Mir Station Turns Ten

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MIR SPACE STATION, (HEO) HIGH EARTH ORBIT: The Mir orbital complex passed its tenth year in orbit today, focusing attention on the venerable Russian space station and the ailing Russian space program itself. Since the Russians are, along with the U.S., major players in the Alpha international space station project, the health of Russia's space program immediately affects NASA's budget and operations. Last month the Russian Space Agency tried to back out of a contract with NASA asking for another $200 million, and offering Mir instead of Alpha components, citing lack of funds. The Mir itself is ailing, for example electrical power problems are common, and food shortages have developed as the RSA runs out of cash for Progress re-supply rockets. On the bright side, the cash-poor Russian space program is still the world's most powerful and versatile, with a first class base of technical know-how and a corps of dedicated personnel. The money from NASA and other foreign contractors is keeping the RSA alive, but a serious crisis lies ahead if the situation does not improve. The fact that the Russians have recently executed a number of complicated spacefaring operations demonstrates the high quality of their system, but their good record won't last much longer under such terrible strain.