MIR Space Station

FEATURE: MIR Space Station

In February of 1986 began to be constructed probably the most mythical of the space stations: the MIR.
In operation for approximately 14 years, it has overcome numerous problems until it was impossible to continue to operate.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet the MIR.


1986: Tale of two space stations

The core module of the Mir space station, which means “peace” and “world” in Russian, starts its orbital journey on February 20, 1986. The station’s first crew, Leonid Kizim and Vladimir Soloviev, literally shuttle their Soyuz T-15 spacecraft to Salyut-7, the Mir’s predecessor, work there and then return back to Mir.

1987: First addition

The Kvant-1 module, a first addition to the station, joined Mir in April after a dramatic docking saga. When the new module fails to achieve a complete docking with Mir, the station’s residents Yuri Romanenko and Alexander Laveikin walk outside the station to check for problems. They found and successfully removed and bag of trash stuck in the docking port, which was prevented the docking. In July Syrian “guest” cosmonaut, Mohammed Faris, spends a week onboard Mir.

1988: Buran – an unfulfilled promise

Bulgarian Alexander Alexandrov and Afghan Abdul Ahad Mohmand visit Mir for a week as “guest” cosmonauts during 1988. In the meantime, below on Earth, in Baikonur, the thousands of workers, soldiers and technicians are finishing a monumental task of preparing the Buran reusable spacecraft for the first test run into orbit. The second test flight of the Buran, if it ever happened, would involve docking with Mir. In December, a French veteran astronaut Jean-Loup Chretien spends a month on Mir and becomes the first non-US, non-Russian space traveler to venture outside the spacecraft.

1989: Here comes a big one

After a four-month break in manned operations due to the damage of the Soyuz spacecraft in Baikonur, the Mir is inhabited again in September. In December, Mir is “upgraded and improved” with a 19-tonKvant-2 module, which among other things brings a large airlock to the station and a maneuvering unit for spacewalking cosmonauts.

1990: Space bikers

During two of their five spacewalks, cosmonauts Alexander Viktorenko and Alexander Serebrov flew a backpack-style maneuvering unit, which allows “untethered” floating in space. Due to Mir’s inability to maneuver to pick up the cosmonaut in case his “backpack” fails, both crewmembers remain tethered during the tests. They would need no tether in the presense of the Buran. In December, Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS) journalist Toyohiro Akiyama reports on Mir operations “from the scene” during his visit to the station.

1991: Flying into the new world

As the Soviet Union collapses underneath, Mir’s cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev agrees to stay for a second term onboard Mir to make possible a politically important visit of Toktar Aubakirov, a cosmonaut from newly independent Kazakhstan. However, the US media, portray Krikalev as a stranded cosmonaut, unable to return home due to the collapse of the Soviet Union. On the same mission which brought Aubakirov, an Austrian researcher Franz Viehboeck visits Mir. In May, a British passenger, Helen Sharman, visits Mir on a privately financed mission.

1992: Sofora propulsion

In March, Klaus Dietrich Flade, a researcher from recently unified Germany visits Mir. He is not the first German to fly to the Russian space station though. 14 years before, a cosmonaut from East Germany had spent a week onboard Salyut-6. In August, the French astronaut Michel Tognini visited Mir. During three spacewalks in September, cosmonauts Anatoly Soloviev and Sergei Avdeev “crowned” recently built Sofora truss with a propulsion unit delivered onboard Progress cargo ship.

1993: Banner over the world

On February 4, the Progress M-15 cargo ship separated from the Mir space station and at the distance 230 meters deployed a giant foil-thin screen. It was known as Znamya-2 or “banner” experiment. The Russian creators of this fantastic technology claimed it could be used in the future for illuminating starving for light cities beyond the Arctic Circle. Many observers also said it has been the first test of the so-called solar sail propulsion. Numerous observers on Earth see Znamya, even after it was discarded from the Progress.

1994: One way to Mars

On January 8, the Soyuz TM-18 spacecraft blasted off toward Mir with a crew of three including medical specialist Valery Polyakov. As his crewmates returned to Earth in July, Polyakov remained onboard Mir until March of 1995, which is long enough to make a trip to Mars. He established an absolute record for human presence in space on a single mission – 438 days. In October, Soyuz TM-20 delivered to Mir a three-member crew including Elena Kondakova, who spends 169 days in space (a record for a female) and German-born researcher from European Space Agency Ulf Merbold, who in November 1983 participated in the first Spacelab mission onboard Shuttle Columbia.

1995: Shuttle is coming

NASA astronauts become long-term guests onboard Mir, with the launch of Norman Thagard in March onboard Soyuz spacecraft from Baikonur. In anticipation of joint US-American operations on Mir, the station is reconfigured and grows by one module. In July, the US Space Shuttle docks to Mir for the first time. It picks up Norm Thagard and two Russian cosmonauts for a ride home. In September, the Soyuz TM-22 delivers a crew of three to Mir, including European astronaut Thomas Raiter, who spent 179 days in space.

1996: Construction complete!

A decade long construction of Mir concludes with the arrival of the Priroda module to the station on April 26. With its successful docking, no “vacancies” remains on the core module’s docking ports. On March 24, the US astronaut Shannon Lucid boards Mir for what turned out to be a 188-day mission, a longest space flight for a NASA astronaut. In September, John Blaha replaces Lucid as NASA representative onboard Mir, completing a 118-day mission.

1997: Houston, we have a problem

In the midst of the Russian-American joint operations on Mir, the station went through the worst year in its history marked by a fire and a collision with a cargo ship. These accidents soured forever the relationship between NASA and Russian Space Agency, while US media made Mir a favorite subject for attacks and ridicule. Despite problems, during the year, NASA astronauts Jerry Linenger and Mike Foale log 122 and 134 days in space respectively.

