Astronaut captures sparkling 'shooting star' video as Russian space station module falls to Earth

From his perch on the International Space Station, a French astronaut watched a long-running Russian space module break into pieces in a shower of fireworks. What's more, he caught the event on video.

The European Space Agency's Facebook page shows a sped-up timelapse of the module, called Pirs, meeting its fiery demise Monday (July 26) under the watch of Thomas Pesquet.

"Atmospheric reentry without a heat shield results in a nice fireball," Pesquet wrote in the post, which also included a French description. "You clearly see smaller pieces of melting metal floating away and adding to the fireworks." 

Video: Watch a spacecraft burn up in Earth's atmosphere from space station
Related: Astronaut watches Russian space station module fall from space in fiery demise (photos)

Russia's Progress 77 resupply ship with the Pirs docking compartment attached are pictured during their descent into Earth's atmosphere on July 26, 2021, when they were 270 miles (430 kilometers) above the southern Pacific Ocean. (Image credit: Thomas Pesquet/ESA/NASA)

The astronauts could watch Pirs breaking apart above the clouds for around six minutes, he added, then joked it might be a good idea to wish upon the next "shooting star" you see in the sky, which might be a meteor — or might be the orbital trash burning up. If it is trash, he continued, "not sure it [the wish] will be granted ... but you never know, I'd still advise to go ahead."

Pirs was retired from service after nearly 20 years of work at the space station. It came to orbit Sept. 14, 2001 after launching from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, along with a modified Progress spacecraft as the upper stage of its Soyuz-U rocket. Three days later, it docked with the Zvezda service module, becoming the sixth pressurized module of the orbiting complex. 

The long-running docking compartment met its demise to make way for a new Russian science module called Nauka. The delayed module — held up for 13 years due to various technical and budgetary issues — temporarily created havoc Friday (July 30) when a misfire caused Nauka to temporarily yet severely tilt the International Space Station

NASA representatives have repeatedly emphasized that the Expedition 65 crew was never in any danger and that the tilt was quickly corrected. "The change occurred was slow enough to go unnoticed by the crew members on board, and all other station systems operated nominally during the entire event," the agency told on Monday (Aug. 2).

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Elizabeth Howell
Live Science Contributor
Elizabeth Howell is a regular contributor to Live Science and, along with several other science publications. She is one of a handful of Canadian reporters who specializes in space reporting. Elizabeth has a Bachelor of Journalism, Science Concentration at Carleton University (Canada) and an M.Sc. Space Studies (distance) at the University of North Dakota. Elizabeth became a full-time freelancer after earning her M.Sc. in 2012. She reported on three space shuttle launches in person and once spent two weeks in an isolated Utah facility pretending to be a Martian.