Mir liquidation sale: Everything must go!
September 1, 1999
Web posted at: 2:31 p.m. EDT (1831 GMT)
"We are leaving with a bitter heart ... It will be very sad if we lose this station."
-- Mir Commander Viktor Afanasyev, August 27, 1999
HOUSTON (CNN) -- With their bags packed -- the knobs, switches and dials flipped and turned -- the last long-term crew of Mir reached the point on their checklist that told them to power up the camera and say a few words.
The reception on the ground was typical for Mir-vision: ratty and intermittent. But even the snow could not hide a lugubrious mood as these microgravity marathoners reached the end of their run. No, it wasn't a happy moment, and after letting us know that, they tried one more snow job. The station was good to go for future crews, they insisted. Good for several years, said flight engineer and all-time space endurance champ Sergei Avdeyev. Right.
The desperation made me wince with embarrassment for them. "Earth to Mir, secure a grip. Over."
But who can blame them for being a little misty about Mir? Like so many things in what was the Soviet Union, the orbiting outpost is a rusting relic of some proud accomplishments. Matter of fact, it is a perfect metaphor for all that ails Russia: it is inefficiently run by Machiavellian bureaucrats offering empty promises of quick fixes, while it teeters on the edge of disaster -- one glitch away from a crash-and-burn conclusion. Yep, to know Mir is to know her mother. Mother Russia, that is.
And so the Russians insist yet another crew may fly to the outpost to "liquidate" the station. Interesting verb choice, don't you think? Maybe I am slow, but this clicked for me the other day when I opened a lush, color catalog from Christie's auction house up thar in New York City. Some of the guys who flew the Mercury-Gemini-Apollo flights (or their heirs) are auctioning off the shreds of their success.
Space suits (or small pieces thereof) still soiled by genuine moon dirt, patches and flight plans (autographed and authenticated as having slipped the surly bonds, of course), and even pieces of spacecraft themselves are headed for the block. If you have to ask, you really don't need to know, but Christie's expects a flight suit worn by Neil Armstrong (not THE suit) to fetch between $60,000 and $80,000. Some Apollo flight instruments: $1,500-2,000, and a series of mission patches: $1,200-1,800. There are manuals, press kits and flight plan pages autographed by Buzz Aldrin. It goes on and on.
But there are also a few things from the runners-up in the space race. Expected sales price of a 1960 Russian SK-1 Vostok Space Suit (serial number 9): $200,000-250,000, according to Christie's. Do you see where I am headed? I would bet more than a few rubles the Russians are planning a big Mir liquidation sale. "Lost our Lease. Going out of business! Everything must go!""
So if another crew flies to Mir, don't be surprised if they leave Baikonur with empty flight bags -- the better to pry loose and bring back some salable merchandise. How much would you pay for a piece of the control panel inside the core module? How about the docking device that guided the Progress module to a nearly disastrous collision with the Spekter module? Would you like to own one of those famous tins of canned perch? It goes on and on. Think of the hard currency, comrade!
And there is one other way such a flight would bring in some revenue. A Russian actor would like to join the "liquidators" to shoot some scenes for a movie, wherein he plays (one guess) a cosmonaut on a space station (truly a high concept project). Add the check from the producer to the tally and that Swiss bank deposit is growing faster than a Russian autocrat's eyebrows.
Of course, all of this will be rendered moot if Mir does a Skylab during its hiatus from human occupation. But that is inconceivable. As we all know, Mir is as reliable as ever.
Space Correspondent Miles O'Brien's column appears weekly.
Cosmonauts warn of possible Mir accident
August 31, 1999
Russia's Mir crew safely back on Earth
August 28, 1999
Russians say 'do svidanya' (goodbye) to Mir
August 27, 1999
NASA Human Spaceflight
Mir Space Station
Office of Space Flight - Mir
Orbital station (OS) Mir
Welcome!from Yu.Semenov, President of RKK Energia
Russian Space Agency
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