1998: The beginning of the end

Two last missions of American astronauts David Wolf and Andy Thomas to Mir turn into a public relations nightmare for NASA. The agency Director Dan Goldin had had to “certify” Mir as “safe,” before he authorized Wolf’s 119-day mission to the station. As Andy Thomas had returned from Mir after a 130-day mission, the last US visit to Mir, NASA pressed Russian government to deorbit the station as soon as possible. On November 20, the Proton rocket boosted into orbit the Zarya space tug, the first element of the International Space Station, opening a new page in space exploration. Yet, RKK Energia, the Mir operator, continues struggle to keep the aging station alive.

1999: Closing the shop

With a flow of US cash evaporated, the future of the Mir space station remained in limbo. When all efforts to raise private funds for future missions prove futile, RKK Energia does not send a replacement crew to the 27th expedition, which lands on August 28. Yet, during their expedition to Mir, cosmonauts Viktor Afanasiev and Sergei Avdeev perform perhaps the most spectacular experiment onboard Mir, deploying a giant umbrella-like antenna outside the station. The French cosmonaut Jahn Pierre Haignere accompanied his Russian colleagues during 188-day mission, while Slovakian researcher Ivan Bella spent a week on Mir in February.


2000: Honey, I booked a ride to Mir!

At the beginning of the year, a group of US businessmen announces a creation of MirCorp with the goal of “privatizing” Mir operations. MirCorp is able to finance a single 72-day mission of Alexander Kaleri and Sergei Zaletin to Mir, while trying to sell “joy rides” to the station. Although a few potential “customers” make headlines during the year, their contributions is not enough to keep the aging station operational. As the first Russian-American crew prepares to take residence onboard the International Space Station in October, RKK Energia decides to terminate Mir’s flight. Unless an emergency “burial” crew is needed in 2001, Kaleri and Zaletin, who landed on June 16, turned out be the last people, who lived on Mir.

2001: The epilogue

RKK Energia waits with the Mir deorbiting, until the station celebrates its 15th anniversary in space on February 20, 2001. The deorbiting maneuver is planned for the end of February or beginning of March 2001.

In Russian Space Web


©Russian Space Web
©Russian Space Web

No matter what was said and written about Mir during its trouble years at the end of the 1990s, this space station will enter history books as a resounding success. Yet, 15 years of Mir operation testify that despite the fact that humans learned to survive in orbit for months and years, space remains a very dangerous place. Here is the log of the most perilous situations, which Mir inhabitants had to go through and important lessons they gave to cosmonauts and designers of future spacecraft.

September 6, 1988: The Soyuz TM-5 landing

After rather uneventful seven-day visit to Mir, a guest cosmonaut from Afghanistan Abdul Akhad Momand boarded the Soyuz TM-5 spacecraft for a trip home, accompanied by an experienced commander Vladimir Lyakhov, returning home after a long-duration mission to Mir. Immediately after undocking, a combination of human errors caused the Soyuz to spin around, while still in proximity of the station. Fortunately, the commander was able to stabilize the ship quickly and safely depart the station. Sometime later, as planned, the Soyuz jettisoned its habitation module in preparation for the deorbiting maneuver. (Separating the module would allow to save fuel for deorbiting maneuver).

However, 30 seconds before scheduled braking maneuver, the orientation system onboard the spacecraft failed causing a seven-minute delay in the engine firing. When the engine did fire automatically, Lyakhov immediately shot it down, since he had no idea where the new reentry trajectory would take the craft.

One orbit later, the crew made a second attempt to deorbit their Soyuz. However, this time, the automatic system confused by previous emergency instructions from the ground, not only shot down the engines, but also launched a countdown for the separation of the propulsion module with all its vital systems including braking engine itself. If Laykhov did not manage to suppress the countdown, the automatic system would separate the reentry capsule from the propulsion module and most certainly doom the crew.

After the ordeal, the Soyuz TM-5 and its crew circled the Earth for 24 hours, without toilet and water left in the jettisoned habitation module. Another deorbiting attempt was made on September 7, 1988, when everything worked perfectly and the crew landed safely.

The Soviet designers learned from the lesson: never again the habitation module, with all its vital systems, would be separated from the Soyuz until deorbiting maneuver had been successfully completed.

1990: Soyuz TM-9 insulation problems

Soon after the launch toward Mir on February 11, 1990, the cosmonauts Anatoly Soloviev and Alexander Balandin discovered that thermal protection sheets on the reentry capsule of their Soyuz spacecraft came loose. Fearing resulting failures in the spacecraft sensors, ground control devised a plan to fix the insulation back in place during an emergency EVA, once the crew gets to Mir. The possibility of sending a one-man rescue ship to pick Soloviev and Balandin was also under consideration.

After watching instructional tapes on insulation repairs, Soloviev and Balandin ventured outside the station through the hatch of the Kvant-2 module on July 17, 1990. After an exhaustive spacewalk and their supply of oxygen running out the repair job was mostly accomplished. However, when the cosmonauts returned to the Kvant-2 they discovered that the module’s airlock hatch would not close. Thanks to the module’s ingenious design, the crew was able to unpressurize the middle compartment of the Kvant-2 and used it as an airlock to return into the station.

During the next spacewalk on July 25, 1990, the crew resumed its struggle with the hatch on Kvant-2 and eventually succeeded with closing it properly and repressurizing all compartments on the module.

