Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 30

The efforts of Russian government and space officials to save the thirteen-year-old Mir space station appear to have come to naught. The head of the Russian Space Agency, Yuri Koptev, said yesterday that the station might have to be discarded as early as August of this year. According to Koptev, investors who had expressed an interest in underwriting the space station’s operations have backed out of the deal. “If no [other] investor is found, we will be forced to make the tough decision to discard Mir in August or September,” Koptev told reporters. He said that preparations to abandon Mir would begin if no funding is secured by April (AP, February 11).

Less than a month ago Mir looked as if it had gained a new lease on life. On January 22 the Russian government approved a resolution which conditionally extended the station’s life by three years. The decision was part of an effort to satisfy Russia’s cash-strapped space establishment, which saw itself playing second fiddle to the United States in the International Space Station (ISS) project and hoped to preserve the last jewel in the former Soviet Union’s once proud space program. Mir’s survival, however, depended on the success of the Energia rocket corporation, which operates the space station, in raising the approximately US$250 million per year needed to keep Mir in orbit. An unnamed foreign sponsor had reportedly entered into negotiations with Energia to provide some US$750 million over the next three years to maintain Mir (see the Monitor, January 27). As Koptev suggested yesterday, that deal has apparently fallen through.

There will be no tears shed in Washington if this is the case. The United States has long pressured Russia to abandon Mir so that the poorly funded Russian Space Agency can devote all its resources to meeting the commitments it undertook for the ISS project. NASA had greeted the Russian decision to prolong Mir’s life diplomatically, but U.S. space officials have clearly grown exasperated with Moscow’s failures to meet its ISS deadlines. U.S. officials said on February 1 that NASA is developing contingency plans to build a propulsion system and escape vehicles for the ISS in the event that Russia is unable to provide the hardware (see the Monitor, February 5).