They Shoot Space Stations, Don't They?

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida: TIME's Jeffery Kluger reports that NASA's public "wait and see" stance on the crumbling Mir station is pure diplomacy. "Privately, NASA’s patience is nearly exhausted," he says. Commenting on Washington talk that the over-aged Mir is unsafe for America's boys, Kluger adds: "I would be very surprised if we ever see another U.S. astronaut on Mir." To be fair, today's collision with a supply ship, which occurred when a docking maneuver went awry, "is more a symptom of the deteriorated state of the Russian space program than of Mir itself," he says. "The supply ship's guidance systems may have been faulty, but this would have happened even if Mir were brand new." Kluger expects that when astronaut Michael Foale's stay ends, the U.S. will find a discreet way to retire its participation in the program, then quietly arrange a replenishment of the $400 million Russia now collects for each joint Mir mission. "It is, after all, in our best interests to keep the Russian scientists employed," says Kluger, "and out of the Iranian arms trade."