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Mir's highs and lows during 15 years in orbit

February 21, 2001
Web posted at: 12:13 p.m. EST (1713 GMT)

Once the crown jewel of the Soviet space program, the space station Mir now floats in orbit alone with no crew and no future. Now, after 15 years of breaking records and escaping disasters, the aging orbiter faces an almost certain death. Moscow plans to send it on a fiery, fatal journey into the atmosphere in March. Among the highs and lows of Mir milestones over the years:

February 1986
A Soviet rocket carrying the first module for the Mir blasts off from Baikonur, Kazakhstan. Immersed in the Cold War, Soviet officials reveal few details about the station, saying only that it contained six docking ports for spacecraft or laboratory modules.

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The first Mir crew, Leonid Kizim and Vladimir Soloviev, fly their Soyuz spaceship from the station's predecessor Salyut-7 to the new outpost.

April 1987
The Kvant-1 module becomes the first addition to Mir. After an initial rendezvous failure, the two Mir cosmonauts float outside the station, find and remove a bag of trash wedged in the docking port, and proceed with the docking.

September 1989
Mir is again inhabited after a four-month hiatus due to trouble with Soyuz transport vessels in Baikonur.

December 1989
The module Kvant-2 is added to Mir. The 19-ton upgrade includes a large airlock and improves spacewalking capabilities.

December 1989
Japanese journalist Toyohiro Akiyama of the Tokyo Broadcasting System reports from Mir during a brief visit.

May 1991
Cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev reaches Mir for a mission that eventually extends more than one year and three months, in part due to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Krikalev later became the first Russian to fly on the space shuttle and one of the first three residents of the international space station Alpha.

May 1991
Helen Sharman visits Mir on a privately financed trip. A chocolate researcher for a candy company, Sharman had won a contest to become Britain's first astronaut.

February 1993
A Progress supply vessel separated from Mir, unfurling a giant foil banner. Russian researchers thought the technology could be used to shine sunlight on Arctic cities during their dark winters.

March 1995
Mir resident Valery Polyakov survives a record 438 days in space, enough time to travel to Mars.

March 1995
NASA astronaut Norman Thagard becomes a guest aboard Mir.

July 1995
Mir gains another module and receives its first space shuttle, which takes Thagard and two cosmonauts back to Earth.

April 1996
Ten years after construction began, the station is finally complete with the arrival of the Priroda module.

February 1997
Two cosmonauts battle a fire after an oxygen-generating canister bursts into flames during a routine ignition. Vasiliy Tsibliev and Alexander Lazutkin don gas masks and put out the fire, which filled the station and their emergency Soyuz escape capsule with smoke.

June 1997
Tsibliev and Lazutkin again face deadly danger. During a docking test a cargo ship crashes into Mir, the worst collision ever in space. The impact creates a hissing air leak, which the two miraculously locate and seal off before losing too much oxygen.

November 1998
A Proton rocket places the first segment of the international space station Alpha in orbit, the Russian module Zarya. NASA presses the Russian agency to deorbit Mir, citing concerns over safety of the aging station.

August 1999
The 27th expedition to Mir lands. Moscow does not send up a replacement crew.

June 2000
The last two persons to live on Mir, Alexander Kaleri and Sergei Zaletin, return after a two-month trip. The cosmonauts are financed by MirCorp, a group of private investors bent on keeping Mir alive as a destination for wealthy tourists. A U.S. businessman buys a roundtrip ticket for as much as $20 million.

October 2000
As the first Alpha crew prepares to go into orbit, Russian space authorities decide to retire Mir in the spring of 2001. Chances that Mir will become a space hotel all but evaporate.

February 20, 2001
Mir completes 15th year in orbit, far surpassing its planned lifetime of five years or less. Mir admirers including cosmonauts and scientists protest in Moscow against its impending doom.

March 2001 ?
Mir's fiery end is tentatively scheduled for the middle of the month. The exact date depends on solar activity, which can increase or slow atmospheric drag on the station.

Moscow will command Mir to lower its orbit. Most of the 130-ton station should burn up over a stretch of the South Pacific between Australia and Chile. Yet an estimated 30 to 35 tons could survive reentry and fall into the ocean.



RELATED STORIES:
Protesters call to save Mir
February 20, 2001
Mir marks 15 years in orbit
February 19, 2001

RELATED SITES:
Mir Space Station
NASA

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