In August 1990, the Soyuz TM-9 landed flawlessly, while the damaged hatch of the Kvant-2 module was eventually repaired as well. This experience gave another lesson to designers: build your airlocks with hatches opening inside the craft, so that internal pressure would help to keep it tightly closed. One wondering how this lesson was learned should look at the docking compartment of the International Space Station, which also serves as the airlock for the Russian segment of the station. Its EVA hatch opens inside.


March 21, 1991: Progress M-7 near miss

Following a first aborted attempt to dock, the Progress M-7 cargo ship controlled from the ground, tried again only to zoom within meters from the station, narrowly avoiding the collision.

The rendezvous problems reoccur as Mir crew redocks its Soyuz TM-11 spacecraft to the rear docking port on Mir’s Kvant-1 module. The problem is finally traced to the Kurs rendezvous system onboard Mir, which has one of its antennas missing.

January 14, 1994: Soyuz TM-17 collides with Mir

As the departing Russo-French crew conducts overflight inspection of the station, their Soyuz TM-17 spacecraft hits the Kristall module on Mir at least twice.

Following the successful landing of the crew, the ground processing teams discover a number of “souvenirs” taken by the crew from the station, which exceed the weight limit allowed onboard the Soyuz during landing. The Russian investigation team suggests that excessive weight onboard the craft not only endangered the crew during landing, but it could also contribute to the problems with the attitude control system during the overflight of the station and therefore make the collision with the station more likely.

The moral of the story: the strict “packing up” guidelines for the future station crews.

February 23, 1997: Fire onboard!

During a routine ignition of an oxygen-generating canister, cosmonaut Alexander Lazutkin suddenly faces a flame going out of control. Before the crew puts on gas masks and extinguishes the fire, a multi-module complex, including the Soyuz spacecraft, their only “lifeboat” is filled with smoke. Fortunately, the station’s life-support system eventually “clears the air.”

June 25, 1997: The collision!

The same Russian crew including Vasiliy Tsibliev and Alexander Lazutkin, which just several months ago was battling flames on Mir, plus NASA astronaut Michael Foale, found themselves in the middle of the worst collision in space history. During a docking test with the use of remote control onboard the station, Tsibliev lost control of a tumbling cargo ship. The vehicle collides with the station and seconds later, the crew onboard Mir hears a hissing sound of air escaping their vessel. Miraculously, almost instantly, the crewmembers were able to locate the air leak to Spektr module. After short struggle to find cutting tools, they severed the cables leading into the Spektr and safely sealed the hatches.

In Russian Space Web



The core module of the Mir space station

According to Roskosmos, the development work on the Mir orbital complex began in 1976 and involved 280 organizations with 20 different Soviet ministries.

On February 20, 1986, the UR-500K (Proton) rocket launched the core module the space station called Mir, which can be translated as “peace” or “world.” The official Soviet news reports, released immediately after the launch, said that the spacecraft is equipped with six docking ports and it will serve as a core of the future multi-modular orbital station.

Although the core module, known in the industry by its production designation, 17KS, closely resembled two previous Soviet space stations — Salyut-6 and Salyut-7 it was a major departure from the latter. Since most of the payload of the future station was expected to be placed onboard “add-on” modules, the core itself was free from a huge instrument section filling most of the volume inside two previous orbital labs. Free space on Mir’s core was used to fit two tiny but comfortable crewmember cabins, each featuring a window!

The Soviet sources reported that number of onboard computers was increased from one onboard Salyut-7 to seven on Mir.

The Mir’s launch also marked the new approach to the informational policy in space. The launch of the first crew onboard Mir was announced in advance, the first case in the Soviet spaceflight, which did not involve foreign cosmonauts.

Two months after the core was launched, Konstantin Feoktistov, the veteran of the Soviet space program gave many hints about the new station’s design in the interview to Izvestia.

In particular, Feoktistov said that in the future during further deployment of the station, there would be a possibility to employ new systems, which would considerably save onboard propellant. Obviously, he meant onboard gyrodines, which would arrive in the following years onboard Kvant-1 and Kvant-2 modules.

Feoktistov also hinted that the core module could be equipped with additional solar panels and that more effective life-support systems are installed onboard. Wet towels, the main personal hygiene method on the previous stations was expected to be replaced with a special sink equipped with a system to pump in and remove water.

Finally, the Soviet sources disclosed that Kosmos-1700 satellite, a.k.a. Luch (Beam), launched ahead of the core module, would be used to relay communications from Mir to the ground control stations. Reportedly, during each orbit the station had a 40-minute window, during which a special antenna installed on the tail section of the core module could “see” the relay sat.

Propulsion system

The integrated propulsion system, ODU, for the core module of the Mir space station and the future service module of the International Space Station consisted of two orbit-correction engines, KD, designated S5.79 with a thrust of 300 kilograms each and 32 small thrusters, DMT, designated 11D428A-10 and developed at NIIMash with a thrust of 12.5 kilograms each and designed to control course, yaw and bank movements of the module. All these engines would be fed from a four tanks with two tanks for oxidizer and two for fuel. Nitrogen gas was used for the pressurization of the tanks.

On November 19, 1985, NIIKhimmash test center started firing and corrosion tests of the 7P17KS EU500 test article of the propulsion system for the core module at 4A bench of IS-104 test facility.

On October 23, 1997, NIIKhimmash started same type of tests on the 8P17KS EU917 article representing the propulsion system of the Zvezda service module. It was conducted at the 4E bench of IS-104 facility. In addition to endurance testing, the prototype was used to confirm the possibility of firing orbit correction engines onboard the Progress cargo ship, while feeding it with propellant from the service module. On Oct. 3, 2012, the 40th engine firing of the Zvezda’s propulsion test unit was conducted.

