Los Angeles, CA, February 19, 1998 – On the twelfth anniversary of the launch of Russia’s Mir space station, the Space Frontier Foundation called on Russian President Boris Yeltsin to reverse plans to destroy the station next year. In an open letter to Yeltsin, Foundation President Rick Tumlinson warned that using a series of Progress space tugs to plunge Mir to a fiery re-entry poses too great a risk to the public, and urged Russia to instead place it into a higher, stable orbit until new technology is available to re-use the multi-billion dollar space station.
“We congratulate the people of Russia for operating history’s longest-lived space station. But why is such a successful facility being destroyed, and lives put at risk, simply because the American space agency sees it as inconvenient while building its expensive new International Space Station?,” wrote Tumlinson. Describing the plan to use a series of Progress spaceships to de-orbit the station as “ill-conceived”, Tumlinson stated that, “if just one Progress were to fail at the wrong moment, 150 tons of fiery metal will rain down somewhere on Earth. And we have seen that Progress spaceships, like all such craft, do indeed fail”, referring to last July’s near-catastrophic crash of a Progress tanker with Mir.
The Foundation also pointed out that NASA’s announced plans to have its space station served by commercial spaceships will create a transportation system that can serve both stations. “Mir has great value to Russia as orbital real estate…given that replacing Mir will cost untold billions of dollars, when these new spaceship fleets begin to fly companies will race to win contracts to convert the station into a 21st century orbital spaceport, laboratory or even the first space hotel,” Tumlinson explained.
Citing NASA’s questionable motivation in the destruction of earlier technologies such as the Saturn V launcher and the Skylab space station, Tumlinson urged Yeltsin not to emulate the U.S. space program in this regard. “Why waste Mir?…why not ‘Keep Mir Alive’ and turn it into a symbol of free enterprise and hope for the New Russia?” Added David Anderman, Project Director for the Foundation’s Keep Mir Alive campaign, “the current plans to take Mir out of orbit are simply absurd. It’s like spending $50,000 to junk your car – by dropping it on your own house.”