Space exploration entered a new era with the creation of space stations.
These are spacecraft that move in a fixed orbit around the Earth, with compartments where people can live for months at a time. Because the astronauts stay for months rather than days they are able to perform different experiments.
On 20th February 1986 the Russians began building their own space station. It was called Mir which means Peace in Russian. As years went by more and more pieces were added to the space station to allow for more experiments and to make things a little more comfortable for the Cosmonauts.
The station was in orbit at a distance of between 296km and 421km above the Earth. It travelled at an average speed of 27,700km per hour and circled around the world over 15 times every day.
Mir was originally supposed to be used for 5 years but it lasted for 15 years although there were only people on board for 12 of those. It is the 11th most expensive item ever made and cost almost €3.5 billion.
The Cosmonaut Valery Polyakov spent 439 days on Mir beginning in 1995. This is still the longest anyone has spent in space.
Life on Mir was cramped and could not be describes as comfortable. Most of the time there were only three crew members, but it sometimes supported as many as six for up to a month. There were cables and hoses everywhere as well as scientific instruments and the crews’ belongings.
Because there is no air in space all of the air had to be provided artificially. This sometimes led to poor air quality on board and many crew members spoke of bad smells on board.
In the late 1980’s amateur radio operators on Earth were able to communicate with the crew on board. During the summer of 1991 a man in Donegal made contact with a Russian Cosmonaut who was alone in the MIR space station. Over the course of the next few weeks he gave the Cosmonaut news from home and played music for him to keep him company. It was made into a short film called “Mir Friends.”
Towards the end of its life the Mir Space Station began to experience a series of accidents. The computers on board were constantly crashing and pipes were leaking throughout the space station. Some of the visiting shuttles even collided with the station. In 1997 a fire broke out on board the station which caused extensive damage. All of these incidents led the Russians, Americans and other nations to start planning a new station. This was the International Space Station (ISS).
On August 28, 1999 after nearly 14 years, more than 77,000 loops around the Earth and 1,600 breakdowns, Mir bade farewell to its last full time crew. It was allowed to drift for a while before beginning a gradual descent to Earth. Most of it burned up in the Earths atmosphere and the rest landed in the Pacific Ocean.