Originally created 07/09/98

Start of next Mir mission postponed for 10 days



MOSCOW -- The next crew to the Mir space station will blast off 10 days later than planned because the Russian government failed to pay its electricity bills, officials said Wednesday.

Deputy Mission Control chief Viktor Blagov said the launch date has now been set for Aug. 13.

The Russian space program has been struggling to survive amid a cash shortage so desperate that officials have even discussed abandoning Mir next month.

Last week, the government finally promised to pay the $600 million it owed for Mir's operations last year and the space agency said it could keep the station in orbit until June 1999.

Yuri Semyonov, head of the state-run RKK Energiya corporation that runs the Mir, said the next launch had been postponed because of a two-week power blackout at the Baikonur cosmodrome, which Russia leases from the former Soviet republic of Kazakstan.

When Russians failed to pay the bills, local authorities responded by turning off power. The electricity has since been turned back on, but workers have fallen behind in preparations, Semyonov said, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.

Blagov said the current crew will return to Earth on Aug. 25.