Shuttle-Mir: an experiment in science and politics
NASA considers its project to put U.S. astronauts on Russia's
Mir space station a scientific and political success, but the
mission has generated clouds of controversy that now
overshadow the planned International Space Station.
From CNN Interactive Writer Andy Walton
In this story:
(CNN) -- In late May, if all goes according to plan, U.S.
astronaut Andy Thomas will return to Earth from the Russian
space station Mir. Thomas' landing will mark the close of
American involvement in Mir, one of NASA's more controversial
projects. But doubts over the Mir mission, always an uneasy
balance of scientific and political goals, linger.
Critics argue that the project has cost too much for limited
returns, and has exposed U.S. astronauts to unnecessary and
unacceptable risks. NASA replies that the project has yielded
a wealth of scientific data, and that the project was a
necessary preparation for the upcoming International Space
Station (ISS). The station will be sent into orbit in pieces
aboard more than 50 U.S. and Russian missions over the next
five years, beginning in June.
NASA officials even refer to the Mir missions as "Phase 1" of
the ISS project.
Mir is a showpiece for Russia, a point of pride for a former
superpower that has few left. Mir has hosted humans for most
of the last 12 years, making it the longest-lived settlement
in the frontier of space, where brief excursions are the
But Mir has shown its age. Critical systems have failed, and
mishaps -- most spectacularly a February 1997 fire aboard the
station and a June 1997 collision with an unmanned supply
ship -- forced Mir's crew to abandon their experiments to
turn to repair work.
Over the past two years, CNN interviewed several U.S.
astronauts while they spent time on board Mir. Here's how
they described their experiences: