How can the crew members aboard the Mir space station escape in the event of an emergency without the Space Shuttle Atlantis being available ? (Atlantis is the only shuttle configured for docking with Mir) The answer is Soyuz, a Russian three-man craft that can leave the Mir station quickly and return to Earth within a day.
For a quick getaway, the up to 3 crew members aboard Mir would get fully suited up, crawl through a hatch and crowd into Soyuz's descent module. According to American astronaut Jerry Linenger "It's very diffucult to get in" while giving a tour inside Soyuz during his voyage on Mir earlier this year. Linenger and his Russian crewmates had to prepare to abandon ship twice during his four-month stay on Mir, which ended in May.
Soyuz consists of three modules, and according to NASA, after Soyuz leaves Mir for Earth, the orbital and the instrument modules separate from the descent module and are destroyed. The descent module shoots through the atmosphere and parachutes to Earth with enough food and gear for the crew members to survive until they are found.
Since Soyuz ferries crew members back and forth to Mir from Earth, the Soyuz vehicle is replaced on Mir with a newer version every six months or so, as replacement crews are brought in.
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