Kvant-1 module (37KE) at a glance:

Launch date       March 30, 1987

Docking date     April 12, 1987

Launch vehicle  UR-500 Proton

Mass within Mir complex            11 tons

Length  5.3 meters

Diameter            4.35 meters

Payload weight                                4 tons

The module, known today as Kvant-1, was originally conceived under designation 37KE for Mir’s predecessor – Salyut-7. The new spacecraft would improve the station’s capabilities with an attitude control system, which did not require propellant. Instead, it would be based on complex electrically-driven wheels called gyrodines. The module would also carry instruments for X-ray and ultraviolet observations of the Universe. A special modification of the docking port was installed on Salyut-7 which would allow the docking of such large spacecraft as 37KE.

Yet, the technical problems with module development, forced NPO Energia, the station developer, to reassign the 37KE for the upcoming Mir space station.

By the end of the 1986, the official Soviet press confirmed that the astrophysical module carrying German and Dutch astronomy gear is slated for launch toward Mir at the beginning of 1987.

As it was originally meant, he module housed the first set of six gyroscopes, instruments for astrophysical observations and an experimental unit for electrophoresis. In addition, the Kvant-1 also delivered an additional deployable solar panel to Mir.

According to Russian sources, the payload onboard Kvant-1 breaks down into two categories: the scientific instruments with the total mass of 1.5 tons and other equipment – 2.6 tons.

After Proton rocket hauled Kvant-1 into the initial orbit, a special space tug was expected to deliver Kvant-1 to its destination. The space tug was based on TKS spacecraft – a “leftover” from the abandoned project of the Almaz military orbital station.

Docking of the Kvant-1 with Mir was troubled by the initial failure of its onboard control system. When, after second attempt, the spacecraft finally berthed to the station, the ground control realized that the docking process can not be completed. The cosmonauts onboard the station conducted an adventurous spacewalk to the loosely connected spacecraft, where they found a trash back stuck on the docking port, preventing two spacecraft to dock correctly. The bag apparently stuck in the docking mechanism during loading of a cargo ship. The spacewalking astronauts removed the bag and final docking could be completed immediately.

The space tug, which delivered Kvant-1 to Mir was then separated from the complex, revealing a rear docking port on the module.

Over the years, the Kvant-1 became an integral part of the station. RKK Energia representatives said that so many communications were drawn through the hatches between the core and Kvant-1 that they had become virtually inseparable. Along with gyrodines, Kvant-1 eventually became a base for two extendable truss structures and the additional solar panels.

Mir’s Kvant-2 module

Kvant-2, launched in 1989, was the first of the four Mir modules based on a TKS transport spacecraft. The TKS was developed in the 1970s for the Almaz military orbital station. After the Almaz program had been abandoned in 1981, KB Salyut, the TKS developer, convinced the Soviet leadership to use the hardware from Almaz program for yet-to-be-launched Salyut-7 and Mir space stations.

Kvant-2 module (77KSD) at a glance:

Launch date       1989 Nov. 26

Docking date at Mir        1989 Dec. 6

Launch vehicle UR-500K Proton

Mass within the Mir complex    19,640 kilograms

Length                 12.2 meters

Diameter            4.35 meters

Internal volume               61.9 cubical meters

Size of solar panels         56 square meters

Solar panels power supply capability     4.5 – 6.7 kW

Payload weight                                7 tons (11,570 kilograms including subsystems)


The TKS-based modules would replace the original design of add-on modules known as Series 37. Unlike “self-propelled” TKS-based module, the spacecraft from Series 37, required a space tug, which would deliver it from the initial orbit to the station.

The government the approved the initiative by KB Salyut, despite objections from NPO Energia, the Mir’s developer. NPO Energia leadership insisted that the TKS ships were oversized, and not very well suited for the role.

Instead, NPO Energia proposed its own design of the modules. They would be delivered to the station by a yet-to-be-developed space tug, which borrowed its propulsion system from the core module. Yet, the government approved the KB Salyut plan.

The letter “D” in the designation 77KSD stands for Russian “do-osnasheniya,” which essentially means “to equip to a full extent.”

The Kvant-2 mission was to add a second set of gyrodines to Mir, which unlike those installed inside Kvant-1 module, were mounted on the exterior of the module. According to NPO Energia, this proved to be the wrong decision, since the replacement of the failing gyrodines turned out to be much more difficult than those in Kvant-1.

Kvant-2 was also carrying new life-support systems for recycling water and generating oxygen onboard the station, which would reduce the dependence of the orbital lab from the ground.

The Kvant-2 was subdivided into three sections isolated from each other by hatches. One section was a large airlock featuring a one-meter hatch, opening outward. A special backpack unit, an equivalent of NASA’s Manned Maneuvering Unit, MMU, was located inside Kvant-2’s airlock. It was expected to be used during EVA’s, particularly during Buran missions to Mir.

Among other payloads, Kvant-2 was carrying a rotating platform for cameras and scientific instruments, which could be controlled by the crew or controllers from the ground and an Incubator-2 unit for life science experiments.

The propulsion system onboard Kvant-2 featured small 11D458 and 17D58E thrusters developed at NIIMash.

The Kristall (77KST) module for the Mir space station

Kristall module (77KST) at a glance:

Launch date       May 31, 1990

Docking date     June 10, 1990

Launch vehicle  UR-500 Proton

Mass within Mir complex            19,640 kilograms

Length                 11.9 meters

Diameter            4.35 meters

Internal volume               60.8 cubical meters

Size of solar panels         70 square meters

Solar panels power supply capability     5.5 – 8.4 kW

Capacity of onboard batteries   360 Amperes per hour

Power consumption per day     0.5 – 1 kW

Peak power loads           3 to 7 kW

Payload weight                                7 tons (with subsystems: 11,270 kg)

The Kristall module was conceived as a multipurpose laboratory for technology and material processing experiments, astrophysics and geophysics research.

