25 March 1931

The Scottsboro Boys are arrested in Alabama and charged with rape.

Scottsboro Boys

The Scottsboro Boys, with attorney Samuel Leibowitz, under guard by the state militia, 1932

The Scottsboro Boys were nine African American teenagers, ages 13 to 20, falsely accused in Alabama of raping two white women on a train in 1931. The landmark set of legal cases from this incident dealt with racism and the right to a fair trial. The cases included a lynch mob before the suspects had been indicted, all-white juries, rushed trials, and disruptive mobs. It is commonly cited as an example of a miscarriage of justice in the United States legal system.

On March 25, 1931, two dozen people were 'hoboing' on a freight train traveling between Chattanooga and Memphis, Tennessee, the hoboes being an equal mix of African-Americans and Caucasians. A group of white teenage boys saw 18-year-old Haywood Patterson on the train and attempted to push him off the train, claiming that it was "a white man's train".[1] A group of whites gathered rocks and attempted to force all of the black men from the train. Patterson and the other black passengers were able to ward off the group. The humiliated white teenagers jumped or were forced off the train and reported to the city's sheriff that they had been attacked by a group of black teenagers. The sheriff deputized a posse comitatus, stopped and searched the train at Paint Rock, Alabama and arrested the black Americans. Two young white women also got off the train and accused the African American teenagers of rape. The case was first heard in Scottsboro, Alabama, in three rushed trials, in which the defendants received poor legal representation. All but 13-year-old Roy Wright were convicted of rape and sentenced to death, the common sentence in Alabama at the time for black men convicted of raping white women,[2] even though there was medical evidence to suggest that they had not committed the crime.[3]

With help from the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the case was appealed. The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed seven of the eight convictions, and granted 13-year-old Eugene Williams a new trial because he was a minor. Chief Justice John C. Anderson dissented, ruling that the defendants had been denied an impartial jury, fair trial, fair sentencing, and effective counsel. While waiting for their trials, eight of the nine defendants were held in Kilby Prison. The cases were twice appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which led to landmark decisions on the conduct of trials. In Powell v. Alabama (1932), it ordered new trials.[4]

The case was first returned to the lower court and the judge allowed a change of venue, moving the retrials to Decatur, Alabama. Judge Horton was appointed. During the retrials, one of the alleged victims admitted to fabricating the rape story and asserted that none of the Scottsboro Boys touched either of the white women. The jury found the defendants guilty, but the judge set aside the verdict and granted a new trial.

The judge was replaced and the case tried under a judge who ruled frequently against the defense. For the third time a jury—now with one African-American member—returned a guilty verdict. The case was sent to the US Supreme Court on appeal. It ruled that African-Americans had to be included on juries, and ordered retrials.[5] Charges were finally dropped for four of the nine defendants. Sentences for the rest ranged from 75 years to death. All but two served prison sentences; all were released or escaped by 1946. One was shot while being escorted to prison by a Sheriff's Deputy and permanently disabled. Two escaped, were later charged with other crimes, convicted, and sent back to prison. , the oldest defendant and the only one sentenced to death in the final trial, "jumped parole" in 1946 and went into hiding. He was found in 1976 and pardoned by Governor George Wallace, by which time the case had been thoroughly analyzed and shown to be an injustice. Norris later wrote a book about his experiences. He died in 1989 as the last surviving defendant.

"The Scottsboro Boys", as they became known, were defended by many in the North and attacked by many in the South. The case is now widely considered a miscarriage of justice, highlighted by use of all-white juries. Black Americans in Alabama had been disenfranchised since the late 19th century and were likewise not allowed on juries. The case has been explored in many works of literature, music, theatre, film and television. On November 21, 2013, Alabama's parole board voted to grant posthumous pardons to the three Scottsboro Boys who had not been pardoned or had their convictions overturned.[6]

Arrests and accusations

Victoria Price (left) and Ruby Bates (right) in 1931
Historical marker in Paint Rock recalling the arrests

On March 25, 1931, the Southern Railway line between Chattanooga and Memphis, Tennessee, had nine black youths who were riding on a freight train with several white males and two white women.[7][8][9] A fight broke out between the white and black groups near the Lookout Mountain tunnel, and the whites were kicked off the train. The whites went to a sheriff in the nearby town Paint Rock, Alabama, and claimed that they were assaulted by the blacks on the train. The sheriff gathered a posse and gave orders to search for and "capture every Negro on the train."[10] The posse arrested all black passengers on the train for assault.[11]

The black teenagers were: Haywood Patterson (age 18) who claimed that he had ridden freight trains for so long that he could light a cigarette on the top of a moving train; (age 19), who had left behind ten brothers and sisters in rural Georgia[citation needed]; (age 19); brothers Andy Wright (age 19) and Roy Wright (age 12), who were leaving home for the first time; the nearly blind (age 17), who was hoping to get a job in order to pay for a pair of glasses; (age 16); (age 16), who suffered from such severe syphilis that he could barely walk; and Eugene Williams (age 13);[7] Of these nine boys, only four knew each other prior to their arrest.

Two white women who were also aboard the train, Victoria Price and Ruby Bates, told a member of the posse that they had been raped by a group of black teenagers.[12] The posse brought the women to the jail where the accused were being held, and they identified them as their attackers. A doctor was summoned to examine Price and Bates for signs of rape, but none was found. A widely published photo showed the two women shortly after the arrests in 1931.[citation needed]

There was no evidence (beyond the women's testimony) pointing to the guilt of the accused, yet that was irrelevant due to the prevalent racism in the South at the time, according to which black men were constantly being policed by white men for signs of sexual interest in white women, which could be punishable by lynching. Price and Bates may have told the police that they were raped to divert police attention from themselves. They were both suspected of being prostitutes and not only risked being arrested for it, but they could also have been prosecuted for violating the Mann Act by crossing a state line "for immoral purposes."

Lynch mobs

In the Jim Crow South, lynching of black males accused of raping or murdering whites was common; word quickly spread of the arrest and rape story. Soon a lynch mob gathered at the jail in Scottsboro, demanding the youths be surrendered to them.[13]

The crowd at Scottsboro on April 6, 1931

Sheriff Matt Wann stood in front of the jail and addressed the mob, saying he would kill the first person to come through the door.[14] He removed his belt and handed his gun to one of his deputies. He walked through the mob and the crowd parted to let him through; Wann was not touched by anyone. He walked across the street to the courthouse where he telephoned Governor Benjamin M. Miller, who mobilized the Alabama Army National Guard to protect the jail.[14][15] He took the defendants to the county seat of Gadsden, Alabama, for indictment and to await trial. Although rape was potentially a capital offense in Alabama, the defendants at this point were not allowed to consult an attorney.[citation needed]


