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Thursday, 15 March, 2001, 13:42 GMT
Mir: Floating from one crisis to the next
Mir space station AP
The station is said to be like "someone's old garage"
Although Mir has done a vital job for science and space exploration, there is little doubt among experts that the platform's destruction is long overdue.

Michael Foale, the American astronaut who spent 145 days on board the station, said it was like going into "someone's very old garage where stuff's just been put away for years on end and nobody's moved it".

The trials and tribulations of Mir include a fire, a mid-space collision, numerous computer crashes, cosmonaut error and a failed plan to save it through private investment.

The drama should come to an end when the station is crashed into the Pacific Ocean on 22 March. It has been unmanned since July.

Failed finance

A private US-Russian company, MirCorp, planned to turn the space station into an ultra-exclusive tourist destination, and even signed up its first passenger, American businessman Dennis Tito.

American businessman Dennis Tito APTN
Mr Tito was to be the first paying customer
But the company failed to raise the funds it needed and the Russian Government decided in November to ditch the station.

"We cannot continue this game...which I call Russian roulette," said Yuri Koptev, the head of Russia's space agency, to explain why the government had decided not to keep the station in space.

"We simply don't have the right to do that, because we are a government agency responsible for the safety of the Mir," he added.

MirCorp has since announced that it will retool its equipment to enable it to work with other orbiting platforms, and hopes to get permission to send paying customers to the new International Space Station (ISS).

Mechanical problems

Mir's mechanical problems started on 23 February, 1997, when the station was nine years old.

Mir's recent history
Feb 1997: Fire on board
June 1997: Collision with cargo ship
June 1997: Computer failure, the first of at least three that year
July 1997: Cosmonaut accidentally disconnects power cable
July 2000: Last crew abandons station
Nov 2000: Russia decides to destroy Mir
25-26 Dec 2000: Russia loses contact with station
An oxygen-generating canister burst into flames and burned for about 14 minutes, blocking the exit leading to one of two "lifeboats".

The smoke was so thick, the four Russians, one American and one German on the station could barely see. The incident almost led to the crew abandoning Mir.

Two weeks later, another oxygen generator malfunctioned, forcing the crew to rely on back-up canisters similar to the one which caused the fire.

A month later, there were more problems with the platform's life-support systems when the unit that takes carbon dioxide out of the air broke down.

Leaking air

On 25 June, 1997, Mir faced its most dramatic crisis when a cargo ship rammed the station during a docking test.

The incident caused extensive damage to a laboratory and buckled an energy-producing solar panel, which cut electricity supplies to the station by 50%.

Michael Foale was on board Mir when the collision happened and told the BBC he thought he was about to die.

He said: "It was frightening for one or two seconds. The first thought was are we going to die instantly because of air rushing out so fast we can't control it."

They had two days to recover from the collision trauma before an onboard computer crashed, the first of many malfunctions over the months to come.

Computer crash

The computer problems were blamed on an electrical problem, possibly a power surge.

Space walk to repair Mir AP
Cosmonauts have made many repairs
Another computer crash later in the year during the docking of another cargo ship set the station adrift and led to a loss in power. And another computer failure caused the station's solar panels to become misaligned with the Sun, leading to more power supply difficulties.

In July 1997, a cosmonaut, Alexander Lazutkin, added another footnote in the logbook of Mir's accident-prone operation when he disconnected an important cable, setting the vessel adrift without solar power. The Russian denied stress or tiredness were responsible for the accident. He said he simply made a mistake.

The problems on Mir continued into 1998 with the discovery of an air leak in an exit hatch which had caused a loss of pressure in the station's docking chamber. It was later fixed during a space walk by cosmonauts.

Fiery descent




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