Ringing In the New Mir

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MOSCOW: Break out the $40 billion champagne: At 1:40 a.m. EST, the foundering Russian Space Agency launched Zarya, the inaugural module of the International Space Station. Despite the Russians' history of delays and cost overruns on this critical part of the project, TIME space correspondent Jeffrey Kluger says at least this part is routine. "For all their problems, the Russians have rarely had trouble getting something into orbit." The RSA is nevertheless swallowing hard, for the long-awaited kickoff of the ISS is probably the end of their beloved orbiting jalopy, the Mir.

"The Americans have just about had it with the Russians' reluctance to deorbit Mir," says Kluger. Enough of Washington's dollars have already gone to prop up the ISS project; NASA isn't about to watch more of them get flushed down Mir's maintenance sinkhole. After a lot of screaming, says Kluger, the Russians have promised to tie Mir to the proverbial tree in 1999 -- but don't be surprised if they have trouble pulling the trigger when the time comes. "The RSA," says Kluger, "has a history of rescheduling their deadlines." For now, they've at least made one.