Originally created 03/20/01

Mir descent date changed, parliament speaker appeals for reprieve



MOSCOW -- Russian space officials said Monday the Mir space station will be dumped Friday, one day later than planned, and the parliament speaker made an appeal for President Vladimir Putin to grant the aging station a reprieve.

Space officials had previously set Mir's controlled descent into the South Pacific for early Thursday, but said Monday it would be postponed by one day because the station's orbit was dropping more slowly than expected.

Mir was orbiting about 142 miles above the Earth on Monday and was expected to drift down two more miles by Tuesday.

Mission Control wants Mir to descend to 132 miles before aligning the station for the final maneuver. If everything goes according to plan, a cargo ship docked at the station will fire its engines twice during two consecutive orbits to lower the station further and then, several hours later, fire one last time to send the Mir hurtling into the South Pacific between Australia and Chile at around 1 a.m. EST Friday.

Fearing that Mir's unstable batteries could make it impossible to use the station's computer to guide its descent, space officials have worked out a backup -- using the onboard computer and separate radio communications of the Progress cargo ship.

Space officials say the 15-year station must be dumped because it has grown decrepit and the government lacks the funds to fix and maintain it. Nevertheless, many cosmonauts and politicians, particularly those nostalgic for Soviet times, have pushed -- in vain -- to extend Mir's life.

Gennady Seleznyov, the speaker of the lower house of parliament, the State Duma, said Monday that he sent a letter to Putin earlier this month, proposing to upgrade Mir into Mir-2.

According to Seleznyov, Russia should raise Mir to a higher orbit and modernize it, using a backup version of the Zarya module. Zarya, built for NASA by the Khrunichev company, was launched in November 1998 as the first segment of the International Space Station.

Seleznyov said he hadn't received Putin's reply.

An eleventh-hour offer to bail out Mir reportedly came from Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, who visited the Mission Control last Tuesday.

Radzhab Safarov, the head of the Center for Co-Ordination of Russian-Iranian programs, a think-tank based in the Russian parliament, said Monday that Khatami offered to buy Mir, or to help finance it for the next two or three years, but the Russian space officials refused, saying that Mir's days were over, the Interfax news agency reported.

The claim couldn't be independently confirmed. Russian Aerospace Agency chief Yuri Koptev, who accompanied Khatami around the Mission Control, didn't mention any discussion of Mir's future while speaking to journalists after the visit.



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