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RUSSIAN SPACE OFFICIALS GLAD DIFFICULT YEAR IS OVER

As orbiting cosmonauts raised a plastic bottle of champagne Wednesday to toast the New Year, Russian space officials expressed relief that the most difficult year in the Mir space station's history had ended safely.

"1997 was a pretty difficult year for us," Mir flight director Vladimir Solovyov said at Mission Control outside Moscow. "The main achievement of 1997 is that we have been able to overcome all these extraordinary problems."

A fire on the 11-year-old station early in the year was followed by a series of breakdowns in computer and life-support systems, and worst of all by a collision in June between Mir and its cargo supply ship.

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