MIR SPACE STATION
The space station Mir became a legend in
its own time reflecting Russia’s past space glories and her future as a leader
The Russian Space Station Mir endured 15
years in orbit, three times its planned lifetime. It outlasted the Soviet Union
that launched it into space. It hosted scores of crewmembers and international
visitors. It raised the first crop of wheat to be grown from seed to seed in
outer space. It was the scene of joyous reunions, feats of courage, moments of
panic, and months of grim determination. It suffered dangerous fires, a nearly
catastrophic collision, and darkened periods of out-of-control tumbling.
Mir soared as a symbol of Russia’s past
space glories and her potential future as a leader in space. And it served as
the stage—history’s highest stage—for the first large-scale, technical
partnership between Russia and the United States after a half-century of mutual
Mir did all of that and like most legends
was controversial and paradoxical. At different times and by different people,
Mir was called both “venerable” and “derelict.” It was also
“robust,” “accident-prone,” and “a marvel,” as
well as “a lemon.”
For Russians, the very name
“Mir” held meaning, feeling, and history. Mir translates into English
as “world,” “peace,” and “village,” but a
single-word translation misses its full significance. Historically, after the
Edict of Emancipation in 1861, the word “Mir” referred to a Russian
peasant community that owned its own land. A system of state-owned collective
farms replaced the Mir after the Russian revolution of 1917.
Adding modules over the years, and then sometimes
rearranging them, the Russians had built the strangest, biggest structure ever
seen in outer space. Traveling at an average speed of 17,885 mph, the space
station orbited about 250 miles above the Earth. Mir was both great and
graceful—and incongruous and awkward—all at the same time.
After more than 86,000 total orbits, Mir
re-entered Earth’s atmosphere on Friday, March 23, 2001, at 9 a.m. Moscow time.
The 134-ton space structure broke up over the southern Pacific Ocean. Some of
its larger pieces blazed harmlessly into the sea, about 1,800 miles east of New
Zealand. Observers in Fiji reported spectacular gold- and white-streaming
lights. An amazing saga and a highly successful program finally had come to a
After the Russian space station moved into
its second decade, the Mir became notorious as an accident-prone spacecraft,
even as it remained unparalleled in continuous service. A 15-minute fire in an
oxygen-generating device imperilled the station in February 1997. Failures of
the Electron electrolysis oxygen-generating units and problems with attitude
and environmental controls often seemed to alternate with computer malfunctions
and power outages. The June 1997 collision with the Progress supply vehicle
breached the integrity of the Spektr’s hull and rendered that module
But, Mir remained; and its space explorers
endured. Over its lifetime, the space station hosted 125 cosmonauts and
astronauts from 12 different nations. It supported 17 space expeditions,
including 28 long-term crews.
Its residents arrived via the 31
spacecraft that docked with Mir; nine of the dockings involved the Space Shuttle.
Additionally, 64 uncrewed cargo vessels ferried supplies and equipment
periodically to Mir. And, it served as a floating laboratory for 23,000
scientific and medical experiments.
Although Mir was gone by early 2001 and
the International Space Station (ISS) was growing rapidly in orbit, the U.S.
and Russia were still using spacecraft as statecraft. On March 23—the same day
as Mir’s deorbit—Russia expelled four U.S. diplomats and said it would expel 46
more, in retaliation for the American expulsion of 50 Russian diplomats for
espionage-like activities. It wasn’t the Cold War, all over again, but
international tensions were certainly continuing, and the need remained for a
worthy program for U.S. and Russian cooperation.
MIR BASE BLOCK
The Mir Base Block (core module) evolved from the
earlier Soviet Salyut to serve as the heart of the space station. Launched in
February 1986, the 13.1-meter-long, 20.4-metric ton core contained the primary
living and working area, and life support and power, as well as the main
computer, communications, and control equipment—all in 90 cubic meters of
habitable volume. Mir’s environment was generally maintained at temperatures of
64°F to 82°F and humidity of 20 to 70 percent. The core had four main
The Working Compartment was actually two
cylinders connected by a conical section. It provided operations and living
areas. Operations included monitoring, command, and scientific activities. The
living area provided the necessities for long-duration missions, including a
galley with a table, cooking elements, trash storage; a bicycle exerciser and
treadmill with medical monitoring equipment; video equipment; and individual
crew areas, each with a porthole, hinged chair, and sleeping bag. The personal
hygiene area, with toilet and sink, was located in one end of the working
compartment. Mir had several portholes, with shutters outside to protect them
from orbital debris impacts. Two television screens permitted face-to-face
communications with the ground. Four more television screens monitored the
other Mir modules.