The prisoners were brought to court by 118 Alabama guardsmen, armed with machine guns. It was market day in Scottsboro, and farmers were in town to sell produce and buy supplies. A crowd of thousands soon formed.[16] Courthouse access required a permit due to the salacious nature of the testimony expected.[17] As the Supreme Court later described this situation, "the proceedings ... took place in an atmosphere of tense, hostile, and excited public sentiment."[18] For each trial, all-white juries were selected. There were few African Americans in the jury pool, as most had been disenfranchised since the turn of the century by a new state constitution and white discriminatory practice, and were thus disqualified from jury service.[citation needed]

Defense attorneys

The pace of the trials was very fast before the standing-room-only, all-white audience. The judge and prosecutor wanted to speed the nine trials to avoid violence, so the first trial took a day and a half, and the rest took place one right after the other, in just one day. The judge had ordered the Alabama bar to assist the defendants, but the only attorney who volunteered was Milo Moody, a 69-year-old attorney who had not defended a case in decades.[17] The judge persuaded Stephen Roddy, a Chattanooga, Tennessee, real estate lawyer, to assist him. Roddy admitted he had not had time to prepare and was not familiar with Alabama law, but agreed to aid Moody.[19]

Against accepted practice, Roddy presented both the testimony of his clients and the case of the girls. Because of the mob atmosphere, Roddy petitioned the court for a change of venue, entering into evidence newspaper and law enforcement accounts[20] describing the crowd as "impelled by curiosity".[21][22] Judge Hawkins found that the crowd was curious and not hostile.[23]

Norris and Weems trial

Clarence Norris and Charlie Weems were tried after Haywood Patterson. During prosecution testimony, Victoria Price stated that she and Ruby Bates witnessed the fight, that one of the black men had a gun, and that they all raped her at knife point. During cross-examination by Roddy, Price livened her testimony with wisecracks that brought roars of laughter.[24]

Clarence Norris
Charlie Weems

Dr. Bridges testified that his examination of Victoria Price found no vaginal tearing (which would have indicated rape), and that she had had semen in her for several hours. Ruby Bates failed to mention that either she or Price were raped until she was cross-examined.[25] The prosecution ended with testimony from three men who claimed the black youths fought the white youths, put them off the train, and "took charge" of the white girls. The prosecution rested without calling any of the white youths as witness.[26]

During the defense testimony, defendant Charles Weems testified that he was not part of the fight, that Patterson had the pistol, and that he had not seen the white girls on the train until the train pulled into Paint Rock.[citation needed]

Defendant Clarence Norris stunned the courtroom by implicating the other defendants. He denied participating in the fight or being in the gondola car where the fight took place. But he said that he saw the alleged rapes by the other blacks from his spot atop the next boxcar.[25][27] The defense put on no further witnesses.[citation needed]

During closing, the prosecution said, "If you don't give these men death sentences, the electric chair might as well be abolished."[28] The defense made no closing argument, nor did it address the sentencing of the death penalty for their clients.[28]

The Court started the next case while the jury was still deliberating the first. The first jury deliberated less than two hours before returning a guilty verdict and imposed the death sentence on both Weems and Norris.[29]

Patterson trial

Haywood Patterson

The trial for Haywood Patterson occurred while the Norris and Weems cases were still under consideration by the jury. When the jury returned its verdict from the first trial, the jury from the second trial was taken out of the courtroom. When the verdicts of guilty were announced, the courtroom erupted in cheers, as did the crowd outside. A band, there to play for a show of Ford Motor Company cars outside, began playing Hail, Hail the Gang's All Here and There'll be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight.[29][30] The celebration was so loud that it was most likely heard by the second jury waiting inside.[31]

After the outburst, the defense of Patterson moved for a mistrial, but Judge Hawkins denied the motion and testimony continued.[32] The second trial continued. During the second trial's prosecution testimony, Victoria Price mostly stuck with her story, stating flatly that Patterson raped her. She accused Patterson of shooting one of the white youths. Price volunteered, "I have not had intercourse with any other white man but my husband. I want you to know that."[29][30]

Dr. Bridges repeated his testimony from the first trial.[30] Other witnesses testified that "the negroes" had gotten out of the same gondola car as Price and Bates; a farmer claimed to have seen white women [on the train] with the black youths.[33]

Patterson defended his actions, testifying again that he had seen Price and Bates in the gondola car, but had nothing to do with them. On cross-examination he testified that he had seen "all but three of those negroes ravish that girl", but then changed his story. He said that he had not seen "any white women" until the train "got to Paint Rock."[34]

The younger Wright brother testified that Patterson was not involved with the girls, but that nine black teenagers had sex with the girls.[30] On cross examination, Roy Wright testified that Patterson "was not involved with the girls, but that, "The long, tall, black fellow had the pistol. He is not here." He claimed also to have been on top of the boxcar, and that Clarence Norris had a knife.[35]

Co-defendants Andy Wright, Eugene Williams, and Ozie Powell all testified that they did not see any women on the train. Olen Montgomery testified that he sat alone on the train and did not know of any of the referenced events.[36] The jury quickly convicted Patterson and recommended death by electric chair.[37]

Powell, Roberson, Williams, Montgomery and Wright trial

This trial began within minutes of the previous case.

Price repeated her testimony, adding that the black teenagers split into two groups of six to rape her and Ruby Bates. Price accused Eugene Williams of holding the knife to her throat, and said that all of the other teenagers had knives.[38] Under cross examination she gave more detail,[37] adding that someone held a knife to the white teenager, Gilley, during the rapes.[37]

This trial was interrupted and the jury sent out when the Patterson jury reported; they found him guilty.[39] There was no uproar at the announcement. Ruby Bates took the stand, identifying all five defendants as among the 12 entering the gondola car, putting off the whites, and "ravishing" her and Price.[37]

Dr. Bridges was the next prosecution witness, repeating his earlier testimony. On cross examination, Bridges testified detecting no movement in the spermatozoa found in either woman, suggesting intercourse had taken place some time before. He also testified that defendant Willie Roberson was "diseased with syphilis and gonorrhea, a bad case of it." He admitted under questioning that Price told him that she had had sex with her husband and that Bates had earlier had intercourse as well, before the alleged rape events.[40]

The defense called the only witnesses they had had time to find – the defendants. No new evidence was revealed.

The next prosecution witnesses testified that Roberson had run over train cars leaping from one to another, and that he was in much better shape than he claimed.[40] Sim Gilley testified that he saw "every one of those five in the gondola,"[41] but did not confirm that he had seen the women raped.

The defense again waived closing argument, and surprisingly the prosecution then proceeded to make more argument. The defense objected vigorously, but the Court allowed it.[41]

Judge Hawkins then instructed the jury, stating that any defendant aiding in the crime was as guilty as any of the defendants who had committed it. The jury began deliberating at four in the afternoon.

Roy Wright trial

The prosecution agreed that 13-year-old Roy Wright[2] was too young for the death penalty; it did not seek it. The prosecution presented only testimony from Price and Bates. His case went to the jury at nine that evening. His jury and that from the trial of five men were deliberating at the same time.

