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Plea to save "Mir' goes unanswered

With the Mir space station facing a fiery end on Friday, the speaker of Russia's Parliament made a public call for President Vladimir Putin to give the condemned station another chance.

But Speaker Gennady Seleznyov, a Communist whose view is backed by some former cosmonauts and left-wing politicians, said Monday that he hasn't received a reply to his pleas to save Mir.

Space officials moved ahead with plans for Mir's disposal in a controlled descent into the South Pacific, changing the re-entry day from Thursday to Friday because the station's orbit was dropping more slowly than expected.

Mir was orbiting 142 miles above Earth on Monday and was expected to drift down another 2 miles by today.

False alarm interrupts

station crew's first day

CAPE CANAVERAL _ On their first day flying solo, the three new residents of the international space station got a scare Monday when a smoke alarm went off.

It turned out to be a false alarm. The Russian commander and his American crewmates were relieved about that, but irritated by an apparently unrelated computer problem that prevented them from quickly pulling up all the precautionary measures on a screen.

"That's not a very good situation to be in, is it?" complained astronaut Jim Voss.

The crew's so-called Red Book on emergency procedures includes information on dealing with a fire as well as false alarms.

Voss said he and his crewmates had the Red Book out and were following its guidelines.

Space shuttle Discovery had undocked 10 hours earlier, carrying homeward the space station's first crew. The new three-person crew was winding down at the end of a long day when the smoke alarm went off in the U.S.-built Destiny laboratory.

Astronaut's rehabilitation

therapist will be his wife

CAPE CANAVERAL _ The international space station's first commander, Bill Shepherd, faces weeks and even months of grueling rehabilitation after he returns to Earth, to build up muscles and bones withered by nearly five months of weightlessness.

Cracking the whip will be NASA's athletic trainer, who also happens to be the astronaut's wife.

Beth Stringham Shepherd, 40, is a strength and rehabilitation specialist who worked with the Mir astronauts a few years ago.

NASA doctors consider the 51-year-old Shepherd and his younger colleagues, Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev, to be the best-conditioned crew ever to return from a long space mission. They had a treadmill and weight training equipment aboard Alpha.

The three men are scheduled to land aboard the space shuttle Discovery early Wednesday.

Cosmonauts boycott

training in protest

CAPE CANAVERAL _ Two cosmonauts who are supposed to fly to the international space station next month boycotted a training session Monday to protest NASA's exclusion of a California millionaire from their crew.

Dennis Tito, who hopes to become the world's first space tourist, showed up at the Johnson Space Center in Houston along with four Russian cosmonauts and one European astronaut. Two of the cosmonauts are scheduled for an April 30 launch aboard a Soyuz rocket; the other two are their backups.

"They did not begin their scheduled training . . . because Mr. Tito was not going to be included in their crew training," NASA spokeswoman Debra Rahn said.

It was the most embarrassing dispute yet in the monthslong power struggle between NASA and the Russian Space Agency.

Tito, the 60-year-old founder of an investment firm, has deposited millions of his own money into an escrow account to be paid to Russian space officials once he has launched.

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