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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

All Systems Go for Mir's Plunge From Glory

The Mir space station — the final high-profile reminder of the Soviet empire's technological might — will splash down Friday, closing a book on Russia's 40-year history of manned space exploration.

Mir's control chief Vladimir Solovyov will personally command the fiery plunge of the outpost into the Pacific Ocean, a duty that comes 15 years after he and Soviet cosmonaut Leonid Kizim became the first crew to occupy Mir.

The Mir space station, which has been slowly dropping for weeks, sank beneath the 220-kilometer altitude of no return Wednesday.

On Thursday, Solovyov and his team at the Korolyov-based Flight Control Center will upload commands into Mir's main computer to stabilize the station and orient in final preparation for the fall.

Early Friday morning the space officials will upload commands into the control system of the Progress cargo ship, which docked with Mir in January, to fire its engines three times, forcing the station down.

After that Mission Control can do nothing but sit back and wait to learn how the fall went. Mir is expected to splash down in the South Pacific Ocean at about 9:30 a.m. Moscow time.

The center, which will have no radio contact with Mir after Progress fires the third time, will get updates from the U.S. Army's Kwajalein Atoll facility on the Marshall Islands.

The crash is a bittersweet end to a station that set numerous records in space.

The best-known of those records is no doubt the 438 days spent onboard by cosmonaut Valery Polyakov, who proved that man can endure a trip to Mars and back.

Other achievements include the collection of data that may one day assist scientists in predicting earthquakes in the same manner that meteorologists forecast the weather today and research that has helped clarify the effect of the sun on the Earth's environment.

The cosmonauts were also the first people to monitor the explosion of a supernova star.

The station itself became the model for the Alpha international space station, which was jointly launched last year by a number of nations including Russia and the United States. Mir's endurance of 15 years in space — 12 years longer than was originally planned — led makers of the international space station to hand it a 15-year lifeline.

Even the numerous mishaps and breakdowns that plagued Mir in recent years have turned out to be useful for both Russian cosmonauts and U.S. astronauts by providing invaluable experience in trouble-shooting — tools that will assist dwellers on the ISS, not to mention future interplanetary voyages.

Living and working in Mir's cramped modules 300 kilometers above Earth, cosmonauts and astronauts have also learned how to overcome cultural and social differences.

In a more paradoxical twist, Mir appears to have turned out to be far less useful to the Russian military than hoped, an oddity for a nation whose technological leaps have been mainly financed by the army.

In picking Mir in the mid-1980s, Soviet leadership chose a quasi-civil concept for a space station proposed by Energia over a design from the Scientific Production Association of Machine-Building that would have been able, among other things, to wipe out U.S. satellites.

By 1998, the Russian leadership realized that it no longer had the funds to maintain Mir and sounded the death knell.