Tim Furniss/LONDON

The launch of a Soyuz TM spacecraft from Baikonur, with the first cosmonaut crew to man the Mir space station since it was mothballed last year, will take place on 3 April.

The pressurised environment on the Mir has been checked automatically and the launch given the all-clear.

Flight commander Sergei Zaletin and flight engineer Alexander Kaleri may be joined on the 45-day mission by a Russian actor, Vladimir Steklov, if financial terms with the MirCorp company can be finalised.

Steklov has passed his flight medicals, but his flight is still in doubt because of payment delays.

Despite interest created by the recent agreement by MirCorp with RSC Energia to commercialise the Mir, however, no firm offers have been made to use the station, reports Valeri Korzun, head of the cosmonaut corps based at Star City.

MirCorp is reported to have organised foreign funding for a tether experiment to be conducted at the Mir. A Progress M1 tanker will deliver a cable unit to the Mir in May and cosmonauts Zaletin and Kaleri will install the two-part, 2km (1.2 mile)-long reeled dielectric cable and 6km-long conductor on the outside of the Mir's Kvant module.

A redundant manned manoeuvring unit, last used by a spacewalking cosmonaut in 1990, will be attached to the cable network. The unit will be released, pulling the 6km cable out to its full length and using the attached dielectric cable to create an electric current of about 2kW. The electric current could be used for moving the space station.

Russian acting president Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, says measures will be taken to preserve the Mir. The need to support further operations on the orbiting space base are "convincing", Putin says.

"Space exploration is not simply a matter of prestige and a show of the country's might. It is a fundamental area of economics and science," he says.

Putin adds that Russia would "abide by its commitments to the International Space Station". Russia also says that it is prepared to assist China in the creation of its own space station, but Putin denies that it made approaches to that country, offering the Mir orbital space base.

Source: Flight International