Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

2001: A Space Odyssey Comes to Its Fiery End

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

2001: A Space Odyssey Comes to Its Fiery End

Article excerpt


IN FIRE, smoke, thunder and spray, the Mir Space Station today plunged without mishap into the Pacific Ocean after a 2.2 billion mile, 15-year journey above Earth.

At 5.59am - some 20 minutes earlier than planned - around 25 tonnes of blazing wreckage hurtled into a patch of sea about 900 miles south of the centre of the target area, between Australia and Chile. The rest of the 135-tonne giant had burned away as it re-entered the atmosphere, slowing from 18,000mph to under 1,000mph in minutes.

Spectators in Fiji first saw a blinding white-hot fireball "like a giant spotlight shining in your eyes" pass directly overhead trailing blue smoke.

Then the evening sky lit up for around eight seconds as the station broke into four "breathtaking gold and silver fireballs" and a swarm of smaller pieces beneath the clouds.

Sun Air pilot Neli Vuatalevu was flying his light aircraft over Fiji as Mir came down. "It was spectacular - the best fireworks I've ever seen. I don't think I'll see anything like it again in my life," he said.

On the ground, people were running along beaches to keep it in sight as long as possible.

Four gigantic sonic booms came three minutes later, drowning out a nearby thunderstorm. The pieces left behind colossal trails of smoke that hung in the sky for another 15 seconds before drifting into nothing. After 86,331 orbits of the planet, Mir was gone.

Vyacheslav Mikhailichenko, a spokesman for the Russian aerospace agency, said the space station entered the atmosphere at a steeper angle than expected, tightening the circle in which the debris hissed into the Ocean.

"Mir has completed its triumphant mission," said an announcer at Mission Control at Korolyov, outside Moscow. "It was unprecedented in the history of space research."

Controllers were in tears - emotions felt across the country by Russians nostalgic for the Soviet Union. …

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