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Protesters Mark Mir Anniversary

February 20, 2001

MOSCOW (AP) _ On the 15th anniversary of the Mir space station, scientists and others protested Tuesday against the planned end of what was once the symbol of Russia’s space glory.

About 100 protesters stood outside the headquarters of the Russian Space Agency, chanting slogans and stamping their feet to stay warm in the freezing temperatures.

Protesters criticized the Russian government’s decision late last year to bring down the Mir in a controlled descent, which has been tentatively scheduled for mid-March.

The decision brought praise from Moscow’s partners in the International Space Station, which want the government to devote its scarce resources for space research to the new station. Many were also relieved that the increasingly accident-prone Mir would end its orbit.

But the decision provoked anger among some cosmonauts and others who argue that the Mir has not outlived its usefulness, and among nationalists who see the space station as a national treasure.

``There’s no point in dumping Mir before the International Space Station is open for scientific work,″ said Vladimir Bryukhanov, an engineer at the Moscow Institute for Space Instrument Design, at the protest Tuesday.

Nobody from the agency came out of the building during the demonstration.

The 140-ton space station was the jewel of the Soviet space program when it was launched on Feb. 20, 1986, and it has far surpassed the three to five years it was expected to last. But as it aged, it suffered a long string of accidents, including a fire in February 1997 and a near fatal collision with an unmanned cargo ship just four months later.

According to current plans, the Mir will be directed to a stretch of the South Pacific about equidistant between Australia and Chile in mid-March. The exact date will depend on solar activity.

Some 1,500 fragments of the station are expected to survive the fiery re-entry and fall over an ocean area 120 miles wide by 3,600 miles long.

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