DATE=4/6/2000 TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT TITLE=RUSSIA/MIR NUMBER=5-46088 BYLINE=EVE CONANT DATELINE=MISSION CONTROL, OUTSIDE MOSCOW CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: Two cosmonauts have successfully docked their spacecraft and entered Russia's space station MIR -- beginning the first privately funded space mission. Russian space officials had been preparing to abandon MIR, but foreign investment has given the 14-year old station another chance. V-O-A Moscow Correspondent Eve Conant explains how a combination of Russian technology and international funding could create the world's -- or the universe's -- first tourist attraction in space. TEXT: Russian space experts and MIR's new investors looked on with excitement as they gathered in the crowded hall of Mission Control to watch television pictures of two Russian cosmonauts opening the hatches of MIR and beginning the first privately funded space mission. /// SOUNDS OF MISSION CONTROL AND DOCKING /// Their job is to bring the MIR back to life. The aging spacecraft had been orbiting unmanned since August and was destined to suffer a dramatic end. Within a few months time, the plan was to de-orbit MIR and let it burn up in earth's atmosphere. Any leftover parts that survived the blaze would fall and disappear into remote ocean waters. But even as the spacecraft was slowly descending, Russian space officials hunted for cash to keep their pride and joy up and running. The cash did come -- in the form of an investment of tens of millions of dollars from the Amsterdam-based MIRCorp. Though based in Amsterdam, MIRCorp is a combination of Russia's Energia firm, which handles the MIR, and private investment from abroad -- mostly from the United States. The Russian government retains ownership of MIR and Russian cosmonauts will carry out scientific experiments on the station. But the foreign investors have other plans for MIR, including creating the first space Internet portal and tourist attraction. Their Internet website describes MIR as a potential "vacation spot of a lifetime" with "unmatched views of the Earth and the heavens." Each page of their website begins with inspirational phrases such as the proverb "a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." One of MIRCorps two top investors -- Internet entrepreneur Chirinjeev Kathuria (A-chur-IN-jeev Ka- TUR-iaya) -- spoke with V-O-A the night before the docking. He says investors, including himself, were skeptical about the plan at first, but quickly realized MIR could be a money-maker. /// KATHURIA ACT /// We will eventually be marketing MIR as a consumer product. We will be sending up what we call citizen explorers or space tourists up to space starting as early as September. We will probably also be having a game show. It will something like, maybe "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" -- you know -- "Who Wants to go to Outer Space" or something more tasteful. We'll do this for educational purposes. And maybe the winner would get to go to space. We're talking to all the three major (U-S television) networks. /// END ACT /// /// OPT /// Aside from tourism, the investors have ecology in mind as well. One of the scientific experiments scheduled for this trip is to study an organism that can eat oil in the event of a major oil spill. Most important, say the investors, no military research will be allowed aboard the MIR -- which in Russian means "peace." /// OPT /// MIRCorp's President, American Jeffrey Manber, was at Mission Control to watch the live docking. /// OPT // MANBER ACT /// I'm feeling ecstatic. I'm feeling this is the start of a new era in space commercialization. I feel that our colleagues in Moscow have shown what they can do technically. They can operate the world's only space station -- there's no doubt about it. And with us providing some cash flow, getting some money to the MIR, we believe that when they open the hatch today it's the start of a new era. With the MIR, with the adequate funds, will be the world's greatest space station, our only home in space, and we're delighted to play a role in that. /// END ACT // END OPT /// The head of International Space Programs for Russia's Energia company, Alexander Derechin, says of course there was disappointment that Russia could not independently afford MIR, but he welcomed the foreign investment. /// DERECHIN ACT /// MIR station is real international station. It's not only Russian pride, it's real Russian pride but not only, this pride for mankind. If investors can invest money in MIR station this is good not only for us, I believe its good for everybody. /// END ACT /// /// OPT /// A Canadian who serves as senior vice president of the MIRCorp, Andrew Eddy, watched the screen at Mission Control as the two cosmonauts docked their Soyuz shuttle with MIR. /// OPT // EDDY ACT /// This is the first time that a commercial company has sponsored a manned space mission. Up until now the area of manned flight has been reserved to governments. Today, the world of commercial space is changing. That's exciting. When they open that door, those cosmonauts are going in as representatives of MIRCorp, representatives of the commercial space world. /// END ACT // END OPT /// A representative of the U-S space agency, NASA, Michael Baker, says the U-S investors might be happy, but the U-S space agency has other concerns. /// BAKER ACT /// NASA realizes that this is a sovereign country with a sovereign space program. We have no problems with that whatsoever. The only thing we are concerned about is that our Russian partners meet their commitments to the International Space Station. /// END ACT /// Russia is already behind in supplying parts to the international space station and has blamed insufficient funding for the delay. But MIRCorp is not paying attention to the naysayers. After the successful docking, the company announced it was preparing to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for further space missions and that additional funds were already coming in. But there are differing opinions on just how long MIR can survive. Some space experts estimate MIR can last only another two or three years. But others say that with the proper renovations, and with the proper amount of cash, MIR -- as research center, Internet portal, and tourist attraction -- can stay in orbit indefinitely. (Signed) NEB/EC/JWH/KL 06-Apr-2000 11:13 AM EDT (06-Apr-2000 1513 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .