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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Scrambles to Find Funds for Space Station

KOROLYOV, Central Russia -- Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov said on Friday that Russia would meet its commitments to the new International Space Station despite financing woes but would have to resort to some creative ways to raise funds.

"It's a very, very expensive program but nonetheless we consider Russian participation in the program absolutely necessary," he said at a news conference at mission control outside Moscow.

The new station, bringing together Russia, the United States, Europe, Canada and Japan, is already more than a year behind schedule because of Russian delays due to cash shortages.

The first of many modules is scheduled for launch in November, with the first crew going up next July.

"We have actively worked on finding money that does not come from the Russian Federation budget to finance the space program," said Nemtsov, whose responsibilities include overseeing space-related activities.

The fund-raising ideas include auctioning off licenses for satellite communications and selling off space agency assets such as little-used buildings and plots of land.

"To keep to our schedule on the International Space Station, especially the service module, and continue flying the Mir space station, we need to find another 1.2 billion to 1.3 billion rubles (about $200 million)," said Yury Koptev, head of the Russian Space Agency.

The service module is the living quarters for the initial crews and any further Russian delays on its construction will set back the entire station.

Koptev said he expected to see the first cash from the new money-raising ideas later this month.

A NASA official said Friday the United States was also exploring options to help Russia finance its new station obligations, such as paying for a Soyuz escape capsule.

But Nemtsov said Russia would complete the service module with its own resources.

"By the rules, we should independently finance the service module and we will do this," he said.

During his visit to mission control, Nemtsov also spoke to the two-man crew aboard Russia's 12-year-old Mir space station, which is scheduled for retirement next June.

Commander Talgat Musabayev lobbied the deputy prime minister to keep Mir flying even longer. At one point, he held up a sheet of paper to the video camera that he said was an appeal from American scientists to keep Mir in orbit. "They are disturbed that preparations are under way to bring down the world's only manned station," he said.

Mir collided with a cargo resupply ship last summer in a near-fatal accident, sparking predictions of its retirement.

But months of repairs afterwards have restored most of its functions, although one module is still sealed off from the rest of the station. The next Mir crew, including a former top defense adviser to President Boris Yeltsin, is scheduled to depart for Mir next week.

"The station is now in wonderful condition," flight engineer Nikolai Budarin told Nemtsov.

Sergei Gorbunov, a spokesman for the Russian Space Agency, later said some officials wanted to see Mir celebrate its 15th birthday in space and were pressing for a stay of execution.