Roy Wright

At nine on Thursday morning, April 9, 1931, the five defendants in Wednesday's trial were all found guilty. Roy Wright's jury could not agree on sentencing, and was declared a hung jury that afternoon. All the jurors agreed on his guilt, but seven insisted on the death sentence while five held out for life imprisonment (in cases like this, that was often an indication that the jurors believed the suspect was innocent but they were unwilling to go against community norms of conviction). Judge Hawkins declared a mistrial.[42]

Death sentences

The eight convicted defendants were assembled on April 9, 1931, and sentenced to death by electric chair. The Associated Press reported that the defendants were "calm" and "stoic" as Judge Hawkins handed down the death sentences one after another.[42]

Judge Hawkins set the executions for July 10, 1931, the earliest date Alabama law allowed. While appeals were filed, the Alabama Supreme Court issued indefinite stays of executions 72 hours before the defendants were scheduled to die. The men's cells were next to the execution chamber, and they heard the July 10, 1931 execution of William Hokes,[43] a black man from St. Clair County convicted of murder.[44] They later recalled that he "died hard."[45]

Help from Communist Party and NAACP

After a demonstration in Harlem, the Communist Party USA took an interest in the Scottsboro case. Chattanooga Party member James Allen edited the Communist Southern Worker, and publicized "the plight of the boys".[46] The Party used its legal arm, the International Labor Defense (ILD), to take up their cases,[47] and persuaded the defendants' parents to let the party champion their cause. The ILD retained attorneys , who filed the first motions, and Joseph Brodsky.

The NAACP also offered to handle the case, offering the services of famed criminal defense attorney Clarence Darrow. However, the Scottsboro defendants decided to let the ILD handle their appeal.[2]

Chamlee moved for new trials for all defendants. Private investigations took place, revealing that Price and Bates had been prostitutes in Tennessee, who regularly serviced both black and white clientele.[48] Chamlee offered judge Hawkins affidavits to that effect, but the judge forbade him to read them out loud. The defense argued that this evidence proved that the two women had likely lied at trial.[49] Chamlee pointed to the uproar in Scottsboro that occurred when the verdicts were reported as further evidence that the change of venue should have been granted.

Appeal to Alabama Supreme Court

Following Judge Hawkins' denial of the motions for new trial, attorney George W. Chamlee filed an appeal and was granted a stay of execution. Chamlee was joined by Communist Party attorney Joseph Brodsky and ILD attorney . The defense team argued that their clients had not had adequate representation, had insufficient time for counsel to prepare their cases, had their juries intimidated by the crowd, and finally, that it was unconstitutional for blacks to have been excluded from the jury. In the question of procedural errors, the state Supreme Court found none.

Williams' ruling

On March 24, 1932, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled against seven of the eight remaining Scottsboro Boys, confirming the convictions and death sentences of all but the 13-year-old Eugene Williams. It upheld seven of eight rulings from the lower court.

The Alabama Supreme Court granted 13-year-old Eugene Williams a new trial because he was a juvenile, which saved him from the immediate threat of the electric chair.[50]

Weems and Norris ruling

The Court upheld the lower court's change of venue decision, upheld the testimony of Ruby Bates, and reviewed the testimony of the various witnesses. As to the "newly discovered evidence", the Court ruled: "There is no contention on the part of the defendants, that they had sexual intercourse with the alleged victim ... with her consent ... so the defendants would not be granted a new trial."[51]

As to representation, the Court found "that the defendants were represented by counsel who thoroughly cross examined the state's witnesses, and presented such evidence as was available."[51] Again, the Court affirmed these convictions as well. The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed seven of the eight convictions and rescheduled the executions.


Chief Justice John C. Anderson dissented, agreeing with the defense in many of its motions. Anderson stated that the defendants had not been accorded a fair trial and strongly dissented to the decision to affirm their sentences.[52] He wrote, "While the constitution guarantees to the accused a speedy trial, it is of greater importance that it should be by a fair and impartial jury, ex vi termini ("by definition"), a jury free from bias or prejudice, and, above all, from coercion and intimidation."[53]

He pointed out that the National Guard had shuttled the defendants back and forth each day from jail, and that

this fact alone was enough to have a coercive effect on the jury.[53]

Anderson criticized how the defendants were represented. He noted that Roddy "declined to appear as appointed counsel and did so only as amicus curiae." He continued, "These defendants were confined in jail in another county ... and local counsel had little opportunity to ... prepare their defense."[53] Moreover, they "would have been represented by able counsel had a better opportunity been given."[53] Justice Anderson also pointed out the failure of the defense to make closing arguments as an example of underzealous defense representation.[53] About the courtroom outburst, Justice Anderson noted that "there was great applause ... and this was bound to have influence."[54]

Anderson noted that, as the punishment for rape ranged between ten years and death, some of the teenagers should have been found "less culpable than others", and therefore should have received lighter sentences. Anderson concluded, "No matter how revolting the accusation, how clear the proof, or how degraded or even brutal, the offender, the Constitution, the law, the very genius of Anglo-American liberty demand a fair and impartial trial."[54]

Appeal to United States Supreme Court

The case went to the United States Supreme Court on October 10, 1932, amidst tight security. The ILD retained Walter Pollak[55] to handle the appeal. The Attorney General of Alabama, Thomas E. Knight, represented the State.

Pollak argued that the defendants had been denied due process first due to the mob atmosphere, and second, because of the strange attorney appointment and their poor performance at trial. Last, he argued that African Americans were systematically excluded from jury duty contrary to the Fourteenth Amendment.

Knight countered that there had been no mob atmosphere at the trial, and pointed to the finding by the Alabama Supreme Court that the trial had been fair and representation "able." He told the Court that he had "no apologies" to make.[56]

In a landmark decision, the United States Supreme Court reversed the convictions on the ground that the due process clause of the United States Constitution guarantees the effective assistance of counsel at a criminal trial. In an opinion written by Associate Justice George Sutherland, the Court found the defendants had been denied effective counsel. Chief Justice Anderson's previous dissent was quoted repeatedly in this decision.

The Court did not fault Moody and Roddy for lack of an effective defense, noting that both had told Judge Hawkins that they had not had time to prepare their cases. They said the problem was with the way Judge Hawkins "immediately hurried to trial."[4] This conclusion did not find the Scottsboro defendants innocent, but ruled that the procedures violated their rights to due process under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. The Supreme Court sent the case back to Judge Hawkins for a retrial.

Decatur trials

When the case, by now a cause celebre, came back to Judge Hawkins, he granted the request for a change of venue. The defense had urged for a move to the city of Birmingham, Alabama, but the case was transferred to the small, rural community of Decatur. This was near homes of the alleged victims and in Ku Klux Klan territory.[57]

The American Communist Party maintained control over defense of the case, retaining the New York criminal defense attorney Samuel Leibowitz. He had never lost a murder trial and was a registered Democrat, with no connection to the Communist Party. They kept Joseph Brodsky as the second chair for the trial.

