In February 1999, an unusual object is scheduled to show up in the night sky and unfold its reflective panels into a big mirror. Called Znamya (or, in English, Banner), this device was put into space on October 25, 1998 in a cargo ship servicing the Mir space station. Once deployed, it should rotate slowly in its orbit some 230 miles over the Earth and reflect light upon specified portions of the Earth.
In the old days, Russians aiming a strong ray upon the Earth might have generated dread, but now it elicits other reactions.
The person who developed the orbiting mirror concept is space engineer Vladimir Syromyatnikov, whose career predates Sputnik. He wants to help the people of northern Russia, who, during the cold winters get only one or two hours a day of weak daylight, and can be subject in worst cases to alcoholism and depression.
If the mirror works during these initial tests, on clear nights, those upon whom it reflects will receive illumination five or 10 times greater than that of the moon--enough to read by.
Terence Dickinson, editor of the SkyNews astronomy magazine, thinks the idea not practical, even "crackpot," since it would be difficult to aim and would give off insufficient light.
But one of the projected targets of tests by Cosmonauts could help prove things one way or another: the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
Source: Austin American-Statesman, 11/8/98