Space: The Final Arrears

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Russia's ahead in the space race again. The world's first space-bound bureaucrat -- Yuri Baturin, a former security adviser to Boris Yeltsin -- blasted off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan Thursday, heading for a two-week stay aboard Mir. NASA, of course, has sent lawmakers into orbit; Senator Jake Garn took a junket on the Space Shuttle back before the Challenger disaster, and John Glenn heads off in the fall. But never has America put a presidential aide in space. Can this one fly? "We can teach anyone to become a cosmonaut as long as he's not an idiot," said Mir's deputy flight director Viktor Blagov. So that's okay, then.

While he's up there, perhaps Baturin can help solve Mir's acute financial crisis. He'll not be unaware of the need -- his own flight was postponed 10 days because the space agency couldn't pay its electricity bills. The entire Mir program, in fact, is in debt to the tune of $600 million. But for Baturin, whose earthbound job involved figuring out how to pay wages to the starving Russian military, that's a relatively minor cash-flow problem.