The case was assigned to District Judge James Edwin Horton and tried in Morgan County. His appointment to the case drew local praise. Nevertheless, the judge carried a loaded pistol in his car throughout the time he presided over these cases.[57]

The two years that had passed since the first trials had not dampened community hostility for the Scottsboro Boys. But others believed they were victims of Jim Crow justice, and the case was covered by numerous national newspapers.

At the trial, some 100 reporters were seated at the press tables. Hundreds more gathered on the courthouse lawn. National Guard members in plain clothes mingled in the crowd, looking for any sign of trouble. The Sheriff's department brought the defendants to Court in a patrol wagon guarded by two carloads of deputies armed with automatic shotguns.

In the courtroom, the Scottsboro Boys sat in a row wearing blue prison denims and guarded by National Guardsmen, except for Roy Wright, who had not been convicted. Wright wore street clothes. The Birmingham News described him as "dressed up like a Georgia gigolo."[58]

Leibowitz asserted his trust in the "God fearing people of Decatur and Morgan County";[58] he made a pretrial motion to quash the indictment on the ground that blacks had been systematically excluded from the grand jury. Although the motion was denied, this got the issue in the record for future appeals. To this motion, Attorney General Thomas Knight responded, "The State will concede nothing. Put on your case."[58]

Leibowitz called the editor of the Scottsboro weekly newspaper, who testified that he'd never heard of a black juror in Decatur because "they all steal."[59] He called local jury commissioners to explain the absence of African-Americans from Jackson County juries. When Leibowitz accused them of excluding black men from juries, they did not seem to understand his accusation. It was as if the exclusion was so ordinary as to be unconscious.[60] (Note: Since most blacks could not vote after having been disenfranchised by the Alabama constitution, the local jury commissioners probably never thought about them as potential jurors, who were limited to voters.)

Leibowitz called local black professionals as witnesses to show they were qualified for jury service. Leibowitz called John Sanford, an African-American of Scottsboro, who was educated, well-spoken, and respected. The defense attorney showed that "Mr. Sanford" was evidently qualified in all manner except by virtue of his race to be a candidate for participation in a jury. During the following cross examination, Knight addressed the witness by his first name, "John." The first two times that he did so, Leibowitz asked the court to have him alter his behavior. He did not, and this insult eventually caused Leibowitz to leap to his feet saying, "Now listen, Mr. Attorney-General, I've warned you twice about your treatment of my witness. For the last time now, stand back, take your finger out of his eye, and call him mister", causing gasps from the public seated in the gallery.[61] The judge abruptly interrupted Leibowitz.[62]

While the pretrial motion to quash the indictment was denied, Leibowitz had positioned the case for appeal. The issue of composition of the jury was addressed in a second landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that race could not be used to exclude anyone from candidacy for participation on a jury anywhere in the United States. This astonished (and infuriated) many residents of Alabama and many other Southern states.

Patterson trial

Judge Horton called the first case against Haywood Patterson and began jury selection. Leibowitz objected that African-American jurors had been excluded from the jury pool. He called the jury commissioner to the stand, asking if there were any blacks on the juror rolls, and when told yes, suggested his answer was not honest.[59] The locals resented his questioning of the official and "chewed their tobacco meditatively."[63] The National Guard posted five men with fixed bayonets in front of Leibowitz's residence that night.[63] The jury was selected by the end of the day on Friday and sequestered in the Lyons Hotel.[63]

Attorney General Thomas Knight, Jr

A large crowd gathered outside the court house for the start of the Patterson trial on Monday, April 2. Without the "vivid detail" she had used in the Scottsboro trials, Victoria Price told her account in 16 minutes.[64] The defense had what she had said before under oath on paper, and could confront her with any inconsistencies. The only drama came when Knight pulled a torn pair of step-ins from his briefcase and tossed them into the lap of a juror to support the claim of rape.[64]

Leibowitz used a 32-foot model train set up on a table in front of the witness stand to illustrate where each of the parties was during the alleged events, and other points of his defense.[64] When asked if the model in front of her was like the train where she claimed she was raped, Price cracked, "It was bigger. Lots bigger. That is a toy."[64] Leibowitz later conceded that Price was "one of the toughest witnesses he ever cross examined."[65] Her answers were evasive and derisive. She often replied, "I can't remember" or "I won't say." Once when Leibowitz confronted her with a contradiction in her testimony, she exclaimed, sticking a finger in the direction of defendant Patterson, "One thing I will never forget is that one sitting right there raped me."[64] The attorney tried to question her about a conviction for fornication and adultery in Huntsville, but the court sustained a prosecution objection.[65]

Price insisted that she had spent the evening before the alleged rape at the home of a Mrs. Callie Brochie in Chattanooga. Leibowitz asked her whether she had spent the evening in a "hobo jungle" in Huntsville, Alabama, with a Lester Carter and Jack Tiller, but she denied it. Leibowitz said that Callie Brochie was a fictional character in a Saturday Evening Post short story and suggested that Price's stay with her had been equally fictional.[66]

Victoria Price responded on cross-examination at the trial: "You're a pretty good actor yourself, Mr. Leibowitz"

As the historian James Goodman wrote:

Price was not the first hardened witness [Leibowitz] had faced, and certainly not the most depraved. Nor was she the first witness who tried to stare him down and, failing that, who seemed as if she were about to leap out of her seat and strike him. She was not the first witness to be evasive, sarcastic and crude. She was, however, the first witness to use her bad memory, truculence, and total lack of refinement, and at times, even ignorance, to great advantage.[67]

Many of the whites in the court room likely resented Leibowitz as a Jew from New York hired by the Communists, and for his treatment of a southern white woman, even a low-class one, as a hostile witness.[67] Some wondered if there was any way he could leave Decatur alive. The National Guard Captain Joe Burelson promised Judge Horton that he would protect Leibowitz and the defendants "as long as we have a piece of ammunition or a man alive."[67] Once Captain Burelson learned that a group was on their way to "take care of Leibowitz", he raised the drawbridge across the Tennessee River, keeping them out of Decatur.[citation needed]

Judge Horton learned that the prisoners were in danger from locals. Once he sent out the jury and warned the courtroom, "I want it to be known that these prisoners are under the protection of this court. This court intends to protect these prisoners and any other persons engaged in this trial."[68] Threats of violence came from the North as well. One letter from Chicago read, "When those Boys are dead, within six months your state will lose 500 lives."[69]

Dr. R.R. Bridges testifying in Decatur

Leibowitz systematically dismantled each prosecution witness' story under cross-examination. He got Dr. Bridges to admit on cross-examination that "the best you can say about the whole case is that both of these women showed they had sexual intercourse."[70] Paint Rock ticket agent W. H. Hill testified to seeing the women and the black youths in the same car, but on cross-examination admitted to not seeing the women at all until they got off the train. Posse member Tom Rousseau claimed to have seen the women and youths get off the same car but under cross-examination admitted finding the defendants scattered in various cars at the front of the train. Lee Adams testified that he had seen the fight, but later saying that he was a quarter-mile from the tracks. Ory Dobbins repeated that he'd seen the women try to jump off the train, but Leibowitz showed photos of the positions of the parties that proved Dobbins could not have seen everything he claimed. Dobbins insisted he had seen the girls wearing women's clothing, but other witnesses had testified they were in overalls.[71]

