- Historical event:
- 23 March 2001
- The Russian space station Mir, with a total mass of around 120 tons (equivalent to around 100 average-sized cars), was taken out of the Earth's orbit on this day in 2001. In order to avoid a catastrophe, it was set to crash into the Pacific Ocean.
On this day in 2001 the Russian space station Mir was taken out of the Earth’s orbit deliberately and in a controlled manner.
Interestingly, the Mir station is the largest man-made celestial body taken out of orbit thus far. Namely, it had a total mass of around 120 tons (equivalent to around 100 average-sized cars), almost twice that of the second-largest object taken out of orbit – the U.S. space station Skylab (in 1979).
The construction of the space station Mir started in orbit in 1986, which means that its oldest parts had already been in service for 15 years at the moment it crashed to the Earth. Indeed, some of these parts were already past their recommended date of replacement. In order to reduce maintenance costs and remove the possibility of the station crashing spontaneously, in an uncontrolled manner, the Russian government decided to deorbit it.
The deorbitation of the Mir station was done in the following manner: the unmanned Progress M1-5 spacecraft was launched into orbit. The thrusters present on the craft slowed down the Mir, causing it to start falling towards Earth. In order to avoid a catastrophe, it was set to crash into the Pacific Ocean.
When the Mir station descended to an altitude of around 100 km, it came under the effect of atmospheric pressure. This happened roughly above the Fiji islands. Temperature increased as the station collided with air particles, and eventually almost the entire station burned up (it is estimated that very few of its parts are large enough to have reached the Earth’s surface in a recognizable form). The Mir’s last recorded location was near the Kwajalein atoll in the Pacific Ocean.