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Friday, 23 March, 2001, 12:13 GMT
Mir: A home in space
Mir Nasa
Mir brought harmony between the superpowers
By BBC News Online science editor Dr David Whitehouse

The demise of Mir ends an important chapter in the history of space exploration. It was born out of the Cold War struggle between the superpowers but in the end it taught the Americans and the Russians how to work together.


Mir taught us how to live in space. It needs no other legacy

Mir has had a dramatic 15-year mission. At one extreme there were the weeks and weeks of tedium for the cosmonauts who set out new space endurance records; at the other, there were the near-fatal accidents.

Over the years, Mir has circled the Earth about 88,000 times, travelling 3.6bn km (2.2bn miles). In many ways, the platform has been humankind's first real home in space.

It was launched in 1986 but its design and technology reached back to the early 1970s, and despite the fanfare that greeted its launch it was very much part of the winding down of the Soviet space effort.

Limited science

The USSR had lost the race to the Moon and real government commitment to space faded soon afterwards.

Nasa
Science was not really what Mir was all about
The fact is that the Russians never worked out exactly what to do with Mir.

Mir's contribution to science has been rather limited. Experiments carried out on board were often poorly executed and in many cases the results inadequately recorded and seldom returned to Earth. More than one space official lamented Mir's poor science record.

When the Americans arrived in 1995, they made a concerted effort to get some science out of Mir but even they gave up after a while.

Chinese station

But to think that Mir has been a failure because of its meagre contribution to science is to completely miss the point.

Mir's outstanding success is that it has survived. The people who went there had to overcome problems both trivial and nearly fatal. Mir taught us how to live in space. It needs no other legacy.

Today, the economy of Russia can no longer support the country's efforts in space. Russia has been forced instead to spend its limited resources on the US-led consortium of 16 nations building the International Space Station (ISS).

So, for Russia, Mir's loss is the start of a new phase. But what will they think when they see another country begin to explore space in the way they used to, when China launches a space station of its own?


Fiery descent

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