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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Official: Scrap Mir Before It's Too Late

In the latest sign that Russia is moving toward abandoning Mir, the country's top space official said the orbiter should be scrapped as planned next year before a serious accident occurs.

Yury Koptev, the general director of the Russian Space Agency, told a news conference Wednesday that Russia should bring down Mir while the station's reputation remains intact.

"It's better to bring the station down to the bed of the Pacific Ocean with honor rather than prolong its service life until serious troubles occur that will mar the history of this unique example of Russian space engineering,'' Koptev said, according to Interfax.

"Russian roulette in outer space is inadmissible,'' he added.

The 13-year-old Mir has suffered several near disasters, including a fire and a collision in 1997, but has been largely trouble-free since then. Koptev said Russia has overshot its budget several times paying for Mir, and must dedicate its limited resources to the 16-nation International Space Station now that Mir has completed all its planned tasks.

Russian officials are reluctant to part with Mir, the last remaining symbol of Russian space glory, and have said Mir could stay in orbit for several more years if only money can be found to pay its annual $250 million operating costs.

The government has said it will discard the station next year unless the money can be raised from nongovernmental sources. Several attempts by Russian space agencies to find the funds have failed.

The current three-man crew is scheduled to return to Earth in August, and no replacement team will be sent unless funding can be found.

Once Mir is unmanned, Russian space officials plan to gradually bring down the station's orbit over a course of several months. They will eventually direct it toward a remote part of the Pacific Ocean, though most of the station should burn up on re-entry into Earth's atmosphere.

The U.S. space agency NASA wants Russia to get rid of Mir to help keep construction of the International Space Station on track. Russia's failure to build a key segment on time has contributed to delays that have the International Space Station running almost two years behind schedule.

Koptev said that the other 15 countries participating in the new space station told him that the project could be threatened if Russia doesn't meet its commitments.

Comments by several officials in recent weeks have indicated that the government is growing resigned to the station's likely demise. Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov said Wednesday that Russia can't afford Mir and should abandon it.