Orbital View: A Mir-aculous Feat

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Fifteen years ago today—on March 23,  2001—the Russian space station Mir descended from the heavens in a dramatic flourish. Here’s how NASA describes it:

After more than 86,000 total orbits, Mir re-entered Earth’s atmosphere on Friday, March 23, 2001, at 9 a.m. Moscow time. The 134-ton space structure broke up over the southern Pacific Ocean. Some of its larger pieces blazed harmlessly into the sea, about 1,800 miles east of New Zealand. Observers in Fiji reported spectacular gold- and white-streaming lights. An amazing saga and a highly successful program finally had come to a watery end.

Below are a few more stunning images captured before Mir’s demise, taken from a great new Instagram account I just found, TravellingThroughSpace:

From NASA’s tribute:

The Russian Space Station Mir endured 15 years in orbit, three times its planned lifetime. It outlasted the Soviet Union, that launched it into space. It hosted scores of crewmembers and international visitors. It raised the first crop of wheat to be grown from seed to seed in outer space. It was the scene of joyous reunions, feats of courage, moments of panic, and months of grim determination. It suffered dangerous fires, a nearly catastrophic collision, and darkened periods of out-of-control tumbling.

Mir soared as a symbol of Russia’s past space glories and her potential future as a leader in space. And it served as the stage—history’s highest stage—for the first large-scale, technical partnership between Russia and the United States after a half-century of mutual antagonism. [...] For Russians, the very name “Mir” held meaning, feeling, and history. Mir translates into English as “world,” “peace,” and “village,” but a single-word translation misses its full significance.

(See all Orbital Views here)