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Launchbox PoD 8: Mir anarchy is loosed

Thande

Jabs First Brexit
Published by SLP
I'm now genuinely amazed nobody ever died on Mir.
The incident was I believe basically responsible for how the unnamed Russian space station in Armageddon (1998) is presented as a ramshackle hazard zone run by a drunk cosmonaut - I think some Russians complained the film actually influenced some American policymakers demanding they deorbit Mir and move over to the ISS project.
 

AndyC

No
Patreon supporter
Published by SLP
It's extremely fortunate that no-one ever died on Mir.

It was only after the fire in 1997 that NASA discovered that there was a similar fire incident with an SFOG candle in 1994 (which was quenched faster by a quick-thinking cosmonaut flinging a blanket on it). Oh, and a fire on board Salyut 7, as well.

(I had thought when preparing this article that I could talk about the first fire in space... okay, the first fire on a space station... okay, the first fire on Mir... okay, whatever, the first fire that we know about that nearly killed people)

It's also pretty impressive when you think that the ISS has now been flying more than 20 years and been occupied for over 19 years continuously - and is in a far better state than Mir got into. Of course, we learned a lot from Mir - you have to make mistakes to learn from your mistakes - but there was also a bit of a "whatever, it'll be okay" attitude from the Russian Space Agency (arguably linked with their incredibly low funding).
 

AndyC

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Published by SLP
I am very, very, VERY glad I am not a cosmonaut
Even if you coped with the danger and discomfort, you would have to put up with the way that TsUP regarded you as effectively:

- A recalcitrant slave (cosmonauts should "shut up and work quietly and not complain about overwork. In fact, we should give them more work" - paraphrased comment by the head of TsUP to a NASA official who asked about overwork problems and exhaustion being displayed by cosmonauts),
- A puppet (there was a picture in TsUP of Mir cosmonauts on the end of puppet strings from TsUP; when Michael Foale asked if cosmonauts would find that offensive, he was regarded with bewilderment ("But that's just the way it is") ,
- And the only reason that things could possibly be going wrong - it was always "cosmonaut error"

Tsibiliyev, for example, never flew in space again. After all, the Progress crash was his fault, right? His earlier complaints about losing the picture and telemetry were made up (until they suddenly found out about KURS interfering with the picture signal, at which point the stance that he was making it up to cover incompetence was completely forgotten) and a decent cosmonaut wouldn't have carelessly crashed it into the station, embarrassing Russia in front of the US. Oh, and endangering a few lives as well.
 

Usili

Testing Is Underway
All the incidents on Mir in basically the first half of 1997 is just something that is honestly amazing that you didn't suffer any kind of death as a result despite the growing and worsening conditions aboard the station. It is also amazing like you said in that the ISS has been flying for twenty years and is in a far better state than Mir, especially considering the myriad of issues that have occurred on the ISS.

As a slight interesting bit with regards to this portion,

The International Space Station would have needed to proceed without Russia. It would be rather different - in OTL, it was built around the first module being from Russia: "Zarya" (Dawn) was originally intended to be part of Mir-2.
This is a bit of an interesting thread on NASAspaceflight which discusses the 'alternate' configurations of the ISS without the Russians if you're interested at all: https://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=5505.0
 

Archibald

Well-known member
Patreon supporter
Brian Burroughs Dragonfly: the crisis onboard Mir is a chilling account of that period. NASA meanwhile was on the way toward Columbia. Budget cut by 20% furing the Clinton years, and that very controversial (to stay polite) Administrator Dan Goldin (1992 - 2001, a record).
 

Archibald

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Patreon supporter
The Shuttle program would have continued unabatated, back in 2002 there were plans to extend the things up to 2020.
Basically only the Columbia horror, followed by Constellation and the need to finish the ISS by 2010 and screw the Shuttle by 2010, too, turned NASA away - not only from Shuttle but more generally of WINGED SHAPES they were self-obsessed with since 1972.
I can vividly remember the exact moment when NASA turned away from spaceplanes and back to capsules and to Orion.
November 2003, and this picture. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orbital_Space_Plane_Program
Look at that ugly thing at the bottom left corner. A capsule ! the horror, the horror.
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/61/Orbital_Space_Plane_Concepts.jpg

And do you know how the capsule returned, in spring 2003 ? this way. It took old Dale Myers, a veteran from the Apollo days, to turn NASA in the right direction. http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewsr.html?pid=9135

As for the ISS, had the Russians been kicked out of it their Zarya and Zvezda modules as flown in 98-2000 would have been replaced by Lockheed BUS-1 module. Even without a Mir disaster, the very shape of Russia in the late Yeltsin year was plenty enough to be worried about, so NASA had contingency plans.
 

AndyC

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Patreon supporter
Published by SLP
I wonder what the wider diplomatic effects of freezing Russia out from the Space Station would have been. Would there have been less drive to call it the International Space Station? Would Russia have launched Mir 2 to try to retain as much face as possible?

And would we have had Shuttle Disaster 3?
 

Archibald

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INTERNATIONAL and Russia were were important in Clinton and Goldin annual sale pitch to Congress. I'm not sure ISS could survive without at least symbolic Russia participation. Being "international" was essentially a ploy to make it cancellation-proof in Congress every year. Note that Canada / Europe are not enough: in 1993 even with them onboard, Freedom had a close brush to death, 216-217 !
Another teething issue of course is losing Soyuz. Since ESA is out of manned spaceflight and the Shuttle is doomed sooner rather than later...
Like it or not, but Russia, for all its flaws, is absolutely essential to ISS buildup - and later, somewhat by luck, Soyuz for crews since July 2011.
Depends whether STS-107 ends in disaster or not, but if that does not happen, Shuttle to 2020 or beyond is bound for a second accident at some point. Leaving the non-ISS without any crew vehicle, since the russians are out, and COTS / Ccdev never happened.

The most horrible thing with Shuttle accidents that left 14 astronauts dead, is that, in retrospect, were "necessary evils". I mean, they both stopped ongoing craziness by NASA - Challenger a little more than Columbia.

Challenger injected a huge dose of *realism* into the Shuttle program. No, the Shuttle can't fly 24 times a year, only 1rd of that: 8 times in 1996 is the realistic, max flight rate achievable without killing crews.

Columbia is more subtle: it put an end to the "Goldin era" that had some positive aspects but also broadly negative ones. That is, Goldin drive "faster better cheaper" was shamelessly used by the Clinton administration to cut NASA HSF budget by 20%. Kind of "hey, goldin said he would make NASA running cheaper, so we can happily slash its budget, without any remorse. The administrator endorsed the move."
 

Archibald

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Patreon supporter
An example of Goldin era negative side effects : when Columbia shred foam during ascent on January 16, 2003... The long range tracking cameras all around The Cape, which were to track those kind of things - since the dreadful STS-27 close call late 1988 - were either non maintained, broken, or had their views blocked by new buildings in Cocoa Beach. In the end only one got the impact but the video was found to be way too blurred to be exploitable... by the people in charge of the job, who were rightly worried. They tried every possible trick to improve the quality of the imagery, to no avail. In the end their case was not strong enough to raise alarms.
I should post here the "Columbia rescue !" space TL I posted at AH.com 7 years ago.
 
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