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Lessons of Mir

The Russian space station was a legend...and a bit of a death trap.
We picture astronauts performing routine orbital experiments. We are also aware of tragedies like Challenger and Columbia. But life beyond Earth is often much stranger than those extremes of normalcy versus terror.

Let’s focus on the Russian space station Mir, since this is the 20th anniversary of when U.S. astronauts inhabited it as a prelude to the ISS.

Astronauts are more than smart and physically buff; they’re incredibly brave. Their courage goes far beyond dealing with scary mishaps. They sometimes suffer prolonged situations that would make normal people panic. Even in the days of Mercury, how many of us could be OK in a capsule the size of a phone booth?

U.S. astronauts each spent four to six months on Mir. Some, like Shannon Lucid, had no problems. Others, like John Blaha, endured hard times. In his case, it was a tense relationship with the Mir commander, Valeri Korzun, with Blaha accusing Korzun of micromanaging him. Often, the Russian cosmonauts themselves had very strained relationships with their own mission controllers, with complaints about genuine problems easily getting black evaluation marks from their ground commanders, with significant pay cuts following — contributing to Korzun’s demanding leadership style.

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