Mir Descent, Demise to be Broadcast Over Internet

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Friday March 16 4:40 PM ET Mir Descent, Demise to Be Broadcast Over Internet

By Deena Beasley

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The planned farewell fall to earth of the fabled Russian space station Mir next week will be filmed and broadcast about four hours afterward over the Internet for all the world to see, a Los Angeles space aficionado said on Friday.

Sponsors ranging from RadioShack to AOL and Internet auction site eBay pulled together by attorney Richard Citron and his space industry businessman brother Bob Citron will track the splashdown ending 15 years of circling the globe on (http:www.mirreentry.com) link.

The site, which offers a countdown to the big day, currently target's Mir's ``latest probable deorbit date'' as March 22.

The Citrons announced last month plans to charter a plane so that a small group of space enthusiasts can witness the fiery death of Mir, once the jewel in the crown of the Soviet space program, as it hurtles into the Pacific Ocean.

The expedition will take some 120 researchers and paying members of the public 30,000 feet up into the skies south of Tahiti. Seats range from $5,000 to $10,000 depending on the view.

Web Site sponsors originally planned a live broadcast, but now say the aircraft which will track the spacecraft's final descent will not have enough bandwidth to stream the footage as it occurs, a spokeswoman for Citron said.

``The aircraft will be trying to fly parallel to Mir as it reenters -- but at a distance of 400 miles so it is out of danger from debris,'' spokeswoman Helen Schneider said.

The film will be broadcast within about two hours of the plane's landing and the landing will be about two hours after Mir's fall to earth, she said.

Most Spectacular Event Since Tunguska Meteorite

``When I started doing my research, I was amazed that no one else was planning to observe this reentry, which is going to be the most spectacular event since the Tunguska meteorite struck the earth in 1908,'' Bob Citron said in announcing the expedition.

The Russian spacecraft is expected to rupture in a series of explosions into hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pieces before it crashes into the Pacific Ocean.

Two-thirds of the aging and accident prone station will burn up in the controlled descent but the remainder is expected to plunge into a remote area of the Pacific about 2,000 nautical miles south of Tahiti and 2,400 nautical miles east of New Zealand.

Bob Citron, founder of the commercial space firm SPACEHAB Inc. and a man with 30 years experience in the United States space program, believes the chances of seeing anything from land will be remote.

Moscow specialists earlier on Friday gave the all-clear to steering systems on a cargo ship linked to the 15-year-old orbiter, and say they are ready to dump the station around March 21-22.

Mission control said specialists tested the steering systems of the Progress cargo ship, which docked with Mir in January to start the countdown to the orbiter's destruction. Progress will help guide the station down if other controls fail.

The Progress steering system is a backup to be used if Mir's main systems fail. Experts say this could occur if the solar battery loses its orientation to the sun -- causing a sudden drop in power -- or if Mir's central computer is disrupted.

-- Rachel Gibson (rgibson@hotmail.com), March 17, 2001

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