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Russians Foil Space Station Grab

MOSCOW--Russia's intelligence agency appears to have foiled a robbery that could have jeopardized the country's participation in the international space station. Last month, Russia's Federal Security Service (FSS) says it apprehended a group of thieves who had allegedly stolen precious components for a space station module. Loss of the components could have bankrupted the company building the module.

The Chemical and Technological Factory (C&T) in Morshansk, some 550 kilometers south of Moscow, is under contract to produce space station equipment for Energia, Russia's main spacecraft design firm. Factory director Vladimir Koldin says that on 27 January, several people stole five 65-kilogram station parts containing high-test aluminum that the thieves had allegedly intended to sell as scrap. Koldin declined to reveal the nature of the components.

The alleged thieves didn't get far: They were caught a day after making off with the goods. The suspects had been tailed in a carefully planned operation, FSS spokesperson Irina Teplyakova told the Russian news service ITAR-TASS.

Russia's contributions to the space station would have been endangered had the parts not been recovered, Koldin told ScienceNOW. The struggling C&T factory would have been unable to come up with funds to reforge the parts, he says, and it would have faced heavy fines--up to $400,000, as spelled out in Russia's contract with NASA--that Koldin says would have forced the plant into bankruptcy.