Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

$10,000 Buys a Box Seat to Mir's Crash

Unknown
Got $10,000 to burn? If so, you can book a front-row seat to watch the debris of the Mir space station come flaming down through the Earth's atmosphere.

The dumping of the 15-year-old space station in March may have sparked jitters in countries worried about being hit. But for the more stout-hearted adventurer, a U.S.-based company is offering an expedition to see a "spectacular pyrotechnic display" of "Mir's luminous retirement."

Mir Reentry Expedition is chartering a jet to fly dozens of scientists and thrill-seekers within 300 kilometers of the plunge into the South Pacific. A $10,000 ticket secures a window seat to watch the bonfire created as the 136-ton spacecraft breaks up into thousands of pieces. The cheapest $5,000 tickets guarantee an aisle seat.

Mir Reentry organizer Bob Citron said Tuesday that four cosmonauts who served aboard the Mir will also be on hand to witness the event.

"The expedition will cost between $750,000 and $1 million," Citron said in an e-mail interview from California. "We will have between 40 and 60 passengers, including the scientists, astronomers, satellite trackers, Russian cosmonauts, one astronaut, two documentary film crews, media and paying passengers."

Mir's de-orbiting is scheduled for mid-March, and the station is expected to touch down about 3,000 kilometers east of New Zealand. Two-thirds of the station should burn in the atmosphere during the controlled decent. The other third — or some 45 tons of debris — will crash into the ocean. The largest fragments could weigh up to 700 kilograms — a chunk that could easily whack the touring passenger jet out of the sky.

Click here to read our Special Report on Russia's New Space Age.

But Citron is confident that the adventure will go without a hitch.

"We [will] get direct feedback from Moscow and from NASA's Johnson Space Center who are following our trip very closely," Citron said. "The only reason for the cancellation of the flight would be if the de-orbit has problems and Mir comes in uncontrolled."

Mir Reentry Expedition likens the show Mir is going to deliver to the firestorm of the Tungus meteorite falling in eastern Siberia in 1908. Notably, all existing descriptions of that meteorite crash are unconfirmed sightings and scientific models.

"The descend will look the same as when a big meteorite enters the atmosphere, like a rocket launch, or a big firework if you wish," agreed Sergei Avdeyev, one of the four cosmonauts planning to take the flight.

"I have not participated in calculating the safe distance and organizing the trip in general. I trust it is done by professionals and assume that their research is correct," Avdeyev said in a telephone interview Tuesday night.

Just to stroke adventurers' imaginations, Mir Reentry has placed a six-second video simulation of what expedition participants will see on its web site Mirreentry.Com.

Citron, an engineer and space enthusiast, is organizing the trip with his brother Rick. The pair have organized adventures to see other events such as solar eclipses and volcano eruptions.

So far, 30 confirmed passengers have signed up for the Mir trip, company officials said. Bob Citron said that almost all of the window seats have been sold, but a number of second row and aisle seats are still available.

In addition to seeing the Mir crashing through the skies, the price of the trip includes round-trip airfare from Los Angeles to Tahiti, accommodations, food, and transfers in Tahiti and a Mir Retirement reception shortly before the crash.

On the night of the crash, a chartered plane will leave from the Tahiti capital, Papeete, and make the four-hour flight to the reentry point. The expedition will remain in the event area at an altitude of 10,000 meters for about 20 minutes.

Mir Reentry Expedition is an entirely private enterprise. And although Citron said that he is working in cooperation with NASA and the Russian Aviation and Space Agency, or Rosaviakosmos, neither side is to benefit from the expedition.

Yury Koptev, head of Rosaviakosmos, said recently that Russia did not have the least bit of interest in making a dollar on Mir's demise.

"Those who commit suicide by jumping off the Brooklyn bridge do not pay anything to the authorities of New York, do they?" Koptev said at a recent news conference.

Cosmonaut Avdeyev, who spent a total of 748 days on Mir, is more philosophical about marketing the plunge. During a 1998-99 mission plagued with technical failures, Avdeyev was key in keeping the station in orbit.

"Tourists are regularly brought to launch sites, so there is some logic in bringing people to watch a spacecraft's decent," he said. "For me this trip is more of an official duty that I feel I need to fulfill."