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Mir May Start Falling To Earth

A top Russian space official says the Mir space station could come crashing to Earth unless a supply ship is soon launched. CBS News Correspondent David Hawkins reports.

Russia plans to abandon the aging Mir in August. But they need to launch one last supply ship before next week to prepare Mir for unmanned flight. However, the former Soviet republic Kazakhstan banned all Russian flights last week following a rocket malfunction.

That includes a launch scheduled for Wednesday that is supposed to bring new supplies to the space station, including oxygen.

Last week, an unmanned Russian rocket exploded shortly after liftoff and littered parts of Kazakhstan with hazardous debris and threatened to shut down all launches until further notice.

Russian space officials say they're trying to make Kazakstan understand the problem - if the Mir isn't ready for unmanned flight, the 140-ton station will become uncontrollable and could fall to Earth.

It couldn't come at a worse time.

If the cosmonauts can't fix the leaky hatch and can't be resupplied, they'll have to abandon Mir sooner than planned. The current three-man crew is to be the last. They're scheduled to leave the space station in August.

Then, sometime early next year, the Russians plan to let Mir drop out of orbit.

But there's still a lot of work to be done to prepare Mir for a safe, controlled fall from space, so it could be a problem if the crew has to abandon ship early.

Getting them back to Earth in one piece is one thing, making sure that pieces of Mir don't come crashing down is another.

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