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Journalist on Mir may be new CNN beat

CNN is considering adding a new beat - way up on Russia's Mir space station.

A CNN spokesman confirms that the news network is in "very, very, very preliminary discussions" with Russian space officials about sending a reporter to Mir. The news was first reported in this week's issue of the weekly trade journal Space News.Spokesman David Talley said Tuesday from CNN's headquarters in Atlanta that he's heard prices for a Mir visit ranging from $5 million to $10 million to $15 million, but stressed that nothing - cost or otherwise - has been negotiated, yet alone finalized.

The Tokyo Broadcasting System paid the Soviets $12 million to send news director Toyohiro Akiyama on an eight-day Mir mission in December 1990. He was the first, and so far only, journalist to fly in space.

If everything works out - a big if at this point - CNN most likely would send correspondent John Holliman, who covers NASA for the network. The selection would depend on the medical exams and flight training required by the Russians, Talley said.

There's the danger factor, too. NASA waited until practically the last minute last month before sending astronaut David Wolf to the aging, ruptured space station for a four-month stay.

"Yes, that would certainly be a concern as well," Talley said.

Holliman, or whoever is chosen, would be launched from Kazakstan on a Russian Soyuz rocket, will spend a week or two or three aboard Mir and then return to Kazakstan in a Soyuz capsule.

"I think everybody in their right mind would want to go up and report from space," Talley said. "We carry all the shuttle launches and the shuttle landings, and John follows the space program very, very closely. It would be great for us to be able to report from space."

NASA instituted a Journalist in Space Project in 1985, but put it on hold following the 1986 Challenger explosion. It's been on hold ever since.

The seven killed aboard Challenger included Christa McAuliffe, the finalist in NASA's Teacher in Space Project, announced by President Reagan in 1984. It, too, is on indefinite hold.