March 23, 2001: Mir Space Station Passes into History

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  Space News Business

March 23, 2001: Mir Space Station Passes into History

By CLINTON PARKS
Space News Staff Writer
posted: 19 March 2008
03:10 pm ET






Washington —


A




fter outliving communism and the Soviet Union, and helping to link the space program of the new Russian nation with that of the United States, the Mir space station met its end in the Pacific Ocean.

In November 2000, t




he Russian space agency decided




to deorbit the 15-year-old space station and instead turn its efforts to




the international space station




, an April 2005 Space.com article said.

“[Mir] was an outstanding experiment in longevity in space,” RoaldSagdeev, professor of physics at the University of Maryland at College Park and former head of the Russian Space Institute, said in a March 10 phone interview.




Mir far surpassed its 5-year design life.

After conceding a manned Moon landing to the United States, the Soviet Union concentrated its space program on Earth-orbiting space stations, Howard McCurdy, chair of the American University School of Public Affairs, said in a March 10 interview.

Mir’s 20-ton core module launched Feb. 20, 1986, on a Proton rocket from the BaikonurCosmodrome




. Mir shared




similar design elements with its Salyut space station predecessor, including its core module and 360 kilograms of equipment brought aboard from the retired Salyut 7 space station by its first cosmonaut




crew, Leonid Kizim and Vladimir Soloviev, according to RussianSpaceWeb.com. But unlike the Salyut




stations, the Mir core contained six docking ports for additional modules.




The station was




completed




in April 1996.



By




the time




Mir




launched, the Soviet Union’s government had undergone




profound changes, including greater transparency, under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev.



The launch of the Mir core and its first crew of cosmonauts were shown on Soviet television, a first for the nation,




a March 2000 Space.com article said.





Mir was not envisioned as




an instrument of international cooperation, Sagdeev said. But Mir’s




role in international cooperation outlasted the Soviet Union




.

In the 1990s Mir was starting to show its age and with dwindling funds for the space program, the Russians reached out to the United States to keep it afloat, McCurdy said. U.S. astronauts were invited




aboard Mir to learn about the space station in exchange for transferring hardware to prolong its life, he said.

But the space station became increasingly more difficult to maintain. “It was the end,” Sagdeev said.

At the end of its life, Mir had developed so many problems that the crew spent about 95 percent of its time doing repairs, he said.

Even if Russia had the cash flow from oil then that




it has




now, Sagdeev said Mir still would have been deorbited.





Mir provided a concrete model for the international space station currently in orbit, McCurdy and Sagdeev said.

The United States had its own plans to build a U.S. space station –




dubbed




Space Station Freedom – but those plans




stalled.







A less ambitious, less costly solution, called Space Station Alpha, came about during the tenure of U.S. President Bill Clinton, McCurdy said.



But the visits by U.S. astronauts




to Mir during




the Clinton administration helped to build momentum for the program that eventually led to




the international space station,




Sagdeev said.

With Mir failing, the Russians asked the United States for permission to contribute to the international space station.

“The Russians essentially rescued the U.S. international space station,” McCurdy said.

The deal gave the United States a larger, more complex space station than it otherwise would have had under




Space Station Alpha




, and gave the Russians a cheaper way to continue the work they had been doing on Mir, McCurdy said.

Mir was the pinnacle achievement of the Soviet space program,




and helped pave the way for the international space station in its current form,




he




said.