Mir To Come Down

March 13, 2001


Provided by: NASA
Summary authors & editors: Jim Foster

Mir, shown above, will be brought down to Earth in the next 10 days - March 20 is the latest estimate. It'll be the biggest thing ever dropped from orbit. Though most of it will burn up upon re-entry into our atmosphere, because it's so massive, there's a good chance that part of it may reach the surface. Perhaps as much as 50 tons could survive the fall through our atmosphere and reach the surface at speeds sufficient to pulverize 6 feet of reinforced concrete.

A real concern with bringing down something as big as Mir is that it needs to be brought down at a sufficiently steep angle so that it won't skip off of the atmosphere. If it does skip, the re-entry will no longer be controlled, and where and when it comes down is a lot more problematic. If Mir falls out of control during re-entry, it's debris can be expected to scatter over an area several thousand kms in length, and it could come down over a populated region.

The most reasonable location for a controlled re-entry is the stretch of sea between 45 and 60 degrees south latitude that lies above Antarctica and below South America, Africa and Australia. The target point is approximately 1,850 miles east of New Zealand's southernmost tip. However, because Mir will be moving approximately 12,000 miles per hour, it's projected that, even under controlled conditions, it may miss the target by 6,000 miles.

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