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