MOSCOW — Russia's prime minister has signed a decree ordering work to begin on a gradual lowering and discarding of the 15-year-old space station Mir, news reports said Friday.
Prime Minister Mikhail M. Kasyanov ordered Russian space commanders to ensure a "controlled de-orbiting and sinking" of the 140-ton spacecraft in February or March, the Itar-Tass news agency reported, quoting Kasyanov's office. The decree also said a special commission will be formed to oversee the work, according to the report.
The decree did not give the exact date for the planned descent, but space officials have said they will launch a cargo ship to push the Mir down in a controlled manner around Feb. 27. It takes two days to reach the station from Earth.
Space experts say they would prefer to send a crew aboard the cargo ship to ensure a trouble-free docking, but space officials still apparently hope to perform the task with an unmanned vessel, which would cut costs. Russian Mission Control spokesman Valery Lyndin has said officials may still change their minds and send two cosmonauts to the station this month.
Officials at Kasyanov's office and Mission Control centers could not be reached for comment.
Kasyanov's decree comes after the latest in a series of glitches that have affected the space station, stoking fear that it could spin out of control and scatter debris over populated areas in a fiery plunge through the atmosphere.
Last week, ground controllers lost radio control with the orbiter but managed to regain it a day later. Officials blamed the failure on a sudden power outage.