The prosecution withdrew the testimony of Dr. Marvin Lynch, the other examining doctor, as "repetitive." Many years later, Judge Horton said that Dr. Lynch confided that the women had not been raped and had laughed when he examined them. He said that if he testified for the defense, his practice in Jackson County would be over. Thinking Patterson would be acquitted, Judge Horton did not force Dr. Lynch to testify, but the judge had become convinced the defendants were innocent.[72]


Leibowitz began his defense by calling Chattanooga resident Dallas Ramsey, who testified that his home was next to the hobo jungle mentioned earlier. He said that he had seen both Price and Bates get on a train there with a white man on the morning of the alleged rape.[73]

Train fireman Percy Ricks testified that he saw the two women slipping along the side of the train right after it stopped in Paint Rock, as if they were trying to escape the posse. Leibowitz put on the testimony of Chattanooga gynecologist, Dr. Edward A. Reisman, who testified that after a woman had been raped by six men, it was impossible that she would have only a trace of semen, as was found in this case.[74]

Leibowitz next called Lester Carter, a white man who testified that he had had intercourse with Bates. Jack Tiller, another white, said he had had sex with Price, two days before the alleged rapes. He testified that he had been on the train on the morning of the arrests. He had heard Price ask Orville Gilley, a white youth, to confirm that she had been raped. However, Gilley had told her to "go to hell." Morgan County Solicitor Wade Wright cross-examined Carter. Wright tried to get Carter to admit that the Communist Party had bought his testimony, which Carter denied. But he said that the defense attorney Joseph Brodsky had paid his rent and bought him a new suit for the trial.[75]

Five of the original nine Scottsboro defendants testified that they had not seen Price or Bates until after the train stopped in Paint Rock. Willie Roberson testified that he was suffering from syphilis, with sores that prevented him from walking, and that he was in a car at the back of the train.[citation needed]

Olen Montgomery testified that he had been alone on a tank car the entire trip, and had not known about the fight or alleged rapes. Ozie Powell said that while he was not a participant, he had seen the fight with the white teenagers from his vantage point between a box car and a gondola car, where he had been hanging on. He said he saw the white teenagers jump off the train. Roberson, Montgomery, and Powell all denied they had known each other or the other defendants before that day. Andy Wright, Eugene Williams, and Haywood Patterson testified that they had previously known each other, but had not seen the women until the train stopped in Paint Rock. Knight questioned them extensively about instances in which their testimony supposedly differed from their testimony at their trial in Scottsboro. They did not contradict themselves in any meaningful way.[76]

Haywood Patterson testified on his own behalf that he had not seen the women before stopping in Paint Rock; he withstood a cross examination from Knight who "shouted, shook his finger at, and ran back and forth in front of the defendant."[77] At one point, Knight demanded, "You were tried at Scottsboro?" Patterson snapped, "I was framed at Scottsboro." Knight thundered, "Who told you to say that?" Patterson replied, "I told myself to say it."[77]

Just after the defense rested "with reservations", someone handed Leibowitz a note. The attorneys approached the bench for a hushed conversation, which was followed by a short recess. Leibowitz called one final witness. Thus far in the trial, Ruby Bates had been notably absent. She had disappeared from her home in Huntsville weeks before the new trial, and every sheriff in Alabama had been ordered to search for her, to no avail.[62] Now, two guardsmen with bayonets opened the courtroom doors, and Bates entered, "in stylish clothes, eyes downcast."[78]

Her dramatic and unexpected entrance drew stares from the residents of the courtroom. Victoria Price, brought out for Bates to identify, glared at her. Attorney General Knight warned Price to "keep your temper."[78] Bates proceeded to testify, and explained that no rape had occurred. She said none of the defendants had touched her or even spoken to her. When asked if she had been raped on March 25, 1931, Bates said, "No sir." When asked why she had initially said she had been raped, Bates replied, "I told it just like Victoria did because she said we might have to stay in jail if we did not frame up a story after crossing a state line with men." Bates explained that Price had said "she didn't care if all the Negroes in Alabama were put in jail." This recantation seemed to be a severe blow to the prosecution.[78]

Bates admitted having intercourse with Lester Carter in the Huntsville railway yards two days before making accusations. Finally, she testified she had been in New York City and had decided to return to Alabama to tell the truth, at the urging of Rev. Harry Emerson Fosdick of that city.[78]

Rev. Harry Emerson Fosdick
Ruby Bates testifying.

With his eye tuned to the southern jury, Knight cross-examined her. He noted her stylish dress and demanded where she had gotten her fine clothes. When she responded that the Communist Party had paid for her clothes, any credibility she had with the jury was destroyed. Judge Horton warned spectators to stop laughing at her testimony or he would eject them.[78][citation needed]

Closing arguments

By the time Leibowitz closed, the prosecution had employed anti-semitic remarks to discredit him.[79] Wade Wright added to this, referring to Ruby's boyfriend Lester Carter as "Mr. Caterinsky" and called him "the prettiest Jew" he ever saw. He said, "Don't you know these defense witnesses are bought and paid for? May the Lord have mercy on the soul of Ruby Bates. Now the question in this case is this—Is justice in the case going to be bought and sold in Alabama with Jew money from New York?"[79]

Leibowitz objected and moved for a new trial. Judge Horton refused to grant a new trial, telling the jury to "put [the remarks] out of your minds."[80] One author describes Wright's closing argument as "the now-famous Jew-baiting summary to the jury."[81] He goes on to say that, "Until Wright spoke, many of the newspapermen felt that there was an outside chance for acquittal, at least a hung jury. But ... From then on the defense was helpless."[81]

In his closing, Leibowitz called Wright's argument an appeal to regional bigotry, claiming talk about Communists was just to "befuddle" the jury. He described himself as a patriot, a "Roosevelt Democrat", who had served the "Stars and Stripes" in World War I, "when there was no talk of Jew or Gentile, white or black."[82] As to Wright's reference to "Jew money", Leibowitz said that he was defending the Scottsboro Boys for nothing and was personally paying the expenses of his wife, who had accompanied him.[82]

"I'm interested", Leibowitz argued, "solely in seeing that that poor, moronic colored boy over there and his co-defendants in the other cases get a square shake of the dice, because I believe, before God, they are the victims of a dastardly frame up."[83] He called Price's testimony "a foul, contemptible, outrageous lie."[83] He ended with the Lord's Prayer and a challenge to either acquit or render the death sentence—nothing in between.[83]

