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S P E C I A L Repairing Mir

Mir means money, pride for Russia

Mir August 22, 1997
Web posted at: 11:37 a.m. EDT (1537 GMT)

MOSCOW (CNN) -- The seemingly endless stream of foul-ups and malfunctions aboard Mir makes it easy to make jokes about the aging Russian space station.

But, assuming safety concerns are resolved, Mir appears to be the only game in town for gathering the science needed to build an international space station planned for early in the 21st century.

A L S O :

Crucial Mir spacewalk under way

On Friday, President Boris Yeltsin urged Russians to honor the Mir crew and appreciate the huge challenges cosmonauts face.

"Perhaps we've forgotten that space is not a propaganda show. Space is first of all a hard and dangerous job with the greatest responsibilities," Yeltsin said.

An English translation of Yeltsin's statement
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"It is necessary to remember that cosmonauts work in extreme conditions, beyond human abilities. If they sometimes make mistakes, it's understandable. Work in extreme situations and constant stress have their toll on them," the president said in his regular radio address.

It was a reversal from last week when Yeltsin blamed some of the accidents and mishaps in recent months on what he called "the human factor," prompting Mir's previous crew to complain they were being targeted as scapegoats.

Many Russians, meanwhile, don't seem to care about the space program. Weary from seeing their country face one political or economic crisis after another, they have shown little interest in what was -- at its launch in 1986 -- a source of national pride for what was then the Soviet Union.

Solrar Panel

For some Russians, that pride in Mir still exists.

"We have an outpost for humans ... and we can use it later as access to the moon, to Mars," says Russian journalist Dmitry Pieson. "The whole Mir station is a priceless technological experiment for the future international space station."

Space scientist Vladimir Utkin agrees. "Space can and must serve humanity," he told CNN.

"Only from space can we monitor the state of the ozone layer surrounding Earth. Only space can be used as a dump for 10-percent of all the most poisonous and radioactive wastes and materials accumulated on Earth. Only from space can we predict earthquakes in the most precise way," he said.

But pride is only part of the story. Another reason the cash-strapped Russians want to keep the orbiter aloft is money. Mir generates hundreds of millions of dollars from countries, primarily the United States, who send astronaut-researchers there in preparation for the international space station that will replace it.

One reason the visitors are there is to learn self-reliance. Based on the many troubles Mir has had -- and the improvisation needed to fix them -- the schooling has been expensive but, so far, effective.

Correspondent Betsy Aaron contributed to this report.

MIR special grfk


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