt space industry cannot support both projects.
Since a number of crucial Russian support flights are needed for the ISS in 1999-2000, the Russian Space Agency recently went along with NASA desires to terminate Mir. The Russians told NASA that Mir would be scrapped in June 1999 so that Russian space efforts can concentrate on fulfilling ISS commitments.
But many among the Russian space industry are seeking other funding to keep Mir orbiting for at least two years, and maybe as many as five years.

Broken Promises?
Where that would leave the Russian promises for the ISS is a serious question.
There’s been no lack of public statements by Russians that their government’s agreement to scrap Mir was wrong and should be overturned.
Valeriy Ryumin, a former cosmonaut and now a top official in the Russian space industry, made an inspection visit to Mir in June, courtesy of a NASA shuttle flight. Ryumin returned from the flight convinced the 12-year-old station is sound enough to fly longer.
“I found it in quite good condition and I think it can be operated for several more years,” he told journalists. Boris Ostroumov, deputy general director of a spacecraft factory, agreed: “Speaking purely objectively, Mir could go on operating for another 10 years.”
“It would be a crime against humanity to sink the orbital station in the Pacific,” veteran cosmonaut Aleksandr Serebrov told the Interfax news agency in mid-September. He admitted that the Russian government had no money to prolong Mir but told reporters that several other countries and private investors have made “practical proposals.”

High-Level Support
Most recently, Yuri Baturin—the Kremlin bureaucrat who made a two-week visit to Mir in August—repeated his calls for keeping Mir open. Rumored to be in line for a senior military or space post, Baturin had called Mir “a real miracle of the 21st century.” While aboard Mir, he said, “It’s a sin to de-orbit such a laboratory.”
Last week Baturin claimed that dumping Mir in the Pacific is “not economical” because the funding for a safe de-orbit is more than enough to fund continued missions.
It’s more than just talk.
Despite Russian promises to NASA to soon scrap Mir, substantial negotiations are under way to find means of repudiating this agreement.
I’ve seen the signed letters from Russian space officials and potential Western partners who seek commercial funds to prolong the life of Mir.
One is from Boris Nikitskiy, special assistant to Yuri Semyonov, director of the Energia Rocket and Space Corp., which builds and operates Russian manned space vehicles.
Another significant name is Yuri Maslyukov, Russia’s first deputy prime minister and a protogé of the new Russian prime minister, Yevgenniy Primakov.

Business Opportunities
Wallace Kemper, director of an aerospace group called Museum Displays in Florida, said his group met with some Russian space officials who propose to sell research services to Western customers.
“The Russians need $50 million by November for purchase of extra supply ships,” he says.
Other American groups, such as the Denver-based United Societies in Space, Inc., also are trying to organize support for Mir. In last July’s issue of their magazine Space Governance, editor Declan O’Donnell wrote that “we are working on a plan to convert Mir to a joint public/private peaceful mission, contrary to the end-of-life de-orbiting and destruction.”
The Russians have even opened an account at the Liberty Federal Savings Bank in Chicago for private American donations to the Mir extension budget.
Meanwhile, NASA’s fears that any continuation of Mir would be a death blow to Russian support for the ISS were reinforced by recent delays within the Mir program itself.
Only weeks after the Russians proudly announced that six Soyuz rockets would be sold to a Western company to launch communications satellites, Mir managers had to admit that the Soyuz boosters to launch the next supply flight and next crew to Mir were no longer available.

Looking for Boosters
Similarly, if the Mir program obtains its own nongovernment funding, it would be in a position to buy up the boosters and spacecraft now allocated for the ISS. There wouldn’t be any left for the fulfillment of Moscow’s formal agreements.
Despite the semi-religious Russian obsession with preserving Mir and considering it immortal, the station’s endurance really is limited.
Hardware failures continue aboard the over-age outpost, but their immediate impact has been masked by the accumulation of vast supplies of spare parts and backup systems brought up on shuttle flights in 1997-1998. Those American visits transported the equivalent of 30 Russian resupply missions—almost a decade’s worth of critical hardware.
As those stocks are used up and wear out, Mir will return to the edge-of-the-abyss life-threatening crises seen so dramatically in 1997.
Meanwhile, if NASA can’t get the Russians to live up to this latest shaky space promise about terminating Mir, the ISS project will be nearer the edge of an abyss as well.


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