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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

May Mir's Legacy Be as Enduring

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Friday morning — if all goes as it should — the Mir space station will leave a fiery trail across the South Pacific sky and fade off into history. It is a moment worthy of reflection, a fitting time to pay tribute to this monumental achievement and the thousands of people who made it happen.

Over the last few years, much of the Western press coverage of Mir has had a distinctly uncharitable, almost juvenile flavor. The world has, almost gleefully at times, reported the station's dotage, allowing its glory days to fade virtually to oblivion. Only in recent days have Western editorials begun to redress the balance.

And the simple fact is that Mir is a tremendous accomplishment, a milestone in the history of exploration and science, as well as a laudable start to truly international space exploration. Over the years, astronauts from more than a dozen countries worked on Mir, including Frenchman Jean-Loup Chretien, who made the first non-U.S./non-Russian spacewalk in 1988, and Japanese journalist Toyohiro Akiyama, who filed live television reports from the station for Tokyo television in 1990.

Mir even played a small role in the history of Soviet glasnost, when the launch of its initial crew on March 13, 1986, was the first Soviet piloted launch not involving foreign participation to be televised live.

Click here to read our special report on Russia's New Space Age.

Thanks to Mir, humanity has had a virtually constant presence in space since 1987, a presence that continues now on the international space station. Unlike a lunar landing or a planetary fly-by, a space station is a day-in and day-out kind of project. When successful, its work is routine, ordinary, expected and — from the point of view of daily headlines — dull. Only the problems stand out.

And, given the complexity of space exploration and Mir's unexpectedly long life, we should admit after all that the station's problems have been surprisingly few and — what is more — often daringly overcome. For instance, on July 17, 1990, two cosmonauts who had not been trained for extra-vehicular activity performed an emergency spacewalk in order to repair a damaged heat shield.

Russia has every right to be proud of Mir — proud of how it was conceived, what it achieved, what it symbolizes. Its legacy will continue as long as humankind continues to peacefully study, explore and develop space. Ultimately, Mir symbolizes the crucial advance from the militaristic competition of the early space race to a spirit of cooperation that we can only hope will never be reversed.

Godspeed, Mir ,and we salute you.