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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, March 21, 2001

Russians ready Mir for splash down tomorrow

Associated Press

MOSCOW - The Mir space station reached a lower orbit today, allowing Russian space officials to start steadying the slowly rolling craft and charging its unstable batteries - the final preparations for dumping it into the South Pacific this week.

The success of the de-orbiting hinges on whether Mission Control can control the delicate operations on the station as it circles 132 miles above Earth - the orbit designated as the starting point for the descent process that is to end with re-entry tomorrow Hawai'i time, said Mission Control spokesman Valery Lyndin.

"The next step will be bringing Mir to a stable position on Thursday," he said.

The key will be to orient the station so its solar panels can soak up the maximum amount of energy possible to charge the batteries.

The 15-year-old Mir, which officials say is decrepit and too expensive to operate any more, has been left to drift in a slow rolling motion since the end of January to save its batteries and fuel for re-entry. It slowly descended on its own into the new orbit over several weeks.

Space officials were confident of a safe descent, pointing to their experience in dumping dozens of Progress ships and other spacecraft into the same area of the Pacific.

But the 143-ton station is by far the heaviest spacecraft ever dumped, and its size and shape make it difficult to exactly predict the re-entry. "It's an experiment," Mir cosmonaut Valery Ryumin said on Echo of Moscow radio. "No one has experience at this."