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A senior space official says an unmanned Soviet shuttle could be launched this year if all tests are completed successfully but - pointing to the grounded U.S. program - cautioned that the project will not be rushed.

"If we perform all the tests by this year, then the launch will take place this year, and if not, then later," Vladimir Shatalov, head of the USSR's Cosmonaut Training Center, said Wednesday."No one causes us to speed up," said Shatalov, a former cosmonaut. "We are not bound to any schedule.

"The omissions that occurred with the Challenger misfortune, we want to avoid."

Shatalov outlined the Soviet shuttle program for foreign journalists invited to the Soviet Space Control Center to see the successful docking of a joint Soviet-Afghan cosmonaut team with the Mir space station. The Space Control Center is 18 miles north of Moscow at Kaliningrad.

The Soviets on May 16, 1987, tested a giant new rocket, Energiya, and Western scientists who watched the televised launch predicted the Soviet shuttle would be in space in 1988.