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Russia Seeks To Ease Mir Fears

It's not the sky that's falling. It's Russia's 140-ton Mir space station. The Russian Foreign Ministry is trying to ease international fears that Mir will crash on land when it comes tumbling back to Earth.

The ailing, 15-year-old orbiter is scheduled to be safely dumped in a remote area of the South Pacific in March to avoid any damage, the ministry said in a statement on Friday. It said Mir, whose name means "Peace" in Russian, will come down in pieces about halfway between Australia and Chile.

"Most of the station's elements will burn up in the atmosphere, but some fragments will reach the Earth's surface," the foreign ministry statement said. "There are no radioactive, biological, chemical and other dangerous materials on board the station."

Space officials have tentatively scheduled Mir's descent for March 6, but said the date may change depending on the station's orbit.

Russia's intentions to dump the station have drawn concern that fragments could hit populated areas. Japanese Foreign Minister Yohei Kono asked the Russian leadership to provide detailed information about the plans to bring Mir down, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.

President Vladimir Putin has ordered space officials to avoid any "environmental and other consequences" while dumping Mir.

A Progress cargo ship blasted off for the station Wednesday as part of preparations to discard the station. It is set to dock with Mir on Saturday and will eventually push Mir out of orbit and toward the target zone on Earth.

Mission Control spokesman Valery Lyndin said that Progress would dock with Mir using the automatic docking system, despite two power losses on the Mir in recent weeks that prompted fears that they would need to link the Progress manually.

If anything goes awry, Russian Mission Control will send an emergency crew to dock with Mir and direct Progress to the station. The crew would leave before Mir is brought down.

Russia says Mir must be dumped because it's no longer safe and would cost too much to fix. Its working life, five times longer than planned, has been plagued in recent years by a series of accidents. These have included an almost-catastrophic collision with a cargo vessel, an onboard fire and several computer failures.

Moscow is now focusing its limited financial resources for space exploration on the $60 billion International Space Station, a 16-nation venture which will build on Mir's legacy.

But the decision to destroy Mir has angered many cosmonauts, space officials and politicians who deplored the loss of the last remaining symbol of Soviet space glory.

Viacom Internet Services Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press and Reuters Limited contributed to this report

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