Mir Splashdown Could be Delayed to March 23

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Mir Splashdown Could be Delayed to March 23

MOSCOW, Mar 18, 2001 -- (Agence France Presse) The destruction of the 15-year-old Mir space station is likely to be postponed by one day to March 23, officials at the Russian mission control center (TsUP) said on Saturday.

The officials, cited by ITAR-TASS, said that it was now 80 percent certain that debris from the orbiter would splash down into the Pacific Ocean on Saturday next week at around 0600 GMT.

They explained the new timing by saying that Mir's altitude was falling slower than anticipated. The final descent is due to be triggered once it reaches 220 kilometers.

A final decision would be taken on Monday, the officials added.

TsUP could not be reached for confirmation.

On Thursday space officials had announced that the operation to ditch Mir would take place on March 22.

Russian mission control is to direct a rocket engine to fire three short bursts, causing the station to tilt and re-enter the atmosphere, TsUP spokesman Vsevolod Latychev explained to AFP.

Mir would then burn up and debris would rain down on the South Pacific in a target area 200 kilometers (120 miles) wide, and 6,000 kilometers long, between New Zealand and Chile, he added.

Around 20 tons of the platform's 137-ton mass are expected to survive the burn-up, with 1,500 pieces of debris, mostly very small but a few of them as large as a small car, falling to Earth.

Experts have warned of the operation's immense complexity -- no object the size of Mir has ever been brought back to Earth before -- and governments on five continents have expressed concern at the possibility of debris crashing into their backyards.

Russian officials are stressing that the chances of debris falling on inhabited areas are minimal.

However, the Russian space center has taken out insurance for 200 million dollars to cover possible damage. ((c) 2001 Agence France Presse)


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), March 18, 2001


Sydney Morning Herald

'Devastation would look like Lockerbie in Sydney'

By Frank Walker

If just part of Mir hits Sydney in the next few days, it could destroy up to a dozen homes, gouging a trench about 10m deep by 100m long.

"It would look like the Lockerbie disaster," said Australian National University meteorite expert and astronomer Rob McNaught.

In 1988 a PanAm jumbo jet was blown up by a terrorist bomb and crashed into the Scottish village of Lockerbie.

Australian emergency authorities stress the Russian space station is targeted to fall in the southern Pacific Ocean more than 5,000km south-east of Australia.

But the Russian space command warns they can't be 100 per cent certain and have taken out a $400 million insurance cover just in case. So after weeks of delay, Mir is scheduled to hit Earth on Thursday, at 5.21pm Sydney time.

When the 137-tonne space station hits it will be travelling at 3,600km/h. Flaming chunks will hit with the collective force of 13,000 tonnes of dynamite, a blast only slightly smaller than the first atomic bombs. Mir will be the biggest man-made object to strike the planet from space. The 33m-long, 30m-wide, 15-year-old space station is expected to break into more than 1,500 pieces as it tears through the atmosphere.

But Russian scientists say at least half-a-dozen chunks the size of Volkswagen Beetles, weighing up to a tonne each, will tear into the surface.

"If one of those chunks hit a house, it would totally vanish, along with several neighbouring houses," Dr McNaught said.

The Russians warn there is a 3 per cent chance of Mir crashing on land. "We don't have a 100pc safety guarantee," admitted Yuri Semyonov, head of the State-controlled RSC Energia company that built and ran Mir for the 15 years it has orbited Earth.

Official Vladimir Solovyev conceded the chance that the re-entry could not go as planned could be one in 33. "Any technical equipment can fail at any time," he said. "We put the risk at 2 to 3pc."

To bring Mir down, the Russians will fire a rocket as a brake. This has to be precise, as the descent into the atmosphere has to start over Japan before Mir breaks up as it hurtles down in a path that takes it north-east of Australia and New Guinea and down into the South Pacific somewhere between New Zealand and Chile.

Australia has drawn up extensive emergency plans. Emergency Management Australia director-general David Templeman said

there would be about one hour's warning if Mir went off course.

Many things could throw the space station off course. "There is solar wind variation, molecular drag, and station instability and it could skip in the upper atmosphere," he said.

Farewell to a great toilet...

When the Russian space station Mir plunges into the Pacific this week, more than metal will rain down in flames. Lots more.

Like Shannon Lucid's books, all 100 of them; Michael Foale's running shoes; Australian-born Andrew Thomas's nailfile; Norman Thagard's spare uniform. Even the astronauts' toilet.

