PRIME minister Viktor Chernomyrdin has promised Russia's space programme an extra $267 million in 1998 to retain "national prestige". He is also halving the number of space firms and banned the use of monkeys on missions.
Russia, which should have triumphantly celebrated 40 years in space this year (the first Soviet satellite, Sputnik-1, was launched in October, 1957) instead suffered the long series of mishaps to its ageing Mir space station.
Then Ukraine, its main space rival in the Confederation of Independent States, participated in a high-profile joint mission in November with the United States. Astronaut Leonid Kadenyuk went aboard the Columbia shuttle, and Coca-Cola funded a link-up with students in Ukraine.
Ukraine is a starter in cosmos research, which has piqued Russian space planners since Kadenyuk originally trained for a mission to Mir aboard Russia's now grounded Buran shuttle. Russia's main "international" space commitment is the Alpha space station, being built jointly with the US, the European Space Agency, Canada and Japan, for launch in December 1998.
Its main contribution, the service module, is reportedly five months behind schedule because of cash problems. Only 57 per cent of promised government money had arrived by November 1, and bills for components have had to be met with promissory notes.