The Spacecraft Cemetery (The Final Resting Place of Mir)


Mir, the Russian space station, was once the biggest object orbiting earth (not counting the moon). What’s left of it now lies in broken chunks at the bottom of the Pacific.

With a core unit launched in 1986, followed by six expansion modules launched and attached over nine years, Mir was home to a hundred different cosmonauts/astronauts from Russia, the US, France and nine other countries. It holds the record as being the place where a man stayed in space longer than anyone else, ever (for a total of fourteen months). And it’s the place where humans grew the first crop from seed in space (wheat).

For fifteen years the space station hurtled two-hundred miles above Earth at a speed of 17,000 miles per hour. It completed nearly sixteen orbits every twenty-four hours, which meant it saw sixteen sunrises and sixteen sunsets a day. It was plagued by malfunctions and mold, plus a crash and a fire, and it’s a big reason the International Space Station exists.

Image: Internet Archive

After outliving its expected five-year life span (by ten years), Mir’s time in space came to an end in 2001. A Russian Progress spacecraft attached itself to the 135 ton station and guided it towards Earth, aiming at a spot in (the very) middle of the South Pacific. Our atmosphere did its job, tearing Mir apart and vaporizing most of it (just like it does to the thousands of meteorites that try and smack Earth every year).

What was left of the once mighty station fell to the ocean in an area known as the spacecraft cemetery, a place as far from land as you can get. Chunks of Mir that once housed space walkers and scientists sank two miles below the surface of the ocean, nearly two-thousand feet deeper than sunlight can penetrate.

But Mir isn’t lonely. Between the 1970s and today, over 260 spacecraft have been retired to this isolated patch of ocean. One such craft was an ISS resupply ship Jules Verne. An Automated Transfer Vehicle, it never carried a crew but brought the current space station air, water, fuel and supplies. It spent five months hanging out with the ISS in space, then as a final service, Jules nudged the space station into higher orbit before guiding itself back to Earth, crashing through the atmosphere, where its broken pieces dove into the South Pacific to rest in blackness with Mir.