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Financial Squeeze Cuts Mir Program

March 16, 1999

MOSCOW (AP) _ The crew aboard Russia’s orbiting Mir space station will have to cancel at least two spacewalks because of the country’s financial problems, an official said Tuesday.

Mir’s Russian commander, Viktor Afanasyev, and French astronaut Jean-Pierre Heignere still plan to complete two other spacewalks to install and retrieve scientific equipment, deputy mission commander Viktor Blagov told the ITAR-Tass news agency.

The canceled spacewalks are the latest blow to Russia’s cash-strapped space agency, which might have to abandon the station as early as August because there isn’t enough money to keep running it. If so, the present crew, which also includes cosmonaut Sergei Avdeyev, may be the last to man the 13-year-old station.

More than 100 people have visited the Mir in 27 missions.

Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov said last month that Mir could stay in orbit for three more years if private investors are found to pay its $250 million operating expenses. But no one has yet offered the money.

The U.S. space agency wants the Russians to abandon the Mir so Moscow can spend its limited resources on building the new International Space Station, a huge project involving 16 countries, led by the United States and Russia.

If no money is found for the Mir, Mission Control in Moscow is expected to send it crashing into the ocean several days after the crew leaves.

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