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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cash Crisis May Force Avdeyev to Stay on Mir

Cosmonaut Sergei Avdeyev may spend a further 99 days aboard the Mir space station instead of returning to Earth next month as scheduled after half a year in orbit, space officials said Tuesday.

"Extending his stay would be the right thing to do - he's a good, experienced engineer," Viktor Blagov, deputy flight director at mission control outside Moscow, said in an interview. "We will propose this extension but no official decision has been taken yet."

Financial reasons appear to be a key reason why cash-strapped Russia is considering keeping Avdeyev aloft until June.

The tiny capsule that ferries up cosmonauts can accommodate only three and Russia is expected to launch two paying foreigners, Frenchman Jean-Pierre Haignere and a Slovak, as well as Russian commander Viktor Afanasyev, on Feb. 20.

The cost of sending up cosmonauts and supplies accounts for most of the $250 million a year it takes to keep aloft the 12-year-old, seven-module station, which collided with a cargo resupply ship in 1997 in a near-fatal accident.

Avdeyev, who flew previously on Mir in 1992-93 and 1995-96, last week set a record by spending his third New Year's in orbit and celebrated with a taste of brandy from a plastic bag.

"We have prepared the cosmonauts for all possibilities, even if it be a two- or three-year mission or for just a six-month mission," said Yury Glaskov, a former cosmonaut now deputy head of the Star City training center outside Moscow.

If his mission were extended by three months, Avdeyev would still fall short of the space endurance record, which Valery Polyakov set with more than 438 days aboard Mir in 1994-95.

Last summer the government announced it would retire Mir in June to focus its very limited financial resources on its commitments to the new International Space Station. Russian delays have kept the $60 billion station more than a year behind schedule.

But in recent months, Russian space officials have mounted an intense lobbying campaign to keep the station, the last remaining jewel in the once great Soviet space program, in orbit for several more years.

Asked how long Mir would continue to fly, Blagov said: "God alone knows. We want to keep flying but there is still no money. But as the Russian saying goes, hope is the last thing to die."