Attorney General Knight delivered his rebuttal, roaring that if the jury found Haywood not guilty, they ought to "put a garland of roses around his neck, give him a supper, and send him to New York City." Considering the evidence, he continued, "there can be but one verdict—death in the electric chair for raping Victoria Price."[84]


The jury began deliberating Saturday afternoon and announced it had a verdict at ten the next morning, while many residents of Decatur were in church. The jury foreman, Eugene Bailey, handed the handwritten verdict to Judge Horton. The jury found the defendant guilty of rape, and sentenced Patterson to death in the electric chair.[85] Bailey had held out for eleven hours for life in prison, but in the end agreed to the death sentence.[85]

According to one account, juror Irwin Craig held out against imposition of the death penalty, because he thought that Patterson was innocent.[86]

Irwin Craig

Irwin "Red" Craig (died 1970) (nicknamed from the color of his hair) was the sole juror to refuse to impose the death penalty in the retrial of Haywood Patterson, one of the Scottsboro Boys, in what was then the small town of Decatur, Alabama. His son, Sonny, later recalled him as saying: "Those young men were innocent; everybody knew that but they were going to be punished for what they didn't do." The Ku Klux Klan staked a burning cross in his family yard.

He was called in to see the judge presiding over that retrial, James Horton, who exhorted him to change his vote to guilty. "If you don't, they will kill you, Red", said the judge. Craig protested: "I can't change my vote, judge." Horton replied: "Don't worry about that, I'll take care of it."[86]

Horton grants Patterson a new trial

The defense moved for a retrial and, believing the defendants innocent, Judge James Edwin Horton agreed to set aside the guilty verdict for Patterson. Horton ruled the rest of defendants could not get a fair trial at that time and indefinitely postponed the rest of the trials, knowing it would cost him his job when he ran for re-election.[87]

Judge Horton heard arguments on the motion for new trial in the Limestone County Court House in Athens, Alabama, where he read his decision to the astonished defense and a furious Knight:

These women are shown ... to have falsely accused two Negroes ... This tendency on the part of the women shows that they are predisposed to make false accusations ... The Court will not pursue the evidence any further.

Horton ordered a new trial— which would turn out to be the third for Patterson.

When Judge Horton announced his decision, Knight stated that he would retry Patterson. He said that he had found Orville "Carolina Slim" Gilley, the white teenager in the gondola car, and that Gilley would corroborate Price's story in full. At Knight's request, the court replaced Judge Horton with Judge William Washington Callahan, described as a racist. He later instructed the jury in the next round of trials that no white woman would voluntarily have sex with a black man.[88]

New trials under Callahan

During the Decatur retrial, held from November 1933 to July 1937, Judge Callahan wanted to take the case off "the front pages of America's newspapers."[89] He banned photographers from the courthouse grounds and typewriters from his court room.[85] "There ain't going to be no more picture snappin' round here", he ordered. He also imposed a strict three-day time limit on each trial, running them into the evening.[90] He removed protection from the defense, convincing Governor Benjamin Meek Miller to keep the National Guard away.

The defense moved for another change of venue, submitting affidavits in which hundreds of residents stated their intense dislike for the defendants, to show there was "overwhelming prejudice" against them.[91] The prosecution countered with testimony that some of the quotes in the affidavits were untrue, and that six of the people quoted were dead.[92] The defense countered that they had received numerous death threats, and the judge replied that he and the prosecution had received more from the Communists. The motion was denied.[93]

Leibowitz led Commissioner Moody and Jackson County Circuit Clerk C.A. Wann through every page of the Jackson County jury roll to show that it contained no names of African-Americans. When, after several hours of reading names, Commissioner Moody finally claimed several names to be of African-Americans,[94] Leibowitz got handwriting samples from all present. One man admitted that the handwriting appeared to be his. Leibowitz called in a handwriting expert, who testified that names identified as African-American had been added later to the list, and signed by former Jury Commissioner Morgan.[95]

Judge Callahan did not rule that excluding people by race was constitutional, only that the defense had not proven that African-Americans had been deliberately excluded. By letting Leibowitz go on record on this issue, Judge Callahan provided grounds for the case to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court for a second time. It was the basis for the court's finding in Norris v. Alabama (1935), that an exclusion of African-American grand jurors had occurred, violating the due process clause of the Constitution.

Haywood Patterson's Decatur retrial began on November 27, 1933. Thirty-six potential jurors admitted having a "fixed opinion" in the case,[95] which caused Leibowitz to move for a change of venue. Callahan denied the motion.[93] Callahan excluded defense evidence that Horton had admitted, at one point exclaiming to Leibowitz, "Judge Horton can't help you [now]."[90] He routinely sustained prosecution objections but overruled defense objections.

Price testified again that a dozen armed negro men entered the gondola car. She said Patterson had fired a shot and ordered all whites but Gilley off the train.[96] She said the negros had ripped her clothes off and repeatedly raped her at knife point, and pointed out Patterson as one of the rapists.[97] She said they raped her and Bates, afterward saying they would take them north or throw them in the river.[95] She testified that she had fallen while getting out of the gondola car, passed out and came to seated in a store at Paint Rock. Leibowitz questioned her until Judge Callahan stopped court for the day at 6:30. When he resumed the next morning, he pointed out many contradictions among her various versions of the rape.

Judge Callahan repeatedly interrupted Leibowitz's cross-examination of Price, calling defense questions "arguing with the witness", "immaterial, "useless", "a waste of time" and even "illegal."[98] The many contradictions notwithstanding, Price steadfastly stuck to her testimony that Patterson had raped her.[99]

Orville Gilley's testimony at Patterson's Decatur retrial was a mild sensation.[97] He denied being a "bought witness", repeating his testimony about armed blacks ordering the white teenagers off the train.[96] He confirmed Price's rape account, adding that he stopped the rape by convincing the "negro" with the gun to make the rapists stop "before they killed that woman."[100] Leibowitz cross-examined him at length about contradictions between his account and Price's testimony, but he remained "unruffled."[100] Gilley testified to meeting Lester Carter and the women the evening before the alleged rapes, and getting them coffee and sandwiches. Callahan interrupted before Leibowitz could find out if Gilley went "somewhere with [the women]" that night.[101]

The prosecution called several white farmers who testified that they had seen the fight on the train and saw the girls "a-fixin' to get out", but they saw the defendants drag them back.[96][102]

Lester Carter took the stand for the defense. He had testified in the first Decatur trial that Price and Bates had had sex with him and Gilley in the hobo jungle in Chattanooga prior to the alleged rapes, which could account for the semen found in the women. But Judge Callahan would not let him repeat that testimony at the trial, stating that any such testimony was "immaterial."

Ruby Bates was apparently too sick to travel. She had had surgery in New York, and at one point Leibowitz requested that her deposition be taken as a dying declaration. While she was not dying, committed to his three-day time limit for the trial, Judge Callahan denied the request to arrange to take her deposition.[103] Although the defense needed her testimony, by the time a deposition arrived, the case had gone to the jury and they did not hear it at all.[104]

Haywood Patterson took the stand, admitting he had "cussed" at the white teenagers, but only because they cussed at him first. He denied seeing the white women before Paint Rock. On cross-examination Knight confronted him with previous testimony from his Scottsboro trial that he had not touched the women, but that he had seen the other five defendants rape them. Leibowitz objected, stating that the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled previous testimony illegal. Judge Callahan allowed it, although he would not allow testimony by Patterson stating that he had not seen the women before Paint Rock.[102] Patterson explained contradictions in his testimony: "We was scared and I don't know what I said. They told us if we didn't confess they'd kill us—give us to the mob outside."[105]

Patterson claimed the threats had been made by guards and militiamen while the defendants were in the Jackson County jail. He said threats were made even in the presence of the judge. Patterson pointed at H.G. Bailey, prosecutor in his Scottsboro trial, stating, "And Mr. Bailey over there—he said send all the niggers to the electric chair. There's too many niggers in the world anyway."[105]

Closing arguments were made November 29 through November 30, without stopping for Thanksgiving. Callahan limited each side to two hours of argument.[106]

Knight declared in his closing that the prosecution was not avenging what the defendants had done to Price. "What has been done to her cannot be undone. What you can do now is to make sure that it doesn't happen to some other woman." Leibowitz objected that the argument was "an appeal to passion and prejudice" and moved for a mistrial. Knight agreed that it was an appeal to passion, and Callahan overruled the motion. Knight continued, "We all have a passion, all men in this court room to protect the womanhood in Alabama."[107] For his summation, solicitor Wade Wright reviewed the testimony and warned the jury, "that this crime could have happened to any woman, even though she was riding in a parlor car, instead of box car."[102]

Solicitor H.G. Bailey reminded the jury that the law presumed Patterson innocent, even if what Gilley and Price had described was "as sordid as ever a human tongue has uttered." Finally he defended the women, "Instead of painting their faces ... they were brave enough to go to Chattanooga and look for honest work."[102] Bailey attacked the defense case.

They say this is a frame-up! They have been yelling frame-up ever since this case started! Who framed them? Did Ory Dobbins frame them? Did brother Hill frame them? We did a lot of awful things over there is Scottsboro, didn't we? My, my, my. And now they come over here and try to convince you that that sort of thing happened in your neighboring county.[108]

Judge Callahan charged the jury that Price and Bates could have been raped without force, just by withholding their consent. He instructed them, "Where the woman charged to have been raped is white, there is a strong presumption under the law that she will not and did not yield voluntarily to intercourse with the defendant, a Negro."[109] He instructed the jury that if Patterson was so much as present for the "purpose of aiding, encouraging, assisting or abetting" the rapes "in any way", he was as guilty as the person who committed the rapes.[109]

He told them that they did not need to find corroboration of Price's testimony. If they believed her, that was enough to convict. Judge Callahan said he was giving them two forms – one for conviction and one for acquittal, but he supplied the jury with only a form to convict. He supplied them with an acquittal form only after the prosecution, fearing reversible error, urged him do so.[110]

As Time described it, "Twenty-six hours later came a resounding thump on the brown wooden jury room door. The bailiff let the jurors out [from the Patterson trial]. The foreman unfisted a moist crumpled note, handed it to the clerk. A thin smile faded from Patterson's lips as the clerk read his third death sentence."[111]

In May 1934, despite having run unopposed in the previous election for the position, James Horton was soundly defeated when he ran for re-election as a circuit judge. The vote against him was especially heavy in Morgan County. In the same election, Thomas Knight was elected Lieutenant Governor of Alabama.[112]

Norris' retrial

Judge Callahan started jury selection for the trial of defendant Norris on November 30, 1933, Thanksgiving afternoon. At this trial, Victoria Price testified that two of her alleged assailants had pistols, that they threw off the white teenagers, that she tried to jump off but was grabbed, thrown onto the gravel in the gondola, one of them held her legs, and one held a knife on her, and one raped both her and Ruby Bates.[113] She claimed Norris raped her, along with five others.

Callahan would not allow Leibowitz to ask Price about any "crime of moral turpitude." Nor would he allow Leibowitz to ask why she went to Chattanooga, where she had spent the night there, or about Carter or Gilley. Neither would he allow questions as to whether she'd had sexual intercourse with Carter or Gilley. During more cross-examination, Price looked at Knight so often Leibowitz accused her of looking for signals. Judge Callahan cautioned Leibowitz he would not permit "such tactics" in his courtroom.[114]

Dr. Bridges was a state witness, and Leibowitz cross-examined him at length, trying to get him to agree that a rape would have produced more injuries than he found. Callahan sustained a prosecution objection, ruling "the question is not based on the evidence."[115]

Ruby Bates had given a deposition from her hospital bed in New York, which arrived in time to be read to the jury in the Norris trial. Judge Callahan sustained prosecution objections to large portions of it, most significantly the part where she said that she and Price both had sex voluntarily in Chattanooga the night before the alleged rapes.

Leibowitz read the rest of Bates' deposition, including her version of what happened on the train.[116] She said that there were white teenagers riding in the gondola car with them, that some black teenagers came into the car, that a fight broke out, that most of the white teenagers got off the train, and that the blacks "disappeared" until the posse stopped the train at Paint Rock. She testified that she, Price and Gilley were arrested, and that Price made the rape accusation, instructing her to go along with the story to stay out of jail. She reiterated that neither she nor Price had been raped.[117] Leibowitz chose to keep Norris off the stand.[116]

Closing arguments were on December 4, 1933. In his closing argument, Leibowitz called the prosecution's case "a contemptible frame-up by two bums."[118] He attempted to overcome local prejudice, saying "if you have a reasonable doubt, hold out. Stand your ground, show you are a man, a red-blooded he-man."[118] The prosecution's closing argument was shorter and less "barbed" than it had been in the Patterson case. It was addressed more to the evidence and less to the regional prejudice of the jury.[118]

Leibowitz made many objections to Judge Callahan's charge to the jury. The New York Times described Leibowitz as "pressing the judge almost as though he were a hostile witness."[119] New York City Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia had dispatched two burly New York City police officers to protect Leibowitz. During the long jury deliberations, Judge Callahan also assigned two Morgan County deputies to guard him.

The jury began deliberation on December 5. After 14 hours of deliberation, the jury filed into the court room; they returned a guilty verdict and sentenced Norris to death. Norris took the news stoically.

Leibowitz's prompt appeal stayed the execution date, so Patterson and Norris were both returned to death row in Kilby Prison. The other defendants waited in the Jefferson County jail in Birmingham for the outcome of the appeals. Leibowitz was escorted to the train station under heavy guard, and he boarded a train back to New York.[120]

United States Supreme Court reverses Decatur convictions

Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes

The case went to the United States Supreme Court for a second time as Norris v. Alabama. The court reversed the convictions for a second time on the basis that blacks had been excluded from the jury pool because of their race.[121]

Attorneys Samuel Leibowitz, Walter H. Pollak and Osmond Frankel argued the case from February 15 to 18, 1935. Leibowitz showed the justices that the names of African Americans had been added to the jury rolls. The Justices examined the items closely with a magnifying glass. Thomas Knight maintained that the jury process was color blind.

