Source: The Mercury, 6 March, 2001, p.5


Little time for warning of Mir crash disaster

By MARK LUDLOW
in Canberra
   IF the Russian Mir space
station looks likely to crash
into Australia, residents will get
just 30 minutes' warning of
car-size pieces hitting at
three times the speed of
sound.
   There is a 33-1 chance that
chunks weighing up to 700kg
will hit Australia but emerg-
ency authorities are confi-
dent the debris will land in
the Pacific Ocean between
New Zealand and Chile
between March 10 and 15.
   Emergency
Management Australia
director general David
Templeman said yesterday
"We have nothing to be
particularly concerned about.
I'm not nervous at all.
The re-entry of Mir takes
it well to the east of Australia
and it is highly unlikely
that Australia will be affected."
   However, Russia has
already lost contact with the
135-tonne Mir several times and
if there is another blackout at
the crucial re-entry
point over Japan, pieces of it
could hit Australia.
   Emergency managers in
Australia are preparing for the
worst, with contingency
plans already well in place.
   The impact of large pieces
of debris would be like a
passenger jet ploughing into
a suburban neighbourhood.
   In the event of an impending crash state
emergency authorities will contact  
media groups to alert residents.
   People would be told to stay
inside their homes and not to
touch debris because it would
be scorchingly hot.
   About 90% of Mir will burn 
up on re-entry into Earth's 
atmosphere but there will be
plenty debris left to fall.
   Australian National
University professor of
physics, Jeffrey Harris said
the fast-travelling space junk
could be devastating.
   "It's pretty damn scary"
Professor Harris said. "It's
like a medium-sized airliner
falling on your house."
   Russian space authorities
are confident they can land
the remains of the Mir space
station into what they are 
calling the "graveyard", an
area larger than Australia in
the southern Pacific Ocean.
   Mr Templeman said there was
an element of risk involved
but he had no reason
not to back the Russian
space team landing the
debris.
   He said he had been assured by
Russian Aviation and Space
Agency director Yuri Koptev
there was no hazardous
material, such as radioactive
plutonium, on Mir.
* Two American brothers are
planning to cash in on the
rush to watch the biggest
piece of space junk to ever
crash back to Earth.
   The Citron brothers are
offering flights costing about
$20,000 a seat to watch what
they say will be a "spectacu-
lar pyrotechnic display".
	Four cosmonauts who
served aboard Mir will be,
among tour leaders on the
chartered airliner, which is
expected to fly within 300km
of the re-entry point.

DYING DAYS OF A SPACE DINOSAUR

FACTS about the return of 
the old and decrepit Mir
space station:

· Mir was launched in
February 1986 with five
modules subsequently added.
It now weighs 135 tonnes
and is 33m long and 30m
wide.

· Mir completes one Earth
orbit every 92 minutes.

· It is presently at an altitude
of 260km and getting closer
by 1.4km a day.

· Russian authorities are
making a controlled re-
entry of the station.

· Once it reaches 250km, a
docking ship that linked up
with Mir on January 27
will provide a series of
rocket-braking blasts over
72 hours.

· Mir is expected to crash
into the southern Pacific
Ocean between March 10
and 15.

· In the event of a loss of
control, Russian authorities
say the likelihood of a city
being hit is 0.02%.

· Russia says there is no
nuclear material on board.

· In 1978, the Russian
satellite Cosmos crashed into
a remote area in Canada. In
1979, parts of the US
Skylab station hit
Australia.

· There are another 8978
human-made objects
orbiting Earth.


Where to next?

Student Questions for this article
Teacher Discussion of this article
Index - Related articles
Index - Number
Main Index - Numeracy in the News