An Eyewitness Account of Mir's Demise

Enterprise Indelible Images of a Dying Spaceship

Editor's note: Early Friday morning I listened to the verbal descriptions from CNN's correspondent on a beach in Fiji as he watched, in obvious awe, while Mir sped overhead in its final death throes. An image began to form in my mind. Hours later, when I saw his video, the mental image was replaced with a real one - and reminded me of something I had experienced (and felt) before. Later in the day it dawned on me. It was Star Trek III and the destruction of the Enterprise I was thinking of. A venerable ship that had served well beyond its expectations - meeting its end while its former crew looked on.- Keith Cowing


Keith,

Your summary of the Mir Reentry expedition is generally accurate. However, we had two planes, and both planes did see something. The biggest plane (which I was on) was farther away, and had the the worst view. (The information we had was that the last burn would have a delta-v of 20 meters/second. It was actually 30 meters/second. It was very hard to predict how long the Progress engines would burn. The difference in the delta-v altered the best viewing site by about 2000 kilometers.)

During the last hour on the plane, leading up to the end, I was taking notes on what was happening, including my thoughts, feelings and impressions of the entire event. In summary, it was a combination of nervousness and excitement when the day started, to be replaced be a deep sadness in the final two hours before the re-entry. I felt like I was watching the death of a dream (for space entrepreneurs), and the destruction of the home in which you were born and raised (for our Russian friends who were with us.) The plane was a stark contrast between the sadness and mourning, of the Russians and a half dozen Americans, and the excitement of the other Mir Reentry Expedition participants, composed of the other Americans, a few Canadians, and one person from Singapore.

The Bottom Line on Viewing -- While the people on Fiji had a better view (Hugh Williams of CNN took the pictures from the beach of the hotel we were staying at ... kind of ironic), and while Hugh got great pictures because he was there to interview us (even more ironic), we were the last humans to see Mir in its death throes. Plus, we were with the Russians (I was really struck by the picture you posted making the allusion to Star Trek III.) I will only say that is was an intensely private moment for our Russian friends.

An even better story -- the second smaller plane was between the bigger plane and Fiji. It was mostly staffed by teenagers with digital video recorders. We all expected this plane would have the worst view. However, three teenagers (one son each of Bob and Rick Citron, and the son of the renowned action photographer BobTur) actually turned out to be the heroes of the expedition. They recorded evidence of explosions, plus parts breaking off. Felt like Rocket Boys 2. I think there is at least a Disney movie of the week here.

FYI, Mirreentry.Com will be posting more and better video footage of these last images of Mir's death very soon. (If they have not already posted them already. I was told on Friday afternoon, that over 1 million streams of the first part of the video was downloaded in a 10 hour period. The best parts still needed to be uploaded as of Saturday afternoon.)

In conclusion, it is my goal, and the goal of my company, Constellation Services International (CSI), that this be last time in human history that such a valuable asset in LEO will be destroyed. The destruction of Mir space station was a huge travesty and a monumental waste that should never be allowed to happen again.

Onwards and upwards,

- Charles

Charles E. Miller
Chief Executive Officer
Constellation Services International, Inc.


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