The material processing payload included Gallar, Krater-V, Zona-02, 03 and Optizon-1 experiments.

The Krater-V electrical furnace was to be used for producing perfect crystals of gallium arsenide and zinc oxide under microgravity conditions estimated between 10-3 and 10-5 g.

The Optizon furnace could be used for semi-industrial production of perfect cremnium monocrystals.

Finally, Zona-02 and Zona-03 furnaces were designed for semiconductor production experiments.

The module’s biotechnology payload included Svetlana, Ruchei, Biokrist, Rekomb, Vita and Maksat experiments. The Ainur biological research unit was expected to be used for the experiments with electrophoresis.

The Svet experiment included a small greenhouse for plant cultivation experiments. The unit was equipped with a source of light and feeding system.

The experiments Buket, Marina and Glazar were designed for astronomy observations in ultraviolet range of spectrum. According to the official specs, the telescopes onboard Kristall were capable of detecting astronomical objects up to the magnitude 18.

The propulsion system onboard Kristall featured small 11D458 and 17D58E thrusters developed at NIIMash.

In addition to its scientific gear, the Kristall module sported a pair of so-called “androgynous” docking ports compatible with the Buran orbiter. Original plans called for an Buran unmanned test mission, during which the orbiter would automatically dock to Mir and the station crew would enter the winged vehicle. Buran’s docking mission to Mir would also coincide with the flight of a Soyuz vehicle also equipped with the Buran-compatible docking port. In the unusual rescue drill, the Soyuz crew would dock with the free-flying Buran, enter the craft, then undock and redock with one of the Buran compatible ports on the Kristall module. The operation could also involve a spacewalk with the help of a maneuvering unit for free flight in orbit.

For each docking with Buran, the Kristall module was expected to be moved from its usual parking position on the side docking port to the front docking port of the core module of the Mir space station.

After the Buran program was terminated at the beginning of the 1990s, the Soyuz spacecraft with the Buran-compatible docking port was used for a regular mission to Mir. The ship successfully docked to Buran’s docking port on Kristall in the summer of 1993.

In 1995, the Kristall module was relocated to the front docking port of the core module, as it would be done during Buran missions. However, this time it was done to receive the US Space Shuttle. For all subsequent Shuttle missions, the Kristall was equipped with an extension known as a docking compartment. It allowed the Shuttle to stay clear from Mir’s solar arrays, without relocating Kristall to the front docking port for each Shuttle mission.

Spektr module (77KSO) at a glance:

Launch date       May 20, 1995

Docking date     June 1, 1995

Launch vehicle  UR-500 Proton

Mass within Mir complex            20 tons (original)

Length                 9.1 meters (original)

Diameter            4.35 meters

Payload weight                                7 tons

The end of the Cold War literally transformed the purpose and shape of the Spektr module. The spacecraft was developed for a top-secret military program code-named “Oktant.” Within “Oktant,” the Soviet Ministry of Defense planned a series of experiments in surveillance in space and tests of technology for antimissile defense.

The experiments would continue the research in the field started onboard top-secret TKS-M module, which docked to Salyut-7 in 1985 under an official “cover-up” name Cosmos-1686.

A set of surveillance instruments and the launchers for artificial targets were mounted on the exterior of the module, while a control station was set up for a specially trained researcher. An experimental optical telescope code-named “Pion” was the heart of the Spektr payload.

However, with the end of the arm race and shrinking of Russia’s space budget at the end of the 1980s, the Spektr module stuck on the ground for indefinite future. Russian officials reportedly considered launching Spektr and its sister-ship – Priroda module – to the International Space Station.

The rescue came in mid-1990s with the resurgence of the US-Russian cooperation in space. The Spektr was quickly refurbished for the new mission: to house experiments for the cooperative program. The module’s military payload was replaced with the new conical-shaped section housing a second pair of solar panels, which would improve Mir’s ever-diminishing power capabilities provided by its aging solar arrays.

A Phaza spectrometer remained the only “rudiment” of Spektr’s military past, when the module make it into orbit in May 1995.

The propulsion system onboard Spektr featured small 11D458 and 17D58E thrusters developed at NIIMash.

The Spektr turned out to be the unluckiest piece of Mir. In 1997, the Progress cargo ship, which went astray during remote-controlled docking experiment, hit the Spektr and its solar panels. The collision caused depressurization of the spacecraft and almost cost the crewmembers of the station their lives. Fortunately, they were able to severe the cables leading to the module and close the hatch connecting it with the rest of the station.

Later, the hatch leading into Spektr was replaced with a special plate carrying airtight interfaces for the power cables. In the course of the so-called “internal” spacewalk into depressurized module, the cosmonauts run power cables from Spektr’s undamaged solar panels to the hatch. As a result, the space station was able to reclaim the electricity generated onboard the sealed module.

All attempts to pinpoint the exact location of the air leak onboard Spektr and to repair it proved fruitless, leaving the Spektr off limits for the rest of the station’s lifetime.

During the latest, expedition to Mir in the spring and summer of 2000, the cosmonauts discovered that a small leak, which bothered mission control since summer 1999, was caused by a small test valve in the plate, which seals off the Spektr. The leak was reportedly isolated in a matter of seconds.

