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DATE=1/20/2000 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=RUSSIA / SPACE (L-ONLY) NUMBER=2-258257 BYLINE=EVE CONANT DATELINE=MOSCOW CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: Russian space officials have announced that the aging space station MIR will continue operating through August and several flights are already planned. The 14-year old station has been empty and partially shut down for months. The head of Russia's space agency says private funding has been found to keep MIR in orbit and says two cosmonauts are due to fly on MIR's next mission tentatively set for March 30th. V-O-A Moscow correspondent Eve Conant spoke with space officials and with a Russian movie actor who is in training to become the third member of MIR's next crew. TEXT: A few months ago it seemed MIR's fate had been decided - the pride and joy of Russia's destitute space agency would be abandoned and programmed to crash into the Pacific Ocean. But space officials say private funding has given their beloved station a second chance. /// OPT /// One source of funding is Walt Anderson, a U-S venture capitalist who has donated millions to the station, hoping to transform it into a business park and vacation resort. He has already donated seven million dollars and promises there is more to come. /// END OPT /// Space officials say the new mission will use hardware originally destined for the Alpha international space station - the project the United States wants Russia to focus its energy and finances on instead of MIR. Space agency spokesman Sergey Gorbunov hands out little calendars to guests with a picture of the MIR titled, "Will we still fly?" He says the tens of thousands of specialists who have worked on MIR find it difficult to part with their creation. /// ACT GORBUNOV IN RUSSIAN IN FULL AND FADE UNDER /// "Everyone wants this station to fly," he says. "It is like a badge of honor for Russia. Unfortunately it's a very expensive one." The MIR has yet another function. It is a much desired set for movies about space. A Russian movie director is hoping to film an epic story on MIR with the working title "Final Voyage." The movie's star actor, Vladimir Steklov, says the story line - which more and more seems to be mirroring the MIR's real life, is about a Russian cosmonaut who is sent up to space, but then refuses to come back down. /// ACT STEKLOV IN RUSSIAN IN FULL AND FADE UNDER /// "I don't want to spoil the plot," he says. "But I play a cosmonaut who refuses to leave the MIR and instead makes an address to humanity from space." He says, "My lines are: `We need to stop and realize who we are, where we come from, why we exist and what we are doing to our common home- the earth.'" /// OPT /// The actor, a short , muscular man in his forties with chestnut hair, explains this as he puts on makeup backstage at Moscow's Estrada Theatre. This night he is not dressed as a cosmonaut. Instead, he will play a Frenchman whose costume consists of a yellow pastel sweater, loafers and brand new jeans - a Westerner whose feet are firmly planted on the stage. ///END OPT/// Mr. Steklov has not yet received the final approval to fly but has been undergoing cosmonaut training outside Moscow at Star City. He says he is in good shape and flexes his muscles, several times, to prove it. Mr. Steklov, who usually stars in Russian action-dramas, says acting in zero-gravity will be just another actor's challenge. /// SECOND ACT STEKLOV IN RUSSIAN IN FULL AND FADE UNDER /// He says, "I've done it all - I've drowned, I've been on fire." But he admits some of the cosmonaut training he has undergone has been tough. ///THIRD ACT STEKLOV IN RUSSIAN IN FULL AND FADE UNDER/// He says, "In one experiment they sit you in a chair and then it starts spinning around. After about ten minutes of spinning it feels like your brain is falling out of your head." The plan is for the two actual cosmonauts - Sergey Zaletin and Alexander Kareli - to film the scenes with the director calling the shots from Mission Control. Officials from Russia's space agency say they are awaiting word on financing, but that Mr. Steklov has started intensified training for the 45-day mission. Space agency spokesman Gorbunov says despite the actor's confidence, he is skeptical Mr. Steklov can get prepared in time. ///SECOND ACT GORBUNOV IN RUSSIAN IN FULL AND FADE UNDER/// "He needs to be training morning to night," he says. "You need to know what to touch and what is prohibited. Life is different in space - you wash yourself differently, you shave differently. You just try drinking a glass of water upside down with a giant water bubble coming out of the glass." For now, MIR is orbiting in space unmanned, its movements controlled by a ground crew. Spokesman Gorbunov and others who have spent their careers with the MIR say they are glad the space station is getting another chance - if only for a few more months. (Signed) NEB/EC/GE/KL 20-Jan-2000 12:20 PM EDT (20-Jan-2000 1720 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .