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February 19, 2011

Astronauts and cosmonauts have been living aboard the International Space Station for more than a decade. But it'll take a few years more to reach the record set by an earlier station -- the Soviet Union's Mir. Crews logged more than 14 years aboard the outpost before it reentered Earth's atmosphere.

The station's first module took wing 25 years ago today. The first cosmonauts arrived a few weeks later. Over the following decade, more modules were added to the complex, making Mir the largest object put into space up to that time.

Mir was born from a change in strategy. After the United States won the Moon race, the Soviets decided to concentrate on operating in Earth orbit. They launched several small space stations, then followed with Mir.

Aboard Mir, cosmonauts amassed experience at living and working in space. They learned how to assemble big structures, and studied how the human body adapts to long exposure to the space environment.

Starting in 1995, American astronauts joined the Mir crews, who survived two near catastrophes: a collision with an unmanned supply ship that punched a hole in Mir's hull, and a fire that almost forced the crew to abandon ship.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian space program was broke. And since Russia was a participant in the International Space Station, it decided to shut down Mir. After circling Earth more than 86,000 times, the complex plunged into the Pacific Ocean in 2001.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2010


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