Surpassing all expectations, the world's only functioning space station marked 10 years in orbit Tuesday and Russian officials hope to keep it aloft into the next century.
While space officials bragged about the Mir on Earth, two Russians and a German were thought to be holding their own quiet celebration in orbit somewhere over the Pacific Ocean."I suppose they will drink something," Valery Udaloi, deputy chief of flights at the mission control center, said of the three cosmonauts.
"Every cosmonaut has a private bag of personal things, and I presume they will open the bags and drink what they stashed away."
Mir's 10th anniversary was reached at 12:29 a.m. Moscow time (4:29 p.m. EST Monday). A Soviet rocket carrying the first module for the Mir blasted off Feb. 20, 1986, from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, on the steppes of Central Asia.
Still immersed in the Cold War, Soviet officials gave no size or weight of the mysterious station at the time, saying only that it contained six docking ports to accommodate visiting spacecraft or laboratory modules. Experts said it was only supposed to last until the early 1990s.
Now, an expanded Mir is the centerpiece of a space program badly in need of cash. Other countries have paid hundreds of millions of dollars to send their astronauts for monthslong stays on the Mir.
With funding from NASA, which needs Russia's help in constructing an international space station, Moscow plans to keep Mir in orbit for another few years.