Americans dream of sinking Russian Mir.

Captain of a crew of the space station is sure that 13 years for it is not an age.

On Saturday an international expedition consisting of Russian Viktor Afanasiev, French Jean-Pierre Eniere and Slovak Ivan Bella set off from launching pad Baikonur to the space station Mir. This expedition is not quite usual. It can so happen that it will be the last one on Mir. It is rumored that the station will be sunk in the Pacific Ocean even this year. Correspondent of Segodnya newspaper Tatiana Rubleva talked to Victor Afanasiev, the last captain of the Mir's crew.

- Victor Mihailovich, is it possible to live on the station now? Or only to survive?

- It is absolutely possible to live and work on the station. The station is set in order. Only the sweating block is pinging a little. But we can live with it. Of course, when there were series of breakdowns on the Mir, it caused a certain tension. We were tired.

- How do our and foreign cosmonauts behave in the emergency situations?

- Very different. Ours are more patient. The foreigners react even to that at what we hardly pay attention. Many breakdowns, except fire and depressurization, do not require the urgent measures at all. If something serious happened, they most likely would leave the station at once. Our cosmonauts save the station, equipment, recover it.

- As a captain of maybe the last crew of the station Mir, what do you think about the planned sinking of the station?

- Designed timeframe for the station work is 15 years. This year the 13th is expiring. There are no obstacles to the further exploitation of the station. It is a matter of existence of Russian piloted cosmonautics. And what about the huge experience in carrying out the scientific researches gained on the station? Mir is the working laboratory. The International Space Station (ISS) will begin working not very soon. Now the plans of its launching are considered ideally, without taking into consideration possible technical failures. No one is safe from it.

- What about the financial aspect? It is difficult for budget to support two orbital stations, isn't it?

- From the financial point of view Mir attracts the real means by the international projects, and not a little. Meanwhile the ISS will be just an item of expenditure for a long time. I am sure that if Mir is working further, then many countries will stay with us. Mir is already in orbit and it should be exploited till the international station launches its work if only for three-quarter.

- Is it true that USA are interested in sinking of Mir?

- Of course! We proposed to launch the ISS by using Mir, gradually building up the new station. When it is ready for the original work, undock it from the Mir. USA refused this reasonable and cheaper project due to only political reasons. The Association of the space flights participants raised a question about the preservation of the Mir. No one American astronaut signed it! In spite of the fact that we had very interesting projects. One of them is to wait for the moment when both station - ISS and Mir- will be in orbit, dock American Shuttle to the Mir, take all new equipment, which remained there: Russian, French, American, and to transfer it to the ISS. I think that the Mir should be remained in orbit. There are more advantages in it than drawbacks.

Victor Afanasiev, the 70th Russian cosmonaut, Hero of the Soviet Union was born in 1948 in Bryansk. He became trained as a cosmonaut in 1977 in Yuri Gagarin CPK. On January 8 of 1988 he was took into the cosmonauts' detachment. He was carrying out his first flight from December 2 of 1990 till May 26 of 1991 as a captain of a spacecraft Soyuz TM-2 and orbital complex Mir. His second flight was from January 8 till July 9 of 1994. It was 15th main expedition on the station Mir. At leisure Victor Afanasiev likes driving his car, playing soccer and collects badges.

T.Rubleva, Segodnya (Today), February 22, 1999.