Space: July 31, 1999

SPACE STATION MIR: Russia plans to abandon the Mir space station in August but will not send it on its fatal plunge into the ocean until next year. This has led to a real risk that the balky stabilizer system will fail when there are no humans to repair it, sending the station into an uncontrolled descent at an unplanned time. The chances of hitting anything significant or causing casualties on the ground are about the same as winning the PowerBall lottery, but the statistical probability is not zero, and the fear of such a mishap will further embarrass the bankrupt Russians. Meanwhile, the US Congress is asking why the Russians (who are woefully behind in their contributions to the new International Space Station) are still able to claim two of the three positions on the first permanent crew. --Steven V Cole

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