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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Next Crew May Be Mir's Last Before Station Is Sent to Scrap

The next mission to Russia's Mir space station may be its last, and the aging outpost may finally come down in August, the crew commander said Friday.

Viktor Afanasyev, 50, a Mir veteran who spent a total of 357 days on two previous stints, still hopes he won't be the one to bid farewell to the beloved Mir, the pride of Russia's space program for 13 years.

"We hope that we will have a replacement,'' he said at a news conference at Star City, the cosmonauts' training center north of Moscow.

Afanasyev, who will command Mir's next crew, will blast off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Feb. 20 with French astronaut Jean-Pierre Heignere and Slovak Ivan Bella.

After an eight-day flight, Bella will return to Earth with Mir's current commander, Gennady Padalka. Padalka's crew mate, Sergei Avdeyev, will stay aboard with Afanasyev and Heignere through Aug. 23.

If there is no money to send a replacement crew, a cargo ship attached to the station will fire its engines on a signal from Mission Control to send Mir plummeting into the ocean five days after Afanasyev's crew leaves.

NASA has long urged Russia to forego Mir and commit its meager resources to the International Space Station, a 16-nation project that is a year behind schedule because of Russia's failure to build a key segment on time.

The government had planned to discard Mir in June, but Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov issued an order last month allowing its lifetime to be extended for three years - as long as the government doesn't have to pay for it.

The Energiya space rocket manufacturer, which built and runs the 13-year old Mir station, claimed it had found a private sponsor willing to pay for keeping the station in orbit.

But Russian Space Agency chief Yury Koptev said Thursday that the mysterious investor so far had failed to come up with money.