Cosmonauts protest against spacecraft Mir's planned Earth dumping

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The Independent Online

On the 15th anniversary of the Mir space station, once the symbol of Russia's space glory, cosmonauts, scientists and hard-line politicians called protests today against the spacecraft's planned dumping next month.

On the 15th anniversary of the Mir space station, once the symbol of Russia's space glory, cosmonauts, scientists and hard-line politicians called protests today against the spacecraft's planned dumping next month.

The government reluctantly decided 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. Earlier this month, a group of former cosmonauts published an open letter to President Vladimir Putin urging him to revise the "anti-Russian decision" to dump the Mir.

The Mir was the jewel of the Soviet space program when it was launched on February 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.

"The Mir has lived a wonderful life and must end it in a graceful way," Russian Space Agency chief Yuri Koptev told reporters yesterday on the eve of the anniversary. "We must discard it while we are still capable of controlling it, not turn its descent into roulette that threatens the entire global community."

Koptev said that the Mir would 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 by 3,600 miles, Koptev said.

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