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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russian Cargo Ship Blasts Off To Guide Mir To Earth

BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan - A Russian cargo vessel has blasted off from Kazakhstan for the Mir space station to guide the doomed orbiter back to Earth to be safely ditched in the Pacific Ocean, Mission Control said Wednesday.

"The rocket blasted off on time at 7:28 a.m. and everything is going normally," a spokeswoman said by telephone from Mission Control outside Moscow.

At 7:40 a.m she said: "The rocket is in orbit and all systems are working well. It is due to dock with Mir on Jan. 27 at 8:30 a.m."

Russia's plans to ditch Mir in March hit a snag last week when ground control postponed the current cargo ship flight after a sudden power failure knocked out Mir's navigation system, making docking impossible.

Yuri Semyonov, head of Russian rocket-builder Energiya which owns Mir, told reporters after the launch at Baikonur in Kazakhstan that the station's designers intended to use Mir's engines to align it during docking rather than the gyroscopes that ground to a halt last week.

But Semyonov said the recent glitches showed Mir was a station reluctant to die.

"As for Mir, everything has been prepared for docking, although the station is resisting," Semyonov said, referring to last week's sudden shut-down of the main computer.

"I want this to be the final mission to Mir. We should do everything possible to ensure a safe descent of Mir."

The Progress craft is ferrying more than 2.5 tonnes of fuel to Mir. Earthbound engineers will use the craft to nudge Mir out of orbit late next month and start its descent.



SAFETY CONCERNS PERSIST

The Progress vessel is also carrying extra oxygen supplies in case an emergency crew has to be dispatched from Earth to prepare the station manually for its demise, space officials have said.

Corrosion and age have taken the shine off the jewel in Russia's space crown and made Mir a safety hazard, a series of technical glitches bedevilling preparations for its descent and sparking fears of an uncontrolled re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere.

In December a power outage cut all links between Mir and ground control, the worst communications breakdown in its 15-year history.

Although contact was restored after 24 hours, unnerved space chiefs later admitted that they feared at one stage they would never regain control of the 130-tonne craft.

If all goes to plan most of Mir will burn up on re-entry, the remainder falling into the Pacific Ocean some 1,500-2,000 km off Australia.

Mir's space marathon began on Feb. 20, 1986, and the craft set a host of endurance records, but in recent years its aura has been tarnished by a string of mishaps, including an almost catastrophic collision with a cargo vessel, an onboard fire and a string of main computer failures.

When a private consortium failed to find enough cash to keep Mir aloft, the government signed its death warrant, heralding the end of a piece of space history.

Moscow will now focus its limited financial resources for space exploration on the $60 billion International Space Station (ISS), a 16-nation venture which will build on Mir's legacy.