Adios amirgo

Russia’s Mir space station will come plunging down to the Pacific Ocean in February 2001, a top space official said on Wednesday November 15. The announcement immediately sparked concerns about the risk to human life from stray debris.

Almost exactly 15 years since its launch, the Soviet-era craft will be ditched in the ocean between February 27-28 after a controlled descent towards the Earth’s atmosphere, Russian space agency chief Yury Koptev told a news conference.

‘Between February 27 and 28, Mir will enter the atmosphere and the elements that have not been destroyed will drop into the Pacific Ocean,’ Koptev predicted.

‘These debris will fall into the Pacific Ocean around 1,250 miles off the coast of Australia in an area recognised internationally,’ added Koptev.

The planned destruction envisages two Progress cargo space ships lowering the Mir orbit to 50 miles, causing the space station to enter the dense layers of the atmosphere where most of it will burn up.

The remains of the station will then, theoretically, fall in the designated area of the Pacific Ocean.

Mir has been uninhabited since two Russian cosmonauts, Sergei Zalyotin and Alexander Kalery, returned to Earth in June after a mission lasting more than two months. Since then, Mir has been on automatic pilot.

‘It is possible that the automatic pilot will cease to function. In this case we have a crew who are ready to leave for the station,’ said Koptev.

The official explained that the decision to scrap Mir had been taken for safety reasons.

‘We are at a phase when any part (in the space station) could stop working at any moment,’ he said.

Russia has found that its commitment to the new International Space Station has stretched its budget to breaking point and, unable to support both space projects, it decided to abandon Mir.

Four possible options for scrapping the Soviet-era space project were examined.

Under one scheme, Mir would have been broken up into several sections and brought down one by one to the Earth’s atmosphere.

But this plan was rejected as unsafe because too much wreckage would come hurtling down to Earth.

Another scenario described as ‘fantastic’ by a Russian space official, would have seen a missile fired at Mir, destroying it in a mid-space explosion, but this was ruled out as it would also create too much debris.

A final option, dismissed on the ground of cost, would have been to leave the Mir station in orbit indefinitely.