The adventures aboard Russia’s aging space station Mir have resumed in recent days, as the shutdown of the vessel’s main computer on May 30 left crew members racing yesterday to reactivate Mir’s automatic steering system. Successful reactivation of the system is essential if the U.S. space shuttle Discovery, scheduled to lift off later today, is to dock with Mir on June 5. The docking, intended primarily to pick up American astronaut Andrew Thomas, would be the final time that a U.S. shuttle travels to the space station. Thomas has been on Mir since January. (Russian and U.S. agencies, May 30-June 1)
Funding shortages, meanwhile, have forced Russia’s Space Agency to consider retiring Mir a year earlier than planned. Yuri Koptev, the agency’s managing director, said on May 28 that the station may be brought down into the atmosphere for destruction by the end of this year. (Itar-Tass, May 28) U.S. space officials have urged Moscow to retire Mir so that the Russian Space Agency can focus more of its attention–and its financial resources–on the International Space Station (ISS) project.
Indeed, Mir’s adventures in space have been paralleled by those of Russia’s cash-starved space agency on the ground. The Russian government–itself facing severe budget constraints–told the agency on May 28 that it would not receive the extra funding it had requested. The agency should, therefore, garner additional funding on its own through commercial ventures. That decision further imperiled the space agency’s already-troubled efforts to meet its commitments to the ISS, and compelled Koptev to warn that Russia could see its role in the station reduced from partner to contractor. (Itar-Tass, May 28) A day later, however, Koptev announced that funding had been found for Russia’s participation in the ISS. His announcement followed a meeting with Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov and Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov. Koptev said that some of the new funding would come from extra-budgetary sources. Other government funding is reportedly to be earmarked specifically for the ISS. (AP, Reuter, Itar-Tass, May 29)
In the United States, meanwhile, representatives of the sixteen countries involved in the ISS approved over the weekend a revised schedule that puts assembly of the station back by one year. Under the new schedule, completion of the space station is expected in early 2004. Russia is to launch nine of the 43 flights expected to be required to assemble the station. The first of these is to occur on November 20 when Moscow launches a power and propulsion module. The third part of the station–Russia’s still unfinished service module and the source of much friction between Moscow and Washington–is now to be launched from Kazakhstan in April 1999. (AP, May 31)
RUSSIAN NUCLEAR EXPERTISE BEING SOLD FOR “PEANUTS.”