Space Programs

Early Space Stations

How did the Mir mission end?

Over the course of the Shuttle-Mir program, eleven shuttle missions were flown to Mir, and seven U.S. astronauts spent a total of twenty-eight months on the station, starting in March 1995. Astronauts from many other nations also visited Mir, laying the groundwork for true international cooperation in space.

By 1997 the Mir space station had more than doubled its original warrantied lifetime of five years. The years of service began to take its toll on the vessel’s systems, and things began to break down. By June 1997, crises were becoming almost commonplace: a fire, a cooling system that leaked antifreeze, a faulty oxygen processing system, a collision with a space cargo ship, a computer crash, and more plagued the station. On August 28, 1999, the station’s crew was returned to Earth—the first time in nearly ten full years that Mir was left unoccupied.

On April 4, 2000, a crew of two cosmonauts returned to Mir to assess the ship’s condition and future prospects. After they left on June 16, no further visits to the station were made. To ensure the safety of people living on Earth, an unmanned rocket was sent to the station. Flight controllers then used that rocket to bring Mir down into the atmosphere and de-orbit the vessel. On March 23, 2001, Mir burned up upon re-entering Earth’s atmosphere, lighting up the skies over the Fiji Islands and scattering debris harmlessly across the southern Pacific Ocean.


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