Was it a venerable, robust marvel? Or a derelict, accident-prone lemon? The Mir space station, which spent 15 years in orbit, set space records that still stand today and once was a symbol both of Russia’s space glories and new cooperation between Washington and Moscow.
“It served as the stage — history’s highest stage — for the first large-scale, technical partnership between Russia and the United States after a half-century of mutual antagonism,” NASA said on its website, as it celebrated Sunday’s 25th anniversary of the Mir space station launch.
Russian cosmonaut Anatoly Solovyev commanded five Mir crews, living a total of 651 days on board. He made 16 spacewalks and spent a total of 80 hours working outside the station — a space record that has not been broken.
The Russian Mir space station spent 15 years in orbit, setting space records that still stand. Today marks 25 years since its launch by the then-Soviet Union as a research laboratory. Here, Mir, which means “Peace,” is seen from the aft flight deck of the space shuttle Atlantis.
“I remember experiments we had with Japanese quails there,” Solovyev told The Voice of Russia in an interview published Saturday. “We had brought in boxfuls of eggs and an incubator and we waited until the first birds started to hatch. It was a real scientific breakthrough, as we examined embryonic growth in zero gravity — something we had never done before.”
But Mir is also remembered for its many problems. By the time the Americans arrived, the station was cluttered with broken equipment and floating bags of trash, according to the NASA website.
Astronaut Jerry Linenger compared Mir to “six school buses all hooked together.”
“Solar blankets were yellowed … and looked as drab as a Moscow winter and were pockmarked with raggedy holes, the result of losing battles with micrometeorite and debris strikes over the years,” he said.
A 1998 NOVA documentary on PBS titled “Terror in Space” described Mir like this: “Experience the harrowing and life-threatening problems aboard the aging Mir space station through the eyes of the Russian and American astronauts who lived through them. Feel the heat from the fire that erupted on board. See the collision between Mir and another spacecraft. Endure the power outages and the computer failures that have jeopardized lives. Hear the debate over whether NASA should continue to risk its astronauts by sending them to Mir … ”
Like most legends, Mir “was controversial and paradoxical,” the NASA website said. “At different times and by different people, Mir was called both ‘venerable’ and ‘derelict.’ It was also ‘robust,’ ‘accident-prone’ and ‘a marvel,’ as well as ‘a lemon.'”
Also described as a 100-ton Tinkertoy, Mir dropped out of orbit 10 years ago, entering the atmosphere March 23, 2001, and breaking up over the South Pacific.
“Some of its larger pieces blazed harmlessly into the sea, about 1,800 miles east of New Zealand. Observers in Fiji reported spectacular gold- and white-streaming lights,” the NASA website said.
“An amazing saga and a highly successful program finally had come to a watery end.”