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Russians Prepare For Mir’s Eventual Descent, But Record Isn’t Good

Tue., July 29, 1997

Even if it is fixed next month, the crippled space station Mir eventually will fall back to Earth.

Russian officials are planning for that day and think they can keep people from being hurt by the remnants of the 154-ton station that will not burn up in the atmosphere.

But the Russians and NASA don’t have a good track record controlling space equipment that’s coming down to Earth. In the past that has meant scares for Australia, South America and Canada.

Mir, which has a dead lab and has been running on half power since a June 25 collision with a resupply ship, is expected to be abandoned in about two years when NASA gears up its international space station. Once it is abandoned, Mir will run out of fuel and succumb to Earth’s gravity. But that day could happen much sooner if problems continue on the 11-year-old station.

“It’s just something that’s inevitable regardless of the current situation,” said Chris Faranettay deputy director of Energia Limited, the American arm of the main Russian space company. “It’s got to come down.”

Eighteen years ago, America’s only space station, Skylab, plummeted to Earth, hitting Australia. No one was hurt. NASA didn’t even try to control its descent.

The Russians have tried to control the way their space junk return to Earth but also have failed at times.

In the late 1970s, the Soviet Union ended up paying about $3 million to Canada when its space agency lost control of a spacecraft with nuclear materials on board and the craft crashed into Canada, said Roald Sagdeev, a former top Soviet space scientist.


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