Priroda module (77KSI) at a glance:

Launch date       April 23, 1996

Docking date     April 26, 1996

Launch vehicle  UR-500 Proton

Mass within Mir complex            20 tons (original)

Length  9.7 meters (original)

Diameter            4.35 meters

Payload weight                                7 tons


The module Priroda was a Russian equivalent of NASA’s Mission to planet Earth. The spacecraft was intended for a wide range of remote-sensing experiments. As its military sister ship, the module Spektr, Priroda stuck on the ground for years due to luck of funds.

As it happened with Spektr, the Priroda’s mission was revived, when NASA signed up for a series of flights onboard Mir. The last module of Mir, completed a decade-long assembly of the Mir space station, delivering unprecedented amount of scientific payload.

Along with remote-sensing equipment the module was carrying the hardware for material processing, meteorological and ionosphere research, as well as equipment for US, French and German experiments.

The propulsion system onboard Kristall featured small 11D458 and 17D58E thrusters developed at NIIMash.

Soon, after Priroda successfully reached the orbit on April 23, 1996, a failure in its electrical supply system cut in half the amount of energy available onboard. Since in its final configuration the Priroda had no solar panels, the module had only one attempt of docking with Mir, before loosing all its power and maneuverability. Given the fact that several previous modules had to abort the initial docking attempts, the ground controllers were extremely nervous about the situation. Fortunately, the Priroda docked to Mir flawlessly on April 26, 1996.

Onboard Mir, the module reportedly required a considerable amount of power for its full-scale operations. Due to limited power supply during the last expedition to Mir in 2000, the cosmonauts had never had a chance to activate the module’s payloads.

Priroda module (77KSI) at a glance:

Launch date       November 1995

Docking date     November 15, 1996

Launch vehicle  Space Shuttle

Length                 5 meters

Diameter            2.9 meters

In 1994, Russia and the US signed an agreement calling for seven Shuttle missions to Mir until 1998. In order to receive the Shuttle, the Kristall module, equipped with a compatible docking port had to be pivoted to the front docking port of the core module. In its usual position, the solar arrays on Mir would prevent the docking. In order to avoid the transfer of Kristall, both sides agreed to introduce an extension to the Kristall module, which would give enough clearance for the Shuttle to dock. In accordance with the contract, RKK Energia would build the so-called docking compartment, which would be delivered to the station onboard the Space Shuttle.

The docking compartment would be also serve as a carrier for two new solar panels, which would be later transferred and deployed on pre-built positions onboard Kvant-1 module. Solar elements on one of the panels would be supplied by the US.

The docking compartment also included its own thermal control, telemetry and TV-transmission system.

In June 1995, the docking compartment completed its first flight, this time onboard giant Antonov 124 transport plane from Moscow to Cape Canaveral.

In November 1995, the Space Shuttle Atlantis delivered the Docking Compartment to Mir during STS-74 mission. The module was initially raised from their cargo bay and mounted on top of the Shuttle docking port. On November 15, Atlantis docked to Mir via docking compartment.

In Russian Space Web


Shannon Lucid, NASA astronaut in MIR ©NASA
Shannon Lucid, NASA astronaut in MIR ©NASA


Russos amargurados com destruição da plataforma orbital por falta de dinheiro

Faltava um minuto para as seis da manhã (hora de Portugal) quando a estação espacial Mir, já partida aos bocados e em chamas, atravessou ontem os céus para terminar o seu salto mortal no oceano Pacífico. “A Mir cruzou o horizonte em cinco, seis, sete, talvez nove pedaços, num enorme rasto dourado”, relatou o enviado da CNN, Hugh Williams, em Nadi, nas ilhas Fidji. Em Korolov, perto de Moscovo, no centro de controlo das missões, onde os técnicos, cientistas e cosmonautas não dormiam há dois dias para preparar a destruição da Mir, o ambiente não era propriamente de entusiasmo, relata a agência Reuters. “Agora vamos beber uma aguardente e brindar por tudo ter terminado bem e ainda podermos mostrar ao mundo que somos bons nalguma coisa”, disse Alexander Lazutkin, que em 1997 esteve durante seis meses na estação orbital que agora está no fundo do mar, a cerca de 5800 quilómetros da costa oriental da Austrália.Com os restos da estação – o maior artefacto feito pelo homem que alguma vez reentrou na atmosfera terrestre – vieram também alguns dos objectos que os cosmonautas lá foram acumulando ao longo dos 15 anos de vida da estação. Nem tudo foi trazido de volta à Terra, explicou Serguei Avdeiev, que é o ser humano que mais tempo passou no espaço – 748 dias, repartidos por três missões. Havia muitos livros – desde a poesia de Alexander Pushkin até manuais de instruções sobre foguetões -, discos de Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd e rock russo e até uma fotografia a preto e branco do primeiro homem no espaço, Iuri Gagarin, junto com árvores de Natal de plástico.A estação caiu no sítio certo, longe de locais habitados – muitos estados do Pacífico, como o Japão, as Fidji, a Austrália ou a Nova Zelândia, temiam que a Rússia não conseguisse controlar a queda da estação, que penetrou na atmosfera à velocidade de oito quilómetros por segundo, embora depois abrandasse para 200 a 300 metros por segundo. Era o suficiente para estoirar com uma parede de betão com dois metros de espessura. Mas, afinal, nem sequer um dos 1500 fragmentos da estação acertaram no alvo que a empresa de “fast-food” norte-americana Taco Bell colocou no Pacífico Sul, ao largo da costa australiana.Nos Estados Unidos, a decadência da Mir – não só porque levava já 15 anos em órbita, mas sobretudo porque o falido programa espacial russo não permitia custear as operações de manutenção necessárias – serviu mais de mote para fazer piadas, como a da Taco Bell, que prometia oferecer um “taco” a todos os norte-americanos se algum pedaço da estação acertasse no seu alvo. Na Rússia, no entanto, o sentimento era mais de desânimo. “Toda a gente quer que eu chore, mas não vou chorar”, disse Vladimir Soloviov, que foi o comandante da primeira tripulação da Mir e agora é chefe do centro de controlo em Korolov. Os muitos técnicos que ali trabalham, de rostos cansados e carregados, eram assediados em todos os momentos de pausa pelos 500 jornalistas que tiveram autorização para assistir às operações de destruição da Mir nas instalações do centro. “Trabalhámos tanto que já nem sentimos pena. Agora só queremos que isto acabe de uma forma digna”, dizia Olga, uma técnica do centro, à agência AFP.Mas o antigo cosmonauta Pavel Vinogradov conseguia ainda sentir o desapontamento por ver desaparecer a Mir. “Bem, tenho muita pena que seja destruída. É como se estivéssemos a queimar a nossa própria casa”, disse à AFP. Devia doer-lhe especialmente, já que ele foi o herói do Verão de 1997, ao correr o risco de entrar no módulo Spektr, despressurizado em consequência da colisão com uma nave de carga Progresso, para procurar o minúsculo buraco na fuselagem que tantos problemas causou a bordo. “Dizem que a Mir estava velha mas, na realidade, o módulo Zvezda da Estação Espacial Internacional [ISS] é semelhante ao módulo de base da Mir. Portanto, tudo estaria bem se houvesse dinheiro. As nossas relações com os Estados Unidos vão degradar-se, por causa da ISS”, disse ainda Vinogradov.Outros russos, entrevistados nas ruas de Moscovo por jornalistas da Reuters, iam no mesmo sentido. “Tenho muita pena. É toda uma era que termina. Quando lançaram a estação ainda estava na escola e agora a minha filha tem já sete anos”, disse Nadezdha, de 29 anos, que é gestora de empresas. “Estamos a ceder cada vez mais. Qualquer dia, quando não tivermos mais dinheiro para a ISS, os americanos vão expulsar-nos a pontapé da estação”, comentou Serguei, um economista de 42 anos. Vera, uma mulher-a-dias de 54 anos, ainda se lembra do lançamento do primeiro satélite, em 1957 – o Sputnik -, e do regresso à Terra de Iuri Gagarin, em 1961, depois de se ter tornado o primeiro homem no espaço. “Cresci a ver os feitos dos cosmonautas. Como poderia esquecê-los?”

