Posted: Monday, March 26, 2001
The enervating experiences during the weeks before the end of the MIR Space Station and the night in which the last stable orbit of the complex culminated in a very orderly and civil disintegration and eventual burn up (when she was still hurrying with hypersonic speeds), made it very difficult for me to draft immediately a kind of concluding MIR-News.
That night I did the same what many of us did or could do: to gather as much as possible information from TV-transmissions, especially ZDF and CNN were very good sources and so were a lot of Internet sites, giving a lot of support. During the periods in which the dynamic operations took place I couldnít do much as the orbits involved were still far to the east from my position. If the MIR complex still would have been alive a number of orbits later, monitoring telemetry channels might have been be possible. From 0638UTC on that Friday the 23rd the orbits would have come in range of the Netherlands. Especially between 0940 and 0947UTC MIR would pass over a part of our territory and for 1 or 2 minutes, due to the elevation of 76 degrees, a once in a lifetime event might have been possible.
But fortunately all went well and with this I was very pleased, sensation gathering news people regularly associated the MIR-space station with a scrap heap and in almost every publication during the last 2 years the period was mentioned in which some near-catastrophes occurred, for instance 1997. But always the same news people did not refer to the fact that always with a lot of skill and improvisation, the Russians succeeded in surviving and restoring the situation. If the return operation had been a catastrophe or the cause of victims or damage, all the good and positive effects of those 15 years exploitation would have been lost. Sharks are inclined to bite when they smell blood.
And now about myself: for me it was not so difficult as I anticipated before. Donít forget that there was no crew on board as of June 2000 and that means that for me there did not change that much. From now on there is only no longer the need to monitor those telemetry channels.
But nevertheless I experienced a strong feeling of sadness. I thought about the hundreds of space flight experts in Russia, who had been involved in the MIR exploitation. For instance TsUP, the flight control near Moscow. The room for the control of MIR-operations was always a house full of specialists and scientists, who liked their job. With scanty wages, sometimes not fully paid, they fulfilled for 100% of their responsibilities and in their specialities they showed enormous achievements.
In September 2000 I visited TsUP while a pass of the unmanned MIR complex was going on. It was sad to see the almost empty room with only a few operators and specialists, who, depressed by the knowledge of an unsure future, took their seats behind the monitors and keyboards. For them and their colleagues there is nothing to monitor anymore. What will be their alternative? Now thinking about them I felt like crying.
I myself can continue to enjoy my hobby with the monitoring of the International Space Station and other space objects, for instance radio amateur satellites. This will be not so intensive and less aimed at the distribution of information, but last but not least there will be something. For the duty crews and experts at TsUP, but also at a lot of tracking and calculation facilities, there will be nothing at all.
I also visited the so called Buran-hall during the ISS EVA with Malenchenko ((STS106). The operations fully stood under control of MCC Houston. No Russian controllers were involved. That what I saw and heard was for me no reason to be optimistic about the future role of the skilled and experienced flight control staff of the Russian side.
Gradually the control of the ISS has been shifted from Moscow to Houston and the attitude control of the complex has been transferred from the Russian Zvezda to the American Destiny.
So more and more the role of the Russian flight controllers will be decreased to a reserve one. Only the incidental operations with Soyuz ships and Progress freighters will remain a Russian task. All they can do now is to wait for Russian science operations on board ISS some time in the future.
Personally I experienced the practice of space flight communications and those of the MIR exploitation in particular as a great and interesting adventure: it stimulated my spirit and gave me the possibility to maintain my routine in the Russian language. I had grip on different technical and operational aspects of manned space flight, enjoyed communications and gradually followed the developments in the digital field and got a lot of valuable contacts and friendships.
So for me reason to be very satisfied and to cherish gratitude towards those who enabled me to do so: my friends in the east and the west, but most of all the great toilers (stakhanovtsy) in the former Soviet Union and Russia.
But my greatest gratitude goes to my beloved wife, Gerry, who for years had to live with a man with a far beyond limits extended hobby. Of course I always tried as much as possible to maintain a reasonable balance, but the many long and interesting operations and happenings with MIR, the Soyuz and Progress, made this sometimes very difficult. So if I had the possibility to do this, I would arrange for my wife to be decorated with the Yuriy Gagarin Medal, because she enabled me to show the world the positive aspects of Soviet and later Russian manned space flight.
Chris van den Berg, NL-9165/A-UK3202
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