The dramatic rise and fall of the Russian space station

There was oxygen on board the Mir space station for 24 minutes. Michael Foyle felt the drop in air pressure on his eardrum as oxygen flowed into space through a hole in the torso.

He was alone in the Soyuz Mir escape room, waiting for his fellow astronauts, two Russian astronauts. But the Russians were trying frantically to find where the air escaped and then shut it down tightly. Structure damage occurred shortly before when an unmanned supply capsule collided with one of the interconnecting modules that formed the MIR.

While waiting in the dark for Soyuz, who had no strength of her own, Bean recalled what he had learned while training: With less than half an hour of oxygen left, it was time to leave the space station.

The minutes passed. There was still no sign of the astronauts, although Bean could hear them shout in Russian. “It was clear that these two people were not leaving,” he says.

At the time, the 11-year-old space station, five years older than expected, was on the verge of death. But Russian builders will come up with all possible solutions other than chewing gum to keep the station in orbit for another four years. Finally, on March 23, 2001, they released their sweetheart Mir into the atmosphere, as it burned like a glowing fireball over the South Pacific.

The Mir idea dates back to the bleak days when the Soviet Union had to accept the idea that the Americans had landed on the moon. Determined to polish their shattered image, the Soviets built space stations. Their goal was to permanently reside in the “outer zone” of the Earth and to conduct extensive experiments in weightlessness – and most importantly for the Soviet Army – to observe the planet’s surface in every detail.

In 1972, eight months before the last Americans walked on the moon, the Soviets launched their first primitive space station, Salyut 1. Fourteen years later, Mir became the first modular space station, steadily adding new units to the base mass during the successive period. Added missions, a total of six pieces.

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In the United States, NASA was very happy to have its own space station. But since the space shuttle program consumed most of the space agency’s budget, the only hope for realizing this plan was to partner with a partner. This partner became the Soviet Union.

Unfortunately, the Soviets themselves had great difficulty financing their space program. When the Russian economy collapsed in 1989, Mir turned the Earth for some time without it being clear how or when the crew would be repatriated.

However, in 1993, Russia and the United States made joint plans for the International Space Station International Space Station (ISS)Philosophical. On paper, both countries would finance and operate the station. The deal launched the International Space Station, but it also led to years of deceptive financial scams from NASA, which knew from the start that cash-strapped Russians would not be able to afford their share of the costs in their lives.

“The US Congress has urged NASA in every way not to give the Russians money,” said Joseph Goethens, at the time, a senior NASA official who worked for the US Court of Auditors. But of course they can compensate the Russians for the services provided. In this way, we paid hundreds of millions of dollars for the privilege of flying the astronauts on the Mir. “

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Goothins is now a criminal defense attorney, but at the time he sat in the front row as NASA sent astronaut after astronaut to Mir, even though the station was a nightmare for leaking tubes, short-circuit electronics, and rampant fungi.

“I kept hearing the same thing,” he says. “The only reason we were transferring all this money to Russia is because it allowed them to keep up with their schedule for the International Space Station.”

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Overall, the United States has allocated $ 1.5 billion to the Russian space station, raising the question of how Americans can “save” their space program by partnering with their former enemies.

The first three American astronauts who traveled aboard the Mir in 1995 and 1996 – Norman Thagard, Shannon Lucid and John Blaha – encountered relatively few problems. No doubt, Doctor Jerry Linninger expected the same thing when the space shuttle flew to Mir in January 1997. But less than a month later, he was eerily close to becoming the first fatal American victim in space.

The magic box

As we enter the tall, low building behind the Tommy Bartlett Exploratory – a children’s museum and tourist attraction in the Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin – a flock of eight-year-olds wander around. As my eyes adjust to the darkness, I feel the frightening and silly presence of a liar Mir lying on his side.

The tall, fading giant in the dark is not fake. It is a true central interconnection unit of the space station, one of three primary blocks built by the Soviets (another remaining unit is stored in a Russian warehouse). The unit began its long journey to Wisconsin when someone wanted to sell a rare car on behalf of a Russian dealer to the late Tommy Bartlett, owner of the Explorer. However, Bartlett didn’t buy the car, but something else the man also offered for sale: this part of the history of Russian space travel.

At its height, Mir was the largest human-made object in space. This central delivery unit was the size of a city bus and contained an airlock that at the time led to a unit with five additional locks, which in turn would lead to five separate units.

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On one of the walls of the unit is a guitar that was carried on board Mir to provide the crew with some fun and entertainment. There are a few large tanks in the neighborhood, Mir’s oxygen generators. Lithium perchlorate capsules were burned in the devices to produce oxygen. Actually: it burned. In a closed and crowded environment. In the void of space. What could go wrong?

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On February 23, 1997, Linninger and his cohorts tested this closely. One of the generators caught fire and filled Mir with smoke. Crew members barely saw their hands and had difficulty wearing gas masks, some of which did not work. When they tried to pull the fire extinguishers out from the walls, they noticed that some of them were stuck.

“Russia stated that the fire lasted 90 seconds. But in fact it took fourteen minutes. They also said that the astronauts had put out the fire, but in fact the fire just burned,” Guthens said.

Linninger, a US Navy medic, treated the burns of his colleagues. He wrote a report for NASA, but was later shocked to learn that the US space agency had almost completely adopted the Russian version of the story.

“NASA’s view was that the accident was not that severe and was excellent training for the International Space Station crew,” Guthins said. “The Russians never told the Americans that there had been fires before.”

Minutes before certain death

When astrophysicist Michael Voile took Linninger’s place on May 17, 1997, traces of the fire could be seen on Mir’s walls. At home in Colorado, where the British-born astronaut and his wife Ronda have been in isolation since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, he tells me his story.

“The shutdown kind reminds me of my time on the space station,” he jokes.

Fool initially did not mind staying on the Mir for more than four months, despite the recent fire. “I thought it was weird, but the problem was solved,” he says. “I assumed nothing like this would happen again.”

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