Tim Furniss/LONDON

Russia is considering extending the life of the Mir space station into 2000 if the International Space Station (ISS) programme is delayed significantly, according to Mir deputy flight director Yuri Blagov.

The move comes as relations between Russia and the USA over delays to the ISS programme continue to deteriorate after remarks by Daniel Goldin, NASA's administrator, that he "regretted" the decision to allow Russia to build the Service Module, an essential part of the ISS and one being blamed for programme delays.

Blagov may postpone the proposed reduction of the Mir 1's orbit towards its eventual demise over an uninhabited part of one of the world's oceans in late 1999 . If the ISS is delayed, "-Mir will continue to fly", he says.

Russia is already awaiting a reply to a recent request for two further Shuttle Mir Missions to provide logistic support to assist Mir operations through 1999. Officially, the final SMM, STS 91/Discovery, is scheduled for launch on 2 June (Flight International, 6-12 May).

NASA claims the prime reason for the delay to the ISS assembly schedule, the start of which is likely to be switched from June to either October or November, is Russia's inability to get the Service Module, the third major ISS component, ready for flight.

The December launch of the Russian module is likely to be delayed until at least March 1999. In retaliation, Moscow is pointing an accusing finger at the USA for the serious delays experienced on its Node 1, called the Unity, which is due to be docked to the Russian Control Module, the first element to be launched. There are also delays to the US Laboratory Module, which will be added after the Service Module.

The US agency is now planning to ditch the Service Module and replace it with two hastily built US Interim Control Modules. The environmental control and life support systems functions of the Russian-built equipment is being transferred to the US Laboratory Module.

The increasing tension between the two sides is leading to speculation that if Russia's part in the ISS is reduced significantly, the country could pull out of the ISS programme and in its own time prepare the Service Module as the basis of the originally planned Mir 2 space station.

Daniel Goldin, NASA's administrator, under pressure from Congress over mounting costs of the ISS, is now expected to report to Capitol Hill on 15 June on the latest ISS cost and assembly schedule.

Source: Flight International