United States space specialists are
providing Russian technicians with Mir space station positional data to
help ensure the vehicle’s safe splashdown in the Pacific Ocean later this

Officials from U.S. Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., are
now providing the tracking information through the National Aeronautics
and Space Administration to Russia’s aviation and space agency —
RosAviaKosmos — in Moscow, said USSPACECOM spokesman Maj. Perry Nouis.

“We have an observer role limited to providing data to the Russians,”
Nouis said. “This is actually routine for us. We’ve been tracking Mir
since it was launched in 1986.”

Mir is one of 8,300 orbiting objects USSPACECOM tracks daily to provide
space situational awareness and warning against possible incoming
ballistic missiles, he said.

The Russians have said Mir’s controlled re-entry is strictly their
responsibility, Nouis said. Unusual to the operation, though, “is the
amount of data and the frequency of updates USSPACECOM is providing
the Russians — several times a day.”

As Mir gets closer to splashdown — now estimated to occur between March
17 and 20 somewhere in the South Pacific between New Zealand and South
America — the United States plans to provide hourly updates, he said.

“We’re just one source of information for them,” Nouis said “The European
Space Agency is also providing Mir tracking information to the Russians.”

The former Soviet Union launched Mir’s main module into orbit Feb. 20,
1986, Nouis said. After gathering scientific data for more than a decade,
the 140-ton space station — with several modules each the size of a
school bus — has reached the end of its useful life, he said.

For years, Nouis said, NASA astronauts and Russian cosmonauts have worked
together on various projects aboard Mir.

Controlled re-entries of old spacecraft are not anything new for the
Russians. They have “directed successful splashdowns of many other
units,” Nouis said.

The U.S. government has agreed, within its capabilities, to provide
Russia with Mir tracking and trajectory data, as well as scientific data
on atmospheric conditions, including solar activity, during the de-orbit
period, according to a March 2 U.S. State Department news release.

USSPACECOM uses its Space Surveillance Network’s ground-based radar
sensors and telescopes at 19 locations around the world to track the Mir
and other objects, Nouis said. The Russians will incorporate U.S.– and
European-supplied Mir data with their own.

More than 26,000 items have been shot into Earth’s orbit since the
Russians launched Sputnik in 1957, Nouis said. More than 17,000 have
re-entered the atmosphere since then, he said, with most splashing down
in the oceans or disintegrating from friction. Mir is so large, he said,
that scientists around the world estimate about 25 tons of it could
survive the return to earth.

“There is lots of uninhabited ocean between New Zealand and South America
in the Mir target area,” Nouis said. Oceans cover 75 percent of Earth’s





The U.S. Space Shuttle Atlantis (bottom) undocks from the 140-ton Russian
Space Station Mir in April 1996. Mir is losing altitude and scheduled for
a controlled re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere in late March. U.S. Space
Command is providing the Russians with tracking information to help keep
the operation safe. (Photo courtesy of NASA)