Physics: Principles and Problems


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For use with Chapter 8
Universal Gravitation

Mir Crash Landing
Posted February 1st, 2001

In November 2000, the Russian Space Agency decided to put to rest its 14-year-old space station Mir. The Cabinet of the Space Agency decided to crash Mir into the Pacific Ocean near Australia. The controlled descent will take place at the end of February 2001.

The Space Agency decided that it was best to crash Mir into the ocean instead of letting its orbit deteriorate naturally. By controlling its descent, the Russian Space Agency can make sure that the Mir lands safely in water and not on a populated area. When Mir hits the atmosphere, its speed will cause friction between the station and the air, and most of it will burn up. Still, fragments are sure to hit the surface of Earth.

The Possibilities
This is not the first time that a space station has crashed into Earth. In 1979, the U.S. space station Skylab had a deteriorating orbit and ended up burning up in the atmosphere and raining debris across Australia. Also, in 1991, the Russian space station Salyut-7 fell to Earth and fragments fell into the Andes Mountain.

When something falls from space, it is statistically likely to fall into an ocean because water covers over 70% of Earth. Even if it happens to hit land, it is unlikely to strike a populated area. However, there is still a definite chance that the object could cause damage to property or injure people.

A Heads Up
A scare came to Russian officials in December when they lost contact with the withered space station. With loss of radio contact, the Russians could no longer control the descent of the station into a safe area of the ocean. Fortunately, they were able to reestablish contact with the station several days later.

Mir, once a testament to Russian technology, has been having problems for years. It has been in operation since the 1980s and suffered a fire and a collision with a small craft in 1997. Originally, a corporation from the Netherlands called MirCorp offered to fund Mir's continual operation, but the Russian government ceased that agreement when the company ran out of money.

A final crew is planned to be sent to Mir in January to finalize preparations for this controlled descent. After Mir leaves orbit, the major space station in space will be the International Space Station, which is funded by the United States' NASA and fifteen other nations.

Activity
Use the Internet links below to investigate Mir's history. Make a timeline showing the life of the space station.

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Physics: Principles and Problems