[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next] - [Date Index][Thread Index][Author Index]



Mir's Mirror Experiment Called Off

.c The Associated Press 

MOSCOW (Feb. 5) - Russian officials scrapped the Mir space station's much-
hyped space mirror experiment today after the shiny metal object got stuck and
failed to properly unfurl.

The Mir crew sent the mirror, attached to a cargo ship filled with trash, into
the earth's atmosphere this afternoon. After mostly burning up during re-
entry, the husk dropped harmlessly into the Pacific Ocean, officials said.

The failure was a big disappointment for Russia's struggling space agency,
which had billed the project as a display of its ability to conduct
pioneering, ambitious projects despite a lack of funds.

The mirror was supposed to work like an artificial moon, reflecting a beam of
sunlight across the earth. But its petal-like segments failed to unfold
Thursday after a deployment mechanism jammed.

The mirror, which was to reach 83 feet in diameter when fully extended, was
attached to a Progress cargo ship and jettisoned Thursday from the Mir.
Cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Sergei Avdeyev then sent a remote command to
unfold the mirror, made of a thin membrane covered with a silver metal layer.

The mirror started rotating, and a system of weights and strings began to pull
out the thin membranes on the flower-like structure. But the deployment
mechanism jammed and the mirror stopped spinning.

Exasperated crew and ground controllers struggled for hours to fix the hitch,
and even got the mirror rotating again by shaking it with repeated blasts of
the cargo ship's jets - only to see it stop a second time.

Finally, when it became clear that the mirror would not unfurl, Mission
Control gave up on the experiment. By this afternoon, they still didn't know
exactly why the mirror failed to unfurl.

''The mood here is very depressed,'' said Valery Lyndin, a spokesman for the
Mission Control. ''The failure was especially painful because of huge
worldwide interest that the experiment aroused.''

''We have forgotten the old principle of Russian space programs - to do
something first and boast about it only after,'' he added.

Mission Control chief Vladimir Solovyov said another space mirror is sitting
ready on earth, but the Znamya (Banner) experiment will not be repeated
because there is no place for the object in upcoming cargo launches.

Russian officials did not rule out that the project would be retried on the
future 16-nation international space station. That station is expected to be
finished in 2004.

Had the experiment gone smoothly, the mirror would have shone light on a spot
about 5 miles in diameter in a number of regions in the former Soviet Union,
Germany and the Czech Republic.

People looking at the correct sector of the night sky would have seen the
mirror as an immobile pinpoint of light, only slightly brighter or larger than
an ordinary star, for about 15 seconds.

Russian space experts hoped the mirror would serve as a prototype for much
larger models that could illuminate sun-starved northern cities through the
long Arctic night and spotlight disaster areas. They also dreamed of
futuristic spaceships that would glide through space using similar structures
as 'sails' to catch solar wind.

Skeptics warn that both projects would require far bigger mirrors, which would
be extremely difficult to unfold and maneuver.

Via the sarex mailing list at AMSAT.ORG courtesy of AMSAT-NA.
To unsubscribe, send "unsubscribe sarex" to Majordomo@amsat.org