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Astronauts Watch How a Chunk of Their Home Turns Into a Fireball

On Monday, July 26th, astronauts bid farewell to one of the space stations' oldest modules. After almost twenty years of service, the module had a fiery finale as the crew watched it depart the ISS and burn up in Earth's atmosphere.
Pirs module burning up in Earth's atmosphere 6 photos
European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet captures the historic moment when Pirs module departed the ISSEuropean Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet captures the historic moment when Pirs module departed the ISSEuropean Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet captures the historic moment when Pirs module departed the ISSEuropean Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet captures the historic moment when Pirs module departed the ISSEuropean Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet captures the historic moment when Pirs module departed the ISS
Launched on September 14th, 2001, the Russian module Pirs, also known as DC-1, provided the ISS with one docking port for visiting Soyuz and Progress spacecraft. The 3,580 kg (7,890 lb) module also served for almost two decades as an airlock for many Russian spacewalks.

Pirs was supposed to be decommissioned from the Zvezda module's Earth-facing port in 2013 to make way for the Russian Multipurpose Laboratory Module Nauka. The move, however, was postponed due to multiple delays in the laboratory module's production and launch.

Now, a few years later, astronauts finally bid farewell to the old module. To control Pirs' re-entry, the Progress MS-16/77P supply vehicle, which had arrived at the space station in February, attached to it hooks and latches. Shortly after, at 06:55 EDT, Pirs was undocked to clear the way for Thursday's arrival of the new Nauka lab module.

Four hours later, it deorbited and plunged into Eath's atmosphere. The historic moment was captured by European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet.

"Quite a strange feeling to see a part of your ship fly away in mid-air (so to speak — no atmosphere here duh).", reads the caption of the pictures.

Indeed, seeing a chuck of your home in space float away and turn into a fireball is a rare sight. "We clearly saw smaller pieces float away from the main fireworks, as the ship was being destructed by the heat of atmospheric friction," Pesquet wrote.

The braking burn was designed to ensure that any debris that survived re-entry would fall into the Pacific Ocean. Farewell, Pirs! Welcome, Nauka!

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Editor's note: Physical separation starts at min. 25:43.

 
 
 
 
 

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