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DATE=4/3/2000 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=RUSSIA / MIR (L OVERNIGHTER) NUMBER=2-260894 BYLINE=EVE CONANT DATELINE=MOSCOW CONTENT= VOICED AT: /// ED'S: BLASTOFF SET FOR 0501 U-T-C / 1:01 AM EDT TUESDAY. /// INTRO: A two-man crew is to blast off from the Baikonur (BAI-kon-UR) Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan early Tuesday to dock with Russia's aging space station, MIR. Moscow Correspondent Eve Conant reports MIR has been flying unmanned since August, but private investment has made this unexpected mission possible. TEXT: Space officials explain that while aboard MIR, the two cosmonauts will fix a leak, carry out scientific experiments, and spruce up the station for a possible next crew. Officials say the mission is expected to last at least 45-days, but could be extended for as long as three-months, if extra money can be raised. The 14-year-old space station has a long history of technical failures, including a fire on board several years ago. Russia's cash-strapped government had planned to abandon MIR, but decided to keep the space station in orbit after private investment gave it a new, if temporary, lease on life. Russia's president- elect Vladimir Putin has also argued that Russian authorities should find a way to keep the aging station in orbit. Russian television broadcast an interview with the two cosmonauts, Sergey Zalyotin and Alexander Kareli, who will man the mission. Cosmonaut Zalyotin explained their first task is to fix an oxygen leak. /// ZALYOTIN ACT - IN RUSSIAN - FADE UNDER /// He says it is an exaggeration to say MIR is not hermetically sealed. He says the spacecraft's leak is -- in his words -- not so bad, and it has happened before. And he says the two cosmonauts are sure the work will go well. Cosmonaut Kareli said the two men are in good spirits ahead of their flight. /// KARELI ACT - IN RUSSIAN - FADE UNDER /// He says the two men feel, as he put it - like sportsmen before a long-distance run, slightly anxious. Despite its history of technical problems, MIR is a source of pride for Russian space officials who have said they do not want to scrap the historic space station. But international space officials, including representatives of the U-S space agency NASA, say they want Russia to abandon MIR and focus its resources on the new International Space Station. (SIGNED) NEB/EC/JWH/RAE 03-Apr-2000 13:54 PM EDT (03-Apr-2000 1754 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .