Ordinary Russians greeted today's disintegration of the "Mir" space station with a mix of nostalgia, sadness, and anger. For more than 15 years, "Mir" stood as a symbol of Soviet and later Russian expertise in space. Its controlled splashdown this morning in the Pacific ocean between New Zealand and Chile effectively ends the Soviets' space-age ambitions.
Moscow, 23 March 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Opinion polls show that 39 percent of Russians were against ending the mission of the "Mir" space station, which hurtled into the Pacific Ocean earlier today at planned splashdown point east of New Zealand.
The communist faction in the Duma even justified its attempts at a no-confidence vote in the government earlier this month by what it described as "the hundreds of letters received from voters who are indignant that the authorities are planning to kill off 'Mir,' a symbol of the nation's pride and identity."
This is what Muscovites told our correspondent today about how they feel about the end of the "Mir."
Some passers-by, like Dmitry, a 20-year-old student, say "Mir" is a proud page of times gone by when the country could afford to invest money in ambitious projects.
"The 'Mir' station was our face in space and now that it has crashed, it is the symbol of our space program that simply decayed. And now the Americans are more powerful in space, from a financial point of view, although our space program -- until the break-up of the Soviet Union -- was the best in the world, I think. It's old technology, but we should have replaced it with something, a new station. Now the international space station is being built but it's not ours -- because the main financial resource doesn't come from Russia."
Margarita, an elderly lady, agrees. She says that she even had tears in her eyes at the thought of the space station's demise. But she questions the wisdom of simply junking the station -- especially when the country is trying to save money:
"I wouldn't have expected it, but I had tears in my eyes yesterday when they reported [on television] how it would all just splash somewhere. For us it's a whole era, and the end of that era, although we should be happy that it ended. But what we would've been happy to see end just continues in [nationalist Vladimir] Zhirinovsky's [speeches]. So ['Mir'] should've been kept to show in a museum. I think the Chinese asked if we could give it to them but we didn't. And why not? Drowning it also costs money. We could have given ['Mir'] to the Chinese and this money could have gone to [pay off our debts] to the Paris Club [of creditor nations]."
Aleksei, an older man and a former submarine sailor, chooses to compare "Mir" with another recent "drowning" -- that of the "Kursk" submarine. He says both represent mistakes made by the government:
"It's [a symbol] of what we worked for -- the generations of the 1950s. And it's our hundreds of millions that were lost, the money [earned] by the workers was run into the ground, that's all. You can ask any worker. The 'Kursk' was [also] drowned in the ocean. And it's our own fault. We elected the government, the president. It's our own fault."
But some Muscovites were indifferent to the fate of "Mir". Sergei, a 25-year-old shop attendant, has this to say:
"I'm indifferent to it. I don't care. Maybe ['Mir'] means something to another generation, but to me it means nothing, nothing at all. It's just some piece of metal up there, that's all."
As for Vladimir, a parking-lot attendant, he is annoyed by the patriotic overtone of politicians' and television commentaries, and says they are just diverting attention from real problems. "My own problems [are piled up] higher than the 'Mir' station. [National] pride has nothing to do with ['Mir'], but with living better. [Pride] is when such questions don't come up, that people don't have to ask themselves: 'what are we proud of?'"
Earlier, Russian Space Agency chief Yuri Koptev tried to strike a comforting note for grieving Russians:
"We have completed a glorious flight. We have completed a glorious project and we have done it with dignity. We have shown to the world that Russians not only are able to start things normally but also finish them normally."
In other words, Koptev says Russians should be proud that the many chunks of "Mir" metal plunged into the ocean without causing any damage.