You could almost shed a

You could almost shed a tear for the end of the Mir space station. I was just fifteen when the first section was launched, and I’ve followed it with some interest for all those years. I think that we underestimate the size of the feat of engineering that was Mir – we are all too ready to compare it with the shiny and impressive Space Shuttle craft, which we see on TV each time one is launched or lands. The millions of hours of experiments that took place, the knowledge that was gained of deep space through observation (clear telescope images long before Hubble was launched), as well as the experience gained by cosmonauts of long missions in weightlessness are more than worth every single rouble that was spent on the project.
The question that remains is “what now?” – the Russian space programme is cash-strapped to say the least. A few years ago it was conceivable that some of those people might have gone to work for NASA, but that organisation is also the victim of savage budget cuts. Which leaves the commercial sector. MirCorp are still floating about with lots of cash (I believe), and then there are the commercial satellite and communications companies. But with rapidly plunging stock values, you have to wonder if they have the resources for any serious investment. I think that we have just seen the end of one of the richest periods of space exploration, and we are about to enter one of the poorest periods since Gregarin.