Russia's Mir space station is to be brought crashing into the ocean on Friday, ending the craft's record-breaking but accident-strewn 15-year life, space officials said on Tuesday.
Russia has decided the veteran station, once the pride of Soviet and Russian space programmes, has to be dumped so Moscow can use its sparse cash on the $60 billion International Space Station (ISS). But Mir's demise has caused howls of protest.
Space engineers have been gradually bringing the space station down from its orbit before it is dumped in the Pacific Ocean. A special commission met on Tuesday to determine the exact day and time of Mir's destruction.
"It will be March 23 and March 24 as a reserve day in the case of emergency situations," a space agency spokesman said after the meeting.
The spokesman said those parts of the 140-tonne station which do not burn up in the Earth's atmosphere would hit the sea by 10 a.m. Moscow time (0700 GMT).
Russia's RIA news agency quoted space officials as saying the final stage of bringing Mir down from orbit would begin at 3:23 a.m. Moscow time (0023 GMT).
The deputy head of the firm which built Mir, the Khrunichev Space and Rocket Building Complex, said the fall would be safe.
"We will have a guided, civilised fall of a cosmic apparatus under the laws of ballistics," Anatoly Nyedaivod told a news conference.
Mir, now at a height of 224 km (139 miles), is expected to break up around 40-50 km above the Earth, shattering into about 1,500 fragments weighing together over 40 tonnes.
They will hurtle down at speeds fast enough to smash through two metres of reinforced concrete, but Russia says the part of the Pacific Ocean chosen for the ditching is clear of sea and air routes and will cause no harm.
Russia says Mir will splash down in the ocean about 3,000 km (1,850 miles) east of New Zealand's southern tip.