Best seats in the house for watching Mir fall

March 18, 2001|By Sarah Pekkanen | Sarah Pekkanen,Special to the Sun

If your idea of a vacation is an annual jaunt to Rehoboth or a week at Disney World, this probably isn't the trip for you. But several dozen well-heeled people who crave more original ways to spend their downtime will soar into the sky on a chartered jet sometime in the next week to watch Russia's Mir space station come tumbling down from a few hundred miles away.

Trip organizers are promoting the event, expected to unfold somewhere over the South Pacific, as "a spectacular pyrotechnic display." But one might wonder just who would want to be anywhere near 40 or 50 tons of debris plummeting to the Earth's surface at near sonic speed. And at a price of $1,000 to $2,000 a minute -- the entire event is expected to last only about five minutes.

But, hey, the carefully orchestrated demolition of the biggest space station ever built is expected to be the largest celestial event on earth since the Tunguska meteorite struck Siberia in 1908. And we expect passengers will at least get a free bag of peanuts.

Marc Herring, one of the trip's organizers, who plans to help film the display, spoke to us before heading to the Mir Reentry Observation Expedition's takeoff point in Papeete, Tahiti:

What types of people are going?

There are people from all walks of life. People who have a personal interest in space, people who have a professional affiliation with the aerospace industry. It's mainly business professionals, mature adults -- not that those two necessarily go together. And it's mixed pretty evenly between men and women. There's about a total of 40 civilians in the expedition party, then there's another 18 staff and related crew on top of that.

What is the attraction of such a trip?

It's having a personal connection to a historic event. This is the largest manmade object to ever re-enter the Earth's atmosphere. It's the nostalgia of being associated with the retirement of a significant era of space development.

This is the end of what was the last vestige of the Soviet space empire. Also, we're moving into the new era of the collaborative arrangement of cooperative management of international space station, which Mir made possible.

What's the cost to civilians?

Between $5,000 and $10,000 per person.

Isn't anyone a wee bit nervous that a piece of Mir could hit the chartered jet?

No chance. We're far away from the debris. The downrange landing or splashdown of any debris part will be as far away from us as the United States is wide ...

Certainly, people around the world have genuine concerns about the safe retirement of Mir. We know that the Russian government is taking every precaution to do it in the safest, most expedient matter possible. They have a long and distinguished history of success.

You're going on the expedition -- what do you expect?

A significant celestial light show. I expect to see the heavens come alive with a distinct grandeur that is rarely seen and I'll feel privileged to be there to witness this historic moment.

More details about the expedition can be found online at www. mirreentry.com.

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