MOSCOW -- The Mir space station will be discarded next year as planned and Russia will switch to contributing to international projects in space exploration, a top space official said Wednesday.
Russia can no longer afford maintaining Mir. The space station's last full-time crew left in August, and the station will be visited only briefly by another team next year in order to prepare the 140-ton Mir for its final descent to Earth.
Most of the station will burn up as it reenters the atmosphere, and some remnants will fall into the Pacific Ocean.
"We have already made our choice. We have entered international cooperation," the head of the Russian Aerospace Agency, Yuri Koptev, told a news conference Wednesday, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.
Russian space experts had long delayed the decision to abandon the 13-year-old Mir, the last symbol of the country's pioneering role in space and a source of national pride. Without the Mir, Russia will have no major space project of its own.
Even after the decision was made, Russian officials put off the station's final day in orbit until next year, hoping for an unexpected source of funding. Repeated efforts to attract private investors have failed, and Koptev's comments appeared to be putting the hopes to rest.
The U.S. space agency NASA has long urged Russia to abandon Mir and concentrate its scarce resources on international projects.
Russia is contributing to a 16-nation endeavor to build an international space station. While the Russians have a lot of expertise to share, the country's financial troubles have delayed construction of the Russian segments of the station.
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