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Last chance for some orbiting Russian real estate

FIXER-UPPER (WAY-UPPER) - Cozy 3 BR, 1 BA, 6 Module, 6 Airlock, Early Mission Style Handyman's Special. Outstanding high-inclination views in great low-earth-orbit neighborhood. Easily expandable modular design. Some roof damage. Minor improvements needed in cooling, computer, air purification, power generation and guidance systems. Move right in for $20 million per month. Lab animals OK, but sorry, no pets or soft currency. First, last and security deposit req'd. Call Y. Koptev: 1-800-MIR-4-SALE.


(CNN) -- So you wanna rent a space station? This could be your last chance.

While officials at the Russian Space Agency and it's contractor Energia were stocking up on Stoly to celebrate Mir's 13th anniversary in space (Saturday, February 20), they were actively looking for a tenant. So far, no takers, and it seems nothing -- or no one -- can stop the de-orbit burn (and meteoric fall into the sea) planned for this summer.


Lenin knows, the pioneering station has logged a mercurial history. No need to bother with a detailed litany here: just think of the scariest things that can happen in space -- like springing a leak or fighting a fire -- and throw in some less critical yet nettlesome glitches like a crash-prone computer, a balky cooling system, temperamental air purifiers, a general state of brown-out, and an overflow of trash, and -- well, you get the picture.

I know what you're thinking: "Details, details ... Quit with the quibbling already." OK, I will. Put on your marketing hats, class, and let's conjure up an 11th-hour business plan for Mir.

I was really sorry to hear about the failure of the Mir Mirror. Very catchy name. In fact, the concept was, literally, too catchy. As it unfurled, the mirror that promised dollops of daylight in the darkness got caught on an antenna that should have been retracted. (Make a note not to emphasize the broken mirror near the 13th anniversary thing).

Maybe this idea still has some revenue-generating potential. How much would a winter-weary Norwegian town battling an outbreak of Seasonal Affected Disorder be willing to pay for some extra sunshine? Well, maybe not enough. But, hey, it is Scandinavia, right? Won't the government foot the bill?

What about tourism? There are a lot of billionaires -- and nine-figure millionaires -- in the world these days. Wouldn't a stay aboard Mir trump any boastful cocktail conversation about that Gulfstream-V executive jet and it's gold plated potty seat -- or that heroic (yet ill-fated) attempt to scale Mt. Everest? It may be a narrow market, yes, but adventure tourism is in. (Make a note to ask Russian engineers if chocolates can be Velcro'd to Mir pillows - oh, don't forget to ask if they have pillows).

Then there's Hollywood (and hooray for it). Most people who saw Ron Howard's "Apollo 13" know the weightless scenes were shot, at great expense, aboard the modified 707 that NASA flies like a roller-coaster to create 30-second spurts of weightlessness (they don't call it the Vomit Comet for nothin').

Now, consider all the other recent space flicks -- "Deep Impact," "Armageddon," "Star Trek: Ad Infinitum" -- and you see where I am headed. Why not create a zero-G sound stage? It can't be any pricier than shooting Titanic.

And then there's always the tried and true Madison Avenue approach: Cosmonauts hawking memorabilia, space pens, astronaut ice cream and Tang on QVC ... that's obvious.

But let's take Mir-TV to the next level. Two words: Weightless Wrestlin'.

It seems to me the advertising potential of Mir is way under-leveraged. Use the NASCAR model: space suits covered in logos for oil treatments and air filters. And lure a cigarette company with a lucrative deal to rename the space station (after 13 years, "Camel" seems apropos).

Oh, and let's not forget Mir's half-dozen modules are little more than overgrown aluminum cans. Hmmm ... I guess you could call it a six-pack. Get me the number for Anheuser-Busch.

Miles O'Brien's column appears on Mondays.

Downlinks with Miles O'Brien

Mirror, mirror in the sky
February 3, 1999
Russia bids farewell to troubled 1998
December 31, 1998

Keep Mir Alive
SpaceViews: Mir Interactive Display
Mir Space Station
NASA: Office of Space Flight - Mir
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