Originally created 01/19/98

First module of international space station ready for launch



MOSCOW (AP) -- The first module of an international space station is finished and ready for shipment to the launch pad, its builders say.

The module will be taken to Russia's Baikonur cosmodrome next Wednesday in preparation for a planned June 30 launch, representatives of Russia's Khrunichev Scientific Production Center said Saturday.

The module, designed for cargo, had originally been scheduled for launch last November, but the schedule for the space station was pushed back when Russia fell behind in production of a second unit, the station's service module.

"This is an important day in the history of the international station's creation," said Yuri Koptev, head of the Russian space agency, at a news conference.

"This event symbolizes the fact that Russia was, is and shall be a space nation, capable of realizing large-scale projects penetrating into space."

The space station is a joint project of Russia, the United States, the European Space Agency, Canada and Japan. Its various modules will be assembled in orbit, and the first crew of two Russians and one American is scheduled to board the station in early 1999.

The first module was built at Khrunichev's Moscow factory under a contract with Boeing, the U.S. aviation giant. It is similar to two of the modules in Russia's Mir space station, which has served as a model for the international station.

Russia has had difficulty funding its share of the international station. At the same time, it has attached great importance to the project, which will replace Mir as the only manned element of Russia's space program.