Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The first Modular Space Station - Mir

Russian Space Station Mir, backdropped against Earth, taken from the Space Shuttle Atlantis
On February 19, 1986, the main module of Russian space station Mir was launched from Baikonur, Russia. Mir was the first modular space station and operated in low Earth orbit from 1986 to 2001.

In 1976, Mir was authorized in order to design an improved model of the Salyut space stations and in 1986, the second launch attempt was successful and Mir made its way up to the low Earth orbit. It was maintained in a near circular orbit with an average perigee of 354 km and an average apogee of 374 km. The station completed 15.7 orbits per day and had to be boosted to a higher altitude several times each year. Due to its orbital altitude, the on-board environment was not really zero gravity, it was often referred to as microgravity since the state of weightlessness was not perfect. An earth-like atmosphere was established on-board, because it offers significant benefits for the crew's comfort, and it is much safer than the alternative, a pure oxygen atmosphere. This would have increased the risk of a fire such as that responsible for the deaths of the Apollo 1 crew.

In order to allow members from the military forces of allied Warsaw Pact countries to participate in manned and unmanned space exploration missions, the Intercosmos space program was founded. Many European astronauts were able to visit Mir as part of several cooperative programs, and Mir became the most visited spacecraft in history, being visited by over 100 different people. The United States however, planned to launch Mir's counterpart Freedom as soon as possible, and also a construction of Mir-2 was in the Soviet's thoughts. But with the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Space race, both programs got cancelled and both countries decided to work on a similar project together. In the first act of the new coperation one American astronaut deployed to the Russian space station Mir and two Russian cosmonauts deployed to a Space Shuttle. Russian and American scientists learned from each other and in 1993, U.S. Vice President Al Gore, Jr., and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin announced plans for a new space station, which eventually became the International Space Station.

But coming back to the space station Mir, the crew had to deal with quite a labyrinth of cables and instruments on board. Most of the time, the station housed three people but was designed to support six for about one month. The used time zone on board was Moscow Time and a typical day for the crew members started with two hours of hygiene and breakfast. From 10am to 1pm, work was conducted and followed by one hour of excercise and lunch. After that, the crew worked for three more hours and exercised for another four hours. In their free time, the cosmonauts answered letters and drawings from Earth, caught up with work or communicated with their loved ones on Earth.

It was announced that due to a lack of funding to keep Mir flying, the station would be deorbited in June 1999. In order to deorbit the station, a special analogue computer was installed and each of the modules, starting with the docking module and on March 23, 2011, Mir reentered Earth's atmosphere and landed in the Pacific Ocean.

At yovisto, you may be interested in a short introduction to the space station Mir by NASA astronaut David Wolf from 1997.

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