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This image was recorded by astronauts as the Space Shuttle Atlantis approached the Russian space station prior to docking during the STS-76 mission. Sporting spindly appendages and solar panels, Mir is hovering about 350 kilometers above New Zealand's South Island and the city of Nelson near Cook Strait.

Mir (Мир, which can mean both world and peace in Russian) was a Russian space station that was humanity's first permanently inhabited space station. It was constructed in orbit by connecting different modules, each launched separately from February 19, 1986 to 1996. Mir was based upon the Salyut series of space stations previously launched by the Soviet Union. During the Shuttle-Mir Program, Russia's Mir combined its capabilities with United States space shuttles. The orbiting Mir provided a large and livable scientific laboratory in outer space. The visiting space shuttles provided transportation and supplies, as well as temporary enlargements of living and working areas, creating history's largest spacecraft, with a combined mass of 250 tons.

The 100-ton Mir was as big as six schoolbuses. Inside, it looked more like a cramped labyrinth, crowded with hoses, cables and scientific instruments--as well as articles of everyday life, such as photos, children's drawings, books and a guitar. It commonly housed three crewmembers, but it sometimes supported as many as six, for up to a month. Except for two short periods, Mir was continuously occupied until August 1999.

The journey of the 15-year-old Russian space station ended March 23, 2001, as Mir re-entered the Earth's atmosphere near Nadi, Fiji, and fell into the South Pacific ocean.

Mir hosted international scientists and US astronauts. It also supported a community of humans in orbit and symbolized the commonwealth of the Russian people.

Mir Modules

The Mir space station was constructed by connecting several Mir modules, each placed into orbit separately. The Mir Core Module (launched in 1986) provided living quarters and station control. Kvant I (1987) and Kvant II (1989) contained scientific instruments and the crew's shower. Kristall (1990) extended Mir's scientific capabilities. Spektr (1995) served as the living and working space for American astronauts. Priroda (1996) conducted earth remote sensing. The Docking Module (1996) provided a safe and stable port for the space shuttle.

Before, during and after the Shuttle-Mir Program, Mir was tended and resupplied by manned Soyuz capsules and unmanned Progress vehicles.

In Russian, Mir means "peace," and connotes "community" and "village." Mir's modules and service vehicles had similar names. Kvant means "quantum," a name derived from its purpose to provide research in astrophysics by measuring electromagnetic spectra and x-ray emissions. Kristall means "crystal," and a main purpose of this module is to develop biological and materials production technologies in the space environment. Spektr means "spectrum," so named for its atmospheric sensors. Priroda means "nature." Progress means the same as it does in English. Soyuz means "union," so named for the USSR (Sovietskii Soyuz = Soviet Union) and because the spacecraft was a union of three smaller modules.

See also: astronomy, cosmonaut, International Space Station, space exploration