The Transfer Compartment was a spherical
structure at the front end of Mir, providing one end-docking port for visiting
spacecraft, plus four radial berthing ports, set in a 90-degree arrangement,
for access to the station’s added modules. An approaching module used the Kurs
(course) automatic docking system to dock with the forward port. Crews could
then use the module’s manipulator arm system to move it to a radial port, thus
freeing the forward port for future use. The Transfer Compartment had no
simulated “up and down” indicators; it was an area of Mir where
astronauts reported sensations of disorientation.
The non-pressurized Assembly Compartment,
on the other end of the Base Block, contained the station’s main engine and
fuel tanks; it supported antennas, lights, and optical sensors. The pressurized
Intermediate Compartment tunnelled through the Assembly Compartment to connect
the Working Compartment to the aft docking port, where the Kvant-1 module was permanently
Kvant means “quantum.” When Kvant-1 was
docked permanently to Mir’s aft docking port in April 1987, it increased Mir’s
usable volume and expanded its scientific capabilities. Kvant-1 supported
research in the physics of galaxies, quasars, and neutron stars by measuring
electromagnetic emissions. The module also supported biotechnology experiments
and had some station control and life support functions. The 11-metric ton
Kvant-1 measured 4.4 meters by 6.3 meters long, with 40 cubic meters of
pressurized volume. The module was equipped with six gyro dynes that provided
accurate pointing of the station and significantly reduced the amount of fuel
used for attitude control. Its aft docking port was available for Soyuz and
vant-2 was a scientific and airlock
module, providing biological research, Earth observations, and extravehicular
The Kvant-2 enhanced Mir with drinking
water and oxygen provisions, motion control systems, and power distribution, as
well as shower and washing facilities. Its airlock contained a self-sustained
cosmonaut manoeuvring unit that increased the range and complexity of
extravehicular activity tasks. The 19.6-metric ton Kvant-2 measured 4.4 meters
by 13.7 meters long with 61.3 cubic meters of volume and 27.4 meters of solar
arrays. It was the first module equipped with the Lyappa manipulator arm, used
to move the modules after they docked with Mir. The Kvant-2 docked with Mir in
Kristall means “crystal.” This module
supported biological and materials production technologies in the microgravity
environment. These included semiconductors, cellular substances, and medicines.
Kristall also supported astrophysical and technical experiments. It had a
radial docking port, originally designed as a means of docking the Russian
Shuttle-type orbiter Buran, and was used for the first STS-71 docking in 1995.
Added in June 1990, the 19.6-metric ton Kristall measured 4.4 meters by 13
meters long, with 60.8 cubic meters of volume and 36-meters of solar arrays.
Spektr means “spectrum,” and this
module allowed for better investigations and monitoring of Earth’s natural
resources and atmosphere. Spektr also supported research into biotechnology,
life sciences, materials science, and space technologies. American astronauts
sometimes used Spektr as their living quarters. Launched in May 1995 during
Norm Taggard’s mission to Mir, Spektr carried more than 1,600 pounds of U.S.
equipment, mainly for biomedical research. Included with its arrival were two
pairs of solar arrays to boost power to the station and a Lyappa manipulator
arm to assist in moving the modules on Mir. The 19.3-metric ton Spektr module
measured 14.4 meters by 4.4 meters, with a pressurized volume of 62 cubic
meters, and had four solar arrays. On June 25, 1997, an uncrewed Progress
resupply vehicle collided with the Spektr module, causing solar array and hull
damage, and depressurization. The Mir crew closed the hatch to the leaking
Spektr, preventing further pressure loss on board Mir.
