Mir is considered the pioneer in space technology since it was the first expandable space station to go into space (it could be enlarged by attaching additional pieces to it). Mir is a laboratory and a place for astronauts and cosmonauts (Russian astronauts) to live.
Mir replaced the Salyut series of space stations that were smaller and simpler. The Salyut series helped scientists develop much of the technology that was needed to build Mir.
When Was Mir Launched?
Mir was launched on February 19, 1986. Mir was only meant to be in space for 5 years.
What Is Mir?
Mir is the Russian space station. It has seven modules (pieces). The United States built three of those. One of the modules built by the United States was the Priroda, which is used to study the affects of zero gravity. The Russian module, Kvant, looks at Earth using powerful telescopes. Another Russian module, Kristall, is used for docking ships.
The middle of Mir provides basic life support and power. It has its own oxygen, water supply, and electricity. It is Mirís control center. This part of Mir weighs 20 tons! It is around 13m (40 feet) long and 4.18m (13.6 feet) wide.
Each end of the center has a docking port. A docking port is a hatch that is made to fit and connect with other spacecrafts.
The rear port leads through a tunnel to a living compartment. It has a kitchen, exercise equipment, a toilet stall, and two sleeping areas that are smaller than phone booths!
Inside Mir the floors are covered with carpet, the walls are painted, and florescent lamps provide light. This is all to help the astronauts and cosmonauts feel more at home.
This living area is also where they eat. It has a table, cooking supplies, and trash storage. Each cabin has a porthole, chair, and sleeping bag. The personal hygiene area has a shower, toilet, and sink.
The front of the living compartment is the control room. A hatch there leads to the front docking port and four attachment ports for expansion modules. The Kvant 2, Kristall, Spektr, and Priroda modules first docked at the front port and then moved to their attachment ports using a robotic arm.
The Kvant module weighs 11 tons and has telescopes and life support systems. Kvant 2 was connected to Mir in 1989. It has equipment for steering Mir, exercise equipment, and an airlock for moon walks.
The air lock has a rocket backpack that is powered by compressed gas.
The 19-ton Kristall laboratory module docked with Mir in 1990. It has a special docking port for the Soviet space shuttle Buran. The Buran program was the first flown in 1989, but had to be put on hold when the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republic) collapsed in 1991.
The United States space shuttle Atlantis was able to use Buranís docking port in June 1995, for the first shuttle-Mir docking.
In November 1995, space shuttle Atlantis attached a docking module to Kristallís Buran port. It was specifically designed to fit the U.S. shuttles. This made shuttle-Mir docking easier. Any space shuttle that wanted to dock with Mir had a special mechanism installed that matched Mirís mechanism.
The Spectr laboratory module docked in May 1995. It carried more than 700kg (1,600 lbs.) of science equipment. In 1997, Spektr collided with an unpiloted supply ship and its cosmonauts were forced to seal it off from the rest of Mir.
The Priroda laboratory module was added to Mir in 1996. It contained American and European science equipment.
The Crew and Supplies
The crew gets to Mir aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft or an American space shuttle.
Mir can hold up to six people at one time, but it usually only has two cosmonauts and an occasional visiting astronaut.
Food and clothes are sent to Mir every six weeks. If someone wanted to board the space station they would have to have special training and be able to perform scientific experiments.
Mir was designed so that it can be reconnected in different shapes. This is helpful because different experiments require different lab shapes. It was also designed so that up to six extra sections could be added to it!
Almost all of Mirís modules were launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on proton rockets.
More than 50 automated Progress Freighters (unmanned delivery vehicles) have brought over 100 tons of food, fuel, water, air, scientific equipment, and spare parts to Mir.
Over 20 piloted Soyuz spacecrafts and United States space shuttles have docked with Mir over the last 10 years.
Mir flew unmanned from July 1986 to February 1987, and from March 1989 to September 1989. Except for these times, Mir always had a crew.
Medical Doctor Valeri Polyakov set a new world record for space endurance when he stayed on Mir for 438 days (long enough for a spacecraft to travel to Mars)! During his stay on Mir, he studied his bodiesí reaction to staying in a weightless environment for such a long time. He returned to Earth in March of 1995.
Also in March of 1995, U.S. astronaut Norman Thagard began a 114-day Mir flight. He broke the U.S. space endurance record of 84 days that was set on Skylab in 1974. Since his visit, six other U.S. astronauts have lived on Mir.
More people have visited Mir than all other space stations combined. Astronauts and Cosmonauts from Afghanistan, Austria, Britain, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Japan, Kazakhstan, Syria, and the United States have visited Mir.
Recently the U.S. space shuttles have been exchanging crews with Mir. Scientists and astronauts from Japan, England and many other countries have lived and done research on Mir!
Mir orbits 240 miles above Earth, and has traveled 1.5 billion miles since it was launched.
Mir has been in space 10 years longer than originally planned, and it is time for it to return to Earth. When Mir comes back to Earth, it wonít be landing smoothly like an airplane on a runway. On March 6th, it will be crashed into the Pacific Ocean! Donít worry; it wonít have any people on it. It will be computer-controlled so that no one has to steer it.
Unless otherwise noted, all images courtesy of NASA. Permission for use at http://www.nasa.gov/gallery/photo/guideline.html.
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