Spaceflight Now: Breaking News

Mir crew returns to Earth
Posted: June 16, 2000

Mir orbiting Earth. Photo: NASA
The first privately-financed manned space mission concluded safely on the steppes of Kazakhstan on Friday as a Soyuz capsule with two Russian cosmonauts returned to Earth after a 2 1/2-month trip to Mir.

The Soyuz TM-30 craft made a soft, parachute-controlled touchdown at 0044 GMT (8:44 p.m. EDT Thursday) near the Kazakh town of Arkalyk, drawing to a close a flight made possible by MirCorp.

Cosmonauts Sergei Zalyotin and Alexander Kalery spent 73 days aboard the Russian space station Mir to reactivate the complex, abandoned since August, and to repair the 14-year old outpost for future commercial ventures.

The Holland-based MirCorp was formed earlier this year to develop commercial operations aboard Mir. MirCorp is 60 percent owned by RSC Energia, which built Mir. Financial investors hold the remaining 40 percent of MirCorp.

"Working in partnership with our Russian colleagues, we have demonstrated the viability of MirCorp's business model," MirCorp President Jeffrey Manber said. "We are excited about the commercial prospects for this extremely capable space station."

After the cosmonauts' homecoming, Dr. Chirinjeev Kathuria, one of MirCorp's major investors, said the station is now ready for long-term commercial visits.

"The successful conclusion of this flight is one of MirCorp's most significant milestones to date," he said.

"The cosmonauts confirmed that Mir is in good working order, and they demonstrated the value of Mir to the world's business community. We now are preparing the groundwork for upcoming missions to the station."

Commander Zalyotin and flight engineer Kalery also conducted the first privately sponsored spacewalk on May 12, which included a unique test of future ways to repair space stations.

Also during their tour-of-duty, the crewmembers fixed a small air leak aboard the outpost, installed a communications relay system to beam digital images and data to Earth and conducted a variety of science experiments.

Activities to return home began on Thursday at 2124:50 GMT (5:24:50 p.m. EDT) when the Soyuz undocked from Mir. The deorbit burn began at 2352:33 GMT (7:52:33 p.m. EDT) and lasted about four minutes.

MirCorp is currently working to arrange another mission to the station.