In Público


Russians bitter with destruction of the orbital platform due to lack of money

It was one minute before six o’clock in the morning when the Mir spacecraft, already broken in pieces and on fire, crossed the skies yesterday to finish its deadly jump in the Pacific Ocean. “Mir crossed the horizon in five, six, seven, maybe nine pieces on a huge golden trail,” reported CNN envoy Hugh Williams in Nadi, Fiji. In Korolov, near Moscow, at the mission control center, where technicians, scientists and cosmonauts had not slept for two days to prepare for Mir’s destruction, the environment was not exactly enthusiastic, Reuters reports. “Now we’re going to have a brandy and toast to have it all done well and we can still show the world that we’re good at something,” said Alexander Lazutkin, who in 1997 spent six months at the orbiting station now on the seabed, With the remains of the station – the greatest artifact made by man who ever reentered the earth’s atmosphere – also came some of the objects that the cosmonauts there have been accumulating over the 15 years of the station’s life. Not everything was brought back to Earth, explained Serguei Avdeiev, who is the human being who spent more time in space – 748 days, spread over three missions. There were many books-from Alexander Pushkin’s poetry to rocket instruction manuals-Led Zeppelin records, Pink Floyd and Russian rock, and even a black and white photograph of the first man in space, Iuri Gagarin, along with Christmas trees The stations fell in the right place, far from inhabited places – many Pacific states, such as Japan, Fiji, Australia or New Zealand, feared that Russia could not control the fall of the station, which penetrated the atmosphere At the speed of eight kilometers per second, although it slowed to 200-300 meters per second. It was enough to break out with a concrete wall two meters thick. But, after all, not even one of the 1500 fragments of the station hit the target that the American fast-food company Taco Bell put in the South Pacific off the coast of Australia. In the United States, Mir’s Only because it had been in orbit for 15 years, but mainly because the failed Russian space program did not allow for the necessary maintenance operations – it served more as a motto to make jokes, like the Taco Bell, which promised to offer a “taco” to all Some piece of the station hit its target. In Russia, however, the feeling was more of discouragement. “Everyone wants me to cry, but I will not cry,” said Vladimir Soloviov, who was the commander of Mir’s first crew and is now head of the Korolov control center. The many technicians who work there, with tired and loaded faces, were harassed at all times by the 500 journalists who were allowed to watch Mir’s destruction operations at the center’s facilities. Now we just want this to end in a dignified way, “Olga, a center technician, told the AFP news agency. But former cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov could still feel the disappointment of seeing Mir disappear. “Well, I’m sorry it’s destroyed. It’s like we’re burning our own house,” he told AFP. It must have hurt especially since he was the hero of the summer of 1997, running the risk of entering the Spektr module, depressurised as a result of the collision with a cargo ship Progresso, to look for the tiny hole in the fuselage that caused so many problems on board. “Mir is said to be old but in reality, the Zvezda module of the International Space Station [ISS] is similar to Mir’s base module, so everything would be fine if there was money.our relations with the United States will degrade, “Another Russians, interviewed on the streets of Moscow by Reuters journalists, went in the same direction. “When it was launched, the station was still at school and now my daughter is seven years old,” said Nadezdha, 29, a company manager. “We’re giving in more and more. Any day, when we do not have any more money for the ISS, the Americans will kick us out of the station,” said Sergei, a 42-year-old economist. Vera, a 54-year-old woman, still remembers the launch of the first satellite in 1957 – Sputnik – and the return to Earth of Iuri Gagarin in 1961 after she became the first man in space . “I grew to see the deeds of the cosmonauts, how could I forget them?”

