Last Space Station of the 20th Century

It was designed to last 5 years - in the end it lasted 15. It survived power failures, gyro failures, on board fires and a potentially fatal crash with one of its own Progress supply craft - but it came through it all - battered, bent and with the distinct possibility of fungus growing in its modules. However Mir showed that it is possible to survive in space for - reasonably - long periods of time,and if things do go wrong, that its possible to effect repairs. But with attention turned towards the International Space Station, Mir couldn't be saved.

The last space station of the 20th Century finally ended its days on March 23rd 2001.

Having already built a 1:48 scale Mir Complex model for television usage in 1997 I was then asked by the Science Museum in London to build a more detailed one for their Space Gallery, that could also be used for other media coverage. Because time was of an essence - even at that time no-one was quite sure how long Mir would stay in the news - or for that matter, in orbit - I called in colleague Paul Penn-Sayers, a long-time engineering model-maker, and between us we completed the model in a week.

Much of the time was also spent searching out references for although - and unlike the 'old days' of the Soviet Space Program - getting hold of material is far easier, the main problem with Mir is that so much conflicted with one another! Drawings could have been of modules that changed before launch; you had to decided which in-orbit photographs showed which layout of modules, and even actual in-orbit photographs can be confusing when it comes to ascertaining colours. Strong sunlight and an over-exposed image can make a dark area appear 'white'!



In December 1997, Astronaut Dr Michael Foale visited his home country and made a special visit to the Science Museum to be filmed with the model for various television reports. The model was then it was temporally re-located in a carefully choreographed manoeuvre to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and re-assembled for a further meeting with the Minister - John Battle. Apart from the comment that, "It's following me around..", Michael also made the welcome comment that it was the best model he'd seen of the complex - with the additional possible interpretation that it was also in better condition than the original!

Mir model at the London Science Museum
Michael Foale by Mir
The Mir model in position in the Space Gallery of the Science Museum in London British-born NASA astronaut Michael Foale during his visit to the Science Museum in December 1997
Michael Foale at the DTI
Michael Foale
Michael Foale and the then Science Minister, John Battle, at the DTI with Mir and the Shuttle Orbiter to scale. Michael points out his living quarters on Mir - the bit that got hit!



Paul Penn-Sayers drawing the solar panel originals

To keep the solar panels to a near-scale thickness, they were made from photo-etched brass. Here Paul Penn-Sayers draws up the original outlines for the various parts (many panels were made from 30 separate parts!)

The drawings were sent to Photo Etch Consultants Ltd, in Brownhills, West Midlands; who turned them around in three days.

The completed modules and panels for Mir ready for assembly. The 'star' shaped structure (far left) holds all the modules together at the docking module end. The smallest (brown-coloured) module (centre right) is the Shuttle Docking Module. Mir -parts layout
Solar Arrays


Assembly of the Mir solar panels. Three unpainted panels are on the right
Paul compares the basic structure of the new Mir with the original television model (on the left). Both are to 1:48 scale Paul Penn-Sayers compares the basic structure of the new Mir with the 'television' model
Mir in the Museum, with Paul, Mat and Doug The completed Mir model in its original position in the Space Gallery of the London Science Museum. Left to right are Paul Penn-Sayers; Mat Irvine and Doug Millard - Associate Curator for the Space Gallery. Hanging overhead is the full-scale Sputnik 1 replica which prompted comments about "'authentic' collisions and damage......."
Mir showing the four scientific modules - (from 12 o'clock) : Kvant 2 ; Priroda; Spektr (the one that got hit!) and Kristall - with the Shuttle Docking Module on the far end.
Mir in place

setting up the Mir model

Paul sets up the Mir Complex in the Space Gallery. Just above his head are Soyuz, Kvant 1 and Mir itself.


The model of Mir was removed from the Space Gallery of the Science Museum in late 1999 to make way for a re-design of the Gallery. However it was put back on display in March 2001 in the new wing of the Museum in its own display case to commemorate its achievements.

Thanks to David Woods for his advice on the design of Mir and for the use of his drawings that appeared in Kaman Sciences Corporation book (for the US Air Force Phillips Laboratory) 'Europe and Asia in Space 1993-1994'.

Another useful reference sources was the British Interplanetary Society publication 'Spaceflight'