The Americans who lived aboard Mir say they wish they could have salvaged some of the things they left behind.

Mr Thomas said he would have liked to bring back the picture of Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, that hung above Mir's galley.

Ms Lucid's books were gifts from her daughters. They were mostly used, half-price paperbacks. The covers of the hardbacks were torn off before launch to save weight.

Mr Thagard, Mir's first American resident,

said he would settle for his unused blue uniform and Mir's toilet.

"When I give presentations, one of the questions you get asked, especially by kids, is: 'What are space toilets like?' It would actually be not a bad display item," he said.

-- Rachel Gibson (rgibson@hotmail.com), March 18, 2001.

Mir space station 'may hit land'

by James Hansam in Moscow Russia today admitted there could be problems ditching space station Mir at the end of this week.

For the first time, space chiefs acknowledged that the 1,500 lumps of Mir may not fall in the target area - a vast uninhabited stretch of the Pacific midway between Chile and New Zealand.

Rocket thrusts due to direct Mir to the ocean could be insufficient, said leading space scientist Nikolai Anfimov.

Mir could then over-shoot its designated crash site.

"If an engine impulse is insufficient, the station will fly further and the southern tip of South America could be affected," he said.

Mission control in Moscow today set the timing of Mir's destruction at 6.30am (GMT) on Friday in the Pacific. But a senior official acknowledged the timing, which has been put back on numerous occasions, could be changed again if there is an "emergency".

"It will be 23 March, with 24 March as a reserve day in the case of emergency situations," he said.

Until now, the Russians have dismissed fears expressed in Japan, South America, Australia and New Zealand over the dangers from 15- year-old Mir's "planned" crash landing.

Mir will leave its regular orbit - which occasionally takes it over London - some six hours before it is due to crash into the Pacific.

http://www.thisislondon.com/dynamic/news/story.html? in_review_id=372397&in_review_text_id=3


-- Doris (nocents@bellsouth.net), March 20, 2001.

Russia sets new Mir return date

By Richard Macey and Craig Nelson in Moscow

The Mir space station's date with destruction has been reset for Friday afternoon.

Under the latest plan, announced yesterday by the Russian Space Agency, a cargo ship attached to the 135-tonne station will fire its rocket engines twice during two consecutive orbits to drop the station to an altitude of 170-180 kilometres above Earth. Several hours later, the cargo ship will fire one last time, sending the space station plummeting into the South Pacific.

Tonnes of wreckage expected to survive the 1,500-degree inferno should splash into the ocean, half way between the southern tips of New Zealand and South America, between 5.20pm and 5.30pm Sydney time.

If for some reason the rockets cannot be fired, the space agency says Mir, which circles the world 16 times a day, should fall back to Earth as a result of atmospheric friction on Wednesday next week. However, such a re-entry would be uncontrolled, with debris landing anywhere along the flight path.

Experts said a computer failure could throw off the split-second timing required to bring Mir down safely.

"If an engine impulse is insufficient, the station will fly farther and the southern tip of South America could be affected," Mr Nikolai Anfimov, a Russian space agency spokesman, said on Monday.

Russian mission controllers have repeatedly postponed the station's destruction so they can use atmospheric drag to reduce the height of Mir's orbit to just 220 kilometres without having to burn vital rocket fuel.

They originally planned to trigger the return to Earth when it was 250 kilometres up, but decided waiting for the lower orbit would allow more fuel to be kept in reserve for the final engine firing.

At noon yesterday, Mir was on a path ranging from 222 kilometres to 228 kilometres up, descending about three kilometres a day.

Its fall from orbit will take it over Siberia, Japan and ocean well to the north-east of New Zealand.

Parts of the station most likely to survive the fall through the atmosphere include 18 metal flywheels designed to keep Mir pointed in the right direction while in space. Air tanks, as well as the 75- kilogram nickel cadmium batteries, should also survive.

Qantas, which has a flight leaving Sydney on Friday for Buenos Aires, said yesterday it was monitoring the situation.

"We have been kept well informed. We do have contingency plans," said a spokeswoman, who declined to say what the plans involved.

Australia's response to Mir's return will consist of embassy staff in Moscow relaying news from the Russian space centre to the Defence Department's agency Emergency Management Australia in Canberra.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), March 20, 2001.

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