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Russia worries about staying competitive in space race

MOSCOW (AP) — It looks like a bonanza for the Russian space industries — the planned retirement of the U.S. space shuttle fleet in about three years would make Russia the principal carrier of crews and cargo to the International Space Station, sharply raising its revenues.

But some Russian cosmonauts and space experts are worried. They fear the lead will be short-lived and will slow development of whatís really needed — a replacement for the veteran Soyuz spacecraft, the reliable but plodding workhorse of the nationís space program for 40 years.

A Soyuz blasted off over the weekend from the Baikonur cosmodrome carrying two cosmonauts to the space station, along with Charles Simonyi, a U.S. software billionaire who paid $20-25 million for a 13-day trip to the station and back.

Russia currently builds two Soyuz spacecraft a year for manned launches, and four unmanned Progress cargo ships. The fleet is expected to expand to four Soyuz and seven Progress vehicles starting in 2010. Unlike the United Statesí three space shuttles, they can only be used once.

The government has been slow to earmark money for a next-generation spacecraft, and some experts fear rising demand for rides in the Soyuz could further slow funding.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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