From the ARRL... NEWINGTON, CT, Mar 23, 2001--Take off your steel hardhats and protective tinfoil beanies. The Russian Mir space station was brought down early today--apparently safely and according to plan. The only thing that got pelted with space debris was the Pacific Ocean. Over its 15 years, Mir housed Amateur Radio gear and hosted several Amateur Radio operators as crew members, who often used the R0MIR call sign. Early today, mission controllers in Moscow fired engines on a Progress cargo ship attached to Mir to deorbit the spacecraft and send it hurtling through Earth's atmosphere. While most of the aging spacecraft is believed to have burned up upon reentry, upwards of 30 tons of debris were expected to survive the trip and end up in the Pacific between Chile and Australia. The demise of Mir ended a long and proud chapter in the history of Russian space exploration. The initial module of the space station was launched February 20, 1986. Right up until the end, some held out hope that Russia somehow would find a way to keep Mir in space. While it was still in orbit and inhabited, the increasingly impoverished Russian space program even accepted money to have its cosmonauts film TV commercials aboard Mir. But last year, the Russian government decided last year that it could no longer afford the $250 million a year cost. Russia has reaffirmed its intention to continue its cooperation with the US, Canada, ESA, and Japan in the development of the International Space Station. The Russian Space station also had long outlived its anticipated three to six-year life span, and crews sometimes found themselves spending less time on research and more on repairing systems that broke down. Mir was plagued by a series of computer breakdowns that, at times, left the station running at reduced power and drifting in space. Countless earthbound hams, including many students as part of the Space Amateur Radio EXperiment, got the chance to speak directly with Mir's crew--which, at times, has included US astronauts--or have accessed Mir's packet messaging system. Pictures transmitted via an SSTV experiment installed aboard Mir a few years ago also delighted earthbound amateurs. In all, more than 100 astronauts and cosmonauts did tours of duty aboard Mir, including the current International Space Station Expedition 2 crew commander Yury Usachev, UA9AD. While Mir's ham gear was installed in part to help boost crew morale, it became a vital communication link after a nearly disastrous fire broke out and when--not long after--the space station's hull was pierced in a collision with a cargo rocket. The February 24, 1997, fire broke out while ham-astronaut Jerry Linenger, KC5HBR, was aboard Mir. Linenger, a physician, later reported via Amateur Radio that no injuries had occurred and all crew members were in good health in the wake of the fire in the Kvant 1 module. Linenger later wrote a book, Off the Planet--Surviving Five Perilous Months Aboard the Space Station Mir, that detailed his experiences. US astronaut Mike Foale, KB5UAD, was part of the Mir crew when, a few months after the fire on June 25, 1997, a Progress rocket collided with the Spektr module. Foale used ham radio to update reports of efforts to stabilize the station during the near-decompression. Foale never was able to recover his personal belongings, which were stranded in the Spektr module and literally went down with the ship today. Also left aboard was a collection of paperback books brought aboard by US astronaut Shannon Lucid, who did a tour aboard Mir. Last April, cosmonauts Sergei Zalyotin and Alexander Kaleri, U8MIR, visited Mir to close down the station and switch the flight control systems away from the onboard computer. The orbiter also was raised to an operational orbit of 375 to 390 km. Amateur Radio activity aboard the station was limited during that last mission. Russian space officials planned no attempts to recover any of the Mir debris. Perhaps they should have given the idea more thought. Postings on the eBay auction site are selling what one listing says "appears to be a clamp off the Priroda wing of the Russian MIR Space Station" in addition to a circuit board and other items. The person listing the purported debris claims to have been in the South Pacific on a fishing charter when Mir was brought down. Left unclear is just how the individual recovered the items--said to be "authentic." The "clamp" had a bid of $20,000 by mid-day.