Crew poised for return to Mir on Tuesday
File image of a Soyuz liftoff
MOSCOW (CNN) -- Two Russian cosmonauts were set to blast off Tuesday morning on a mission to breathe new life into the Mir space station, which has orbited the Earth unmanned since August. It will be the first mission to Mir funded by private investment.
Commander Sergei Zalyotin and flight engineer Alexander Kaleri were scheduled to lift off at 9.01 a.m. (0501 GMT) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Their Soyuz spacecraft was to dock with Mir on Thursday morning.
Netherlands-based MirCorp is funding what will be the first piloted space mission financed by a private entity.
The company hopes to turn a profit operating the 14-year-old orbiting outpost. MirCorp said it is discussions with several corporations interested in advertising deals and scientists interested in flying experiments. Company officials also said they are in active talks with a potential space tourist who would pay a travel fare of roughly $15 million.
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MirCorp plans to keep the two cosmonauts on board for at least 45 days to investigate the station and assess any need for repairs.
If MirCorp cannot raise adequate funding or interest during the mission, the pair could be the last crew to live aboard the space station.
The space station has been empty since it was placed on autopilot seven months ago.
Russia, determined to pursue an independent space program, decided to go ahead with a new mission after getting $20 million from international investors.
Mir, plagued by accidents in recent years, was to have been scrapped this year. The plan was to send it plunging toward Earth so that it burned up in the atmosphere.
Last month a Progress M1-1 supply ship docked with Mir and resupplied the station with fuel and water.
The task for Zalyotin and Kalyeri is to spruce up the station for possible future crews. Zalyotin said the mission could be extended if more funds became available.
He said one of their jobs was to find the reason for a pressure drop in the station and to fix it.
"The plan is for us to stay for 45 days because we have enough funds for that," Zalyotin said. "But if additional means are found, we may stay until August when we shall be replaced by another crew."
He said that if more funds were not forthcoming, he and Kalyeri would again put Mir on autopilot.
Zalyotin said he and Kalyeri would follow an old Baikonur tradition by watching the classic Russian film "Beloye Solntse Pustinny" (White Sun of the Desert) on the eve of their flight.
Correspondent Miles O'Brien and Reuters contributed to this report.
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