Priroda means “nature,” and this
module’s main purpose was Earth remote-sensing including the weather; the
ocean-atmosphere system; land, mineral, and crop conditions; and humankind’s
impacts and opportunities in the environment. Priroda also collected information
from remote-sensor buoys in nuclear power, seismic activity, and other areas to
create an integrated monitoring and warning system. Launched in April 1996,
Priroda, the last of the Mir modules arrived during Shannon Lucid’s stay on
Mir. The 19.7-metric ton Priroda measured 4.4 meters by 12 meters long and had
a pressurized volume of 66 cubic meters.
The Russian-built Docking Module was
delivered by STS-74 on November 14, 1995. Attached to the Kristall, the Docking
Module (DM) provided clearance for the Shuttle to dock easily with Mir without
interference from the station’s solar panels.
The DM featured a pressure-sealed body and
an androgynous peripheral docking system (APDS), compatible with the Kristall and
Shuttle Orbiter docking systems (ODS). The Shuttle ODS, an external airlock
extension, was fitted to the forward payload bay bulkhead and was accessible by
the crew via the mid-deck airlock. When docked, the APDS provided locking,
structural stiffness, and an airtight seal between the two structures.
The DM was 4.7 meters long from tip to tip
of the identical APDSs on either end; its diameter was 2.2 meters; and weighed
approximately 4.1 metric tons. The module carried to the Mir two solar arrays:
one Russian and one jointly developed by the U.S. and Russia to augment Mir’s
power supply. The DM carried the arrays retracted and stowed to be later
deployed by cosmonauts.
The International Space
Station (ISS) is the most complex international scientific and engineering
project in history and the largest structure humans have ever put into space.
This high-flying satellite is a laboratory for new technologies and an
observation platform for astronomical, environmental and geological research.
As a permanently occupied outpost in outer space, it serves as a stepping-stone
for further space exploration. This includes Mars, which NASA is now stating is
its goal for human space exploration.
The space station flies at an
average altitude of 248 miles (400 kilometres) above Earth. It circles the
globe every 90 minutes at a speed of about 17,500 mph (28,000 kph). In one day,
the station travels about the distance it would take to go from Earth to the
moon and back. The space station can rival the brilliant planet Venus in
brightness and appears as a bright moving light across the night sky.
The International Space Station was taken into
space piece-by-piece and gradually built in orbit. It consists of modules and
connecting nodes that contain living quarters and laboratories, as well as exterior trusses that provide structural support,
and solar panels that provide power. The first module, Russia’s Zarya module,
launched in 1998.The station has been completely occupied since Nov 2, 2000.
The space station, including its large solar
arrays, spans the area of a U.S. football field, including the end zones, and
weighs 861,804 lbs. (391,000 kilograms), not including visiting vehicles. The complex
now has more livable room than a conventional five-bedroom house, and has two
bathrooms, gym facilities and a 360-degree bay window. Astronauts have also
compared the space station’s living space to the cabin of a Boeing 747 jumbo
With a full complement of six crewmembers, the
station operates as a full research facility. In recent years, technology such
as 3-D printing, autonomous Earth imaging, laser communications and
mini-satellite launchers have been added to the station; some are controlled by
crewmembers, and some controlled by the ground. Additionally, there are dozens
of ongoing investigations looking at the health of astronauts staying on the
station for several months.
15 years ago on 20
November 1998, a Russian Proton rocket lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome
in Kazakhstan. Its payload was a single module called Zarya (Dawn), funded by
the US and built by Russia that would serve as the first component of a global
venture the likes of which had never been seen before.
Just over two weeks later, on
6 December 1998, Space Shuttle Endeavour flying on the STS-88 mission took the
US-built Unity module into space and berthed it with Zarya. With the connection
of these two inaugural modules, construction on the International Space Station
(ISS) had begun.
The ISS is perhaps the
greatest example of what can be achieved through international cooperation.
With a cost estimated at around $100 billion (£63 billion), the most expensive
manmade structure ever assembled, the logistics and planning of building and
operating a space station of this size have been stupendous. Today, many
members of the public take the ISS for granted, with astronauts and cargo
regularly making their way to and from the station 420 kilometres (260 miles)
up seemingly with ease, but the construction and operation of this
technological marvel have been anything but easy.