In Público


MIR Crews

Mir EO-1

 Leonid Kizim, Vladimir Solovyov (USSR)

13 March 1986 – 16 July 1986

Mir EO-2

 Aleksandr Laveykin (USSR)

5 February 1987 – 30 July 1987

 Yuri Romanenko (USSR)

29 December 1987

Aleksandr Aleksandrov (USSR)

22 July 1987

Mir EO-3

 Vladimir Titov, Musa Manarov (USSR)

21 December 1987 – 21 December 1988

Valeri Polyakov  (USSR)

29 August 1988

Mir EO-4

 Aleksandr Volkov, Sergei Krikalev (USSR)

26 November 1988 – 27 April 1989

 Valeri Polyakov (USSR)

Transferred from Mir EO-3

Mir EO-5

Aleksandr Viktorenko,  Aleksandr Serebrov (USSR)

5 September 1989 – 19 February 1990

Mir EO-6

Anatoly Solovyev, Aleksandr Balandin (USSR)

11 February 1990 – 9 August 1990

Mir EO-7

 Gennadi Manakov, Gennady Strekalov (USSR)

1 August 1990 – 10 December 1990

Mir EO-8

 Viktor Afanasyev, Musa Manarov (USSR)

2 December 1990 – 26 May 1991

Mir EO-9

Anatoly Artsebarsky (USSR/Russia)

18 May 1991 – 10 October 1991

 Sergei Krikalev (USSR/Russia)

Mir EO-10

 Aleksandr Volkov (USSR/Russia)

2 October 1991 – 25 March 1992

Sergei Krikalev (USSR/Russia)

Transferred from Mir EO-9

Mir EO-11

 Aleksandr Viktorenko, Aleksandr Kaleri (Russia)

17 March 1992 – 10 August 1992

Mir EO-12

 Anatoly Solovyev, Sergei Avdeyev (Russia)

27 July 1992

Mir EO-13

 Gennadi Manakov, Aleksandr Poleshchuk (Russia)

24 January 1993

Mir EO-14

 Vasili Tsibliyev, Aleksandr Serebrov (Russia)

1 July 1993

Mir EO-15

 Viktor Afanasyev, Yury Usachev (Russia)

8 January 1994 – 9 July 1994

 Valeri Polyakov (Russia)

Transferred to Mir EO-16

Mir EO-16

 Yuri Malenchenko,  Talgat Musabayev (Russia)

1 July 1994 – 4 November 1994

 Valeri Polyakov (Russia)

Transferred from Mir EO-15

Transferred to Mir EO-17

Mir EO-17

 Aleksandr Viktorenko, Yelena Kondakova (Russia)

3 October 1994 – 22 March 1995

 Valeri Polyakov (Russia)

Transferred from Mir EO-16

Mir EO-18

 Vladimir Dezhurov, Gennady Strekalov (Russia), Norman Thagard (UK)

14 March 1995 – 7 July 1995
Mir EO-19

 Anatoly Solovyev, Nikolai Budarin (Russia)

27 June 1995 – 11 September 1995
Mir EO-20

 Yuri Gidzenko, Sergei Avdeyev (Russia), Thomas Reiter (Germany)

3 September 1995 – 29 February 1996
Mir EO-21

 Yuri Onufrienko , Yury Usachev (Russia)

21 February 1996 – 2 September 1996

 Shannon Lucid (USA)

22 March 1996
Transferred to Mir EO-22

Mir EO-22

 Valery Korzun , Aleksandr Kaleri (Russia)

17 August 1996 – 2 March 1997

 Shannon Lucid (USA)

Transferred from Mir EO-21

26 September 1996

 John Blaha (USA)

16 September 1996 – January 22, 1997

 Jerry Linenger (USA)

12 January 1997

Transferred to Mir EO-23

Mir EO-23

 Vasili Tsibliyev, Aleksandr Lazutkin (Russia)

10 February 1997 – 14 August 1997

 Jerry Linenger (USA)

Transferred from Mir EO-22

24 May 1997

 Michael Foale (UK/USA)

15 May 1997

Transferred to Mir EO-24

Mir EO-24

 Anatoly Solovyev,  Pavel Vinogradov (Russia)

5 August 1997 – 19 February 1998

Michael Foale  (UK)

Transferred from Mir EO-23

6 October 1997

 David Wolf (USA)

26 September 1997 – 31 January 1998

 Andrew Thomas (USA)

23 January 1998
Transferred to Mir EO-25

Mir EO-25

 Talgat Musabayev , Nikolai Budarin (Russia)

29 January 1998 – 25 August 1998

 Andrew Thomas (USA)

Transferred from Mir EO-24

12 June 1998
Mir EO-26

 Gennady Padalka (Russia)

13 August 1998 – 28 February 1999

Sergei Avdeyev (Russia)

Transferred to Mir EO-27

Mir EO-27

 Viktor Afanasyev (Russia), Jean-Pierre Haigneré (France), Ivan Bella (Slovakia)

20 February 1999- 28 August 1999

 Sergei Avdeyev (Russia)

Transferred from Mir EO-26

station unmanned

Mir EO-28

 Sergei Zalyotin , Aleksandr Kaleri (Russia), Ivan Bella (Slovakia)

4 April 2000
16 June 2000






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