Mir Tourists Will Watch Debris Fall

ByABC News
March 19, 2001, 5:43 PM

March 20 -- When the Mir space station streaks down to Earth, tourists in a plane nearby won't be in the way, says the operator of the tour. But the Russian space agency isn't too sure.

The airplane will stay at least 200-300 miles away from the plummeting space station, according to Marc Herring, president of Herring Media Group, which is running the "Mir Reentry Observation Expedition" for space enthusiasts.

"It would be foolhardy and extremely dangerous to approach the splashdown zone," says Herring.

Some 50 people have paid to watch from an airplane as the Mir space station falls to Earth. But the plane will not even take off until the Russian space agency has begun the first of three braking maneuvers to bring the spacecraft into the atmosphere. The space agency says Mir will tentatively begin its final plunge late Thursday, ET, which would bring the station down early Friday morning, ET.

The plane will only be half-full, so those aboard can all peer out from the same side of the plane.

"If we are lucky, we will see the five major pressurized modules explode, creating a series of bright meteor-like streaks and smoke trails with bright heads and tails of varying length," says the Web site for Herring Media Group, which is running the tour.

No Destination Yet

The aircraft will not enter the splashdown zone, Herring says, but rather will position itself in the air based on projections supplied by the Russian space agency.

Herring says about 50 participants paid an average of $6,500 for the opportunity to witness the 135-ton station's final moments. Up to 20 tons of debris are expected to survive the intense heat of re-entry and hit Earth's surface.

"Our intention is to watch [Mir] travel across the horizon," he says. "It'll be just this phenomenal illumination of smoke and debris." The group also plans to post video of the re-entry on its Web site, Mirreentry.com, after the event.

Herring says the aircraft, carrying tourists, reporters and former Russian cosmonauts, will take off from Fiji once the Russian space agency has given the coordinates.