The Zarya Module, also known by the technical term Functional Cargo
Block and the Russian acronym FGB, was the first component launched for the International
Space Station. This module was designed to provide the station’s initial
propulsion and power. The 42,600 pound pressurized module was launched on a
Russian Proton rocket in November 1998.
The Zarya Module is 41.2 feet long and 13.5 feet
wide at its widest point. Its solar arrays and six nickel-cadmium batteries can
provide an average of three kilowatts of electrical power. Its side docking
ports accommodate Russian Soyuz spacecraft and unpiloted Progress resupply
spacecraft. Each of the two solar arrays is 35 feet long and 11 feet wide. The
module’s 16 fuel tanks combined can hold more than six tons of propellant. The
attitude control system for the module includes 24 large steering jets and 12
small steering jets. Two large engines were available for re-boosting the
spacecraft and making major orbital changes before Zvezda arrived.
The Zvezda Service Module was the first fully
Russian contribution to the International Space Station and served as the early
cornerstone for the first human habitation of the station. It was launched atop
a Proton rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The module provides
station living quarters, life support systems, electrical power distribution,
data processing systems, flight control systems and propulsion systems. It
provides a communications system that includes remote command capabilities from
ground flight controllers, and a docking port for Russian Soyuz and Progress
spacecraft and the European Automated Transfer Vehicle.
The service module would have a wingspan of 97.5
feet from tip to tip of the solar arrays, and it would be 43 feet long from end
to end. The Service Module contains three pressurized compartments: a small,
spherical Transfer Compartment,
PKhO, at the forward end; the long, cylindrical main Work Compartment; and the small,
cylindrical Transfer Chamber.
An unpressurized Assembly
Compartment is wrapped around the exterior of the Transfer Chamber
at the aft of the module.
The Service Module included four docking ports,
one in the aft Transfer Chamber and three in the spherical forward Transfer
Compartment — one facing forward, one facing up and one facing down.
The Unity connecting module was the first U.S.-built component of the International
Space Station. It is cylindrical in shape, with
six berthing locations (forward, aft, port, starboard, zenith, and nadir)
facilitating connections to other modules. Unity measures 4.57 metres (15.0 ft) in
diameter, is 5.47 metres (17.9 ft) long, and was built for NASA by Boeing
in a manufacturing facility at
the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Sometimes referred to as Node 1, Unity was the first of the three
connecting modules; the other two are Harmony and Tranquillity.
Essential space station resources such as
fluids, environmental control and life support systems, electrical and data
systems are routed through Unity to supply work and living
areas of the station. More than 50,000 mechanical items, 216 lines to carry
fluids and gases, and 121 internal and external electrical cables using six
miles of wire were installed in the Unity node. Unity is
made of aluminium.
Columbus, the primary research
facility for European payloads aboard the ISS, provides a generic
laboratory as well as facilities specifically designed
for biology, biomedical research and fluid physics. Several
mounting locations are affixed to the exterior of the module, which provide
power and data to external experiments such as the European Technology Exposure
Facility (EuTEF), Solar Monitoring Observatory, Materials
International Space Station Experiment, and Atomic Clock Ensemble in
Space. A number of expansions are planned for the module to study quantum
physics and cosmology. ESA’s development of technologies on all
the main areas of life support has been ongoing for more than 20 years and
are/have been used in modules such as Columbus and the ATV.
The German Aerospace Center DLRmanages ground control operations for Columbus and
the ATV is controlled from the French CNES Toulouse Space Center.
Cupola is a seven-window observatory, used to
view Earth and docking spacecraft. Its name derives from the Italian word cupola,
which means “dome”. The Cupola project was started by NASA and
Boeing, but cancelled due to budget cuts. A barter agreement between NASA and
ESA led to ESA resuming development of Cupola in 1998. It was built by Thales
Alenia Space in Turin, Italy. The module comes equipped with robotic
workstations for operating the station’s main robotic arm and shutters to
protect its windows from damage caused by micrometeorites. It features 7
windows, with an 80-centimetre (31 in) round window, the largest window on
the station (and the largest flown in space to date).