Alabama Governor Bibb Graves

Because the case of Haywood Patterson had been dismissed due to the technical failure to appeal it on time, it presented different issues. Attorneys Osmond Frankel and Walter Pollak argued those.[122]

On April 1, 1935, the United States Supreme Court sent the cases back a second time for retrials in Alabama. Writing for the Court, Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes observed the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution clearly forbade the states from excluding citizens from juries due solely to their race.[123] He noted that the Court had inspected the jury rolls, chastising Judge Callahan and the Alabama Supreme Court for accepting assertions that black citizens had not been excluded. According to the U.S. Supreme Court, "something more" was needed. The Court concluded, "the motion to quash ... should have been granted."[5] The Court ruled that it would be a great injustice to execute Patterson when Norris would receive a new trial, reasoning that Alabama should have opportunity to reexamine Patterson's case as well.[124]

Alabama Governor Bibb Graves instructed every solicitor and judge in the state, "Whether we like the decisions or not ... We must put Negroes in jury boxes. Alabama is going to observe the supreme law of America."[125]

Final round of trials

After the case was remanded, on May 1, 1935, Victoria Price swore new rape complaints against the defendants as the sole complaining witness. An African American, Creed Conyer, was selected as the first black person since Reconstruction to sit on an Alabama grand jury. Indictment could be made with a two-thirds vote, and the grand jury voted to indict the defendants. Thomas Knight, Jr. by now (May 1935) Lieutenant Governor, was appointed special prosecutor to the cases.[126]

Leibowitz recognized that he was viewed by Southerners as an outsider, and allowed the local attorney Charles Watts to be the lead attorney; he assisted from the sidelines. Judge Callahan arraigned all the defendants except the two juveniles in Decatur; they all pleaded not guilty.

Watts moved to have the case sent to the Federal Court as a civil rights case, which Callahan promptly denied. He set the retrials for January 20, 1936.[127]

Final decisions

Ozie Powell in hospital

By January 23, 1936 Haywood Patterson was convicted of rape and sentenced to 75 years—the first time in Alabama that a black man had not been sentenced to death in the rape of a white woman.[2] Patterson escaped from prison in 1948; he published The Scottsboro Boy in 1950. That year he was caught by the FBI in Michigan. The governor of the state refused to extradite Patterson to Alabama. He was later arrested for stabbing a man in a bar fight and convicted of manslaughter. Patterson died of cancer in prison in 1952, after serving one year of his second sentence.

On January 24, 1936, Ozie Powell was involved in injuring a deputy.

During May 1937, Thomas Knight died.

On July 15, 1937, Clarence Norris was convicted of rape and sexual assault and sentenced to death. Governor Bibb Graves of Alabama in 1938 commuted his death sentence to life in prison. He was paroled in 1946 and moved north, where he married and had children. In 1970 he began seeking a pardon, with the help of the NAACP and Alabama's attorney. In 1976 Governor George Wallace pardoned Norris, declaring him "not guilty." Norris' autobiography, The Last of the Scottsboro Boys, was published in 1979. Norris died on January 23, 1989, of Alzheimer's disease.

On July 22, 1937, Andrew Wright was convicted of rape and sentenced to 99 years. He was paroled, but returned to prison after violating parole. Finally released in 1950, he was paroled in New York State.

On July 24, 1937, Charlie Weems was convicted of rape and sentenced to 105 years in prison. He was paroled in 1943.

On July 24, 1937, Ozie Powell was brought into court and the new prosecutor, Thomas Lawson, announced that the state was dropping rape charges against Powell and that he was pleading guilty to assaulting a deputy. He was sentenced to 20 years. The state dropped the rape charges as part of this plea bargain.[7] Powell was released from prison in 1946.

On July 24, 1937, the state of Alabama dropped all charges against Willie Roberson, Olen Montgomery, Eugene Williams, and Roy Wright. The four had spent over six years in prison on death row, as "adults" despite their ages. Thomas Lawson announced that all charges were being dropped against the remaining four defendants: He said that after "careful consideration" every prosecutor was "convinced" that Roberson and Montgomery were "not guilty." Wright and Williams, regardless of their guilt or innocence, were 12 and 13 at the time and, in view of the jail time they had already served, justice required that they also be released.

After Alabama freed Roy Wright, the Scottsboro Defense Committee took him on a national lecture tour. He joined the United States Army. Later he married and joined the Merchant Marine. After Wright came back from a lengthy time at sea in 1959, he thought his wife had been unfaithful. He shot and killed her before turning the gun on himself and committing suicide.[128]

On July 26, 1937, Haywood Patterson was sent to Atmore State Prison Farm. The remaining "Scottsboro Boys" in custody, that of Norris, A Wright and Weems were at this time in Kilby Prison.


Governor Graves had planned to pardon the prisoners in 1938, but was angered by their hostility and refusal to admit their guilt. He refused the pardons but did commute Norris' death sentence to life in prison.

Ruby Bates toured for a short while as an ILD speaker. She said she was "sorry for all the trouble that I caused them", and claimed she did it because she was "frightened by the ruling class of Scottsboro." Later, she worked in a New York state spinning factory until 1938; that year she returned to Huntsville. Victoria Price worked in a Huntsville cotton mill until 1938, then moved to Flintville, Tennessee.

Scottsboro: A Tragedy of the American South (1969) by Dan T. Carter was widely thought to be authoritative, but it wrongly asserted that Price and Bates were dead. An NBC TV movie, Judge Horton and the Scottsboro Boys (1976), asserted that the defense had proven that Price and Bates were prostitutes; both sued NBC over their portrayals. Bates died in 1976 in Washington state, where she lived with her carpenter husband, and her case was not heard. Price's case was initially dismissed but she appealed. When the US Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in 1977, Price disregarded the advice of her lawyer and accepted a settlement from NBC. She used the money to buy a house. Price died in 1983, in Lincoln County, Tennessee.[129][130]

Most residents of Scottsboro have acknowledged the injustice that started in their community.[131] In January 2004, the town dedicated a historical marker in commemoration of the case at the Jackson County Court House.[132] According to a news story, "An 87-year-old black man who attended the ceremony recalled that the mob scene following the Boys' arrest was frightening and that death threats were leveled against the jailed suspects. Speaking of the decision to install the marker, he said, 'I think it will bring the races closer together, to understand each other better.'"[131]

Sheila Washington founded the Scottsboro Boys Museum & Cultural Center in 2010 in Scottsboro.[133] It is located in the former Joyce Chapel United Methodist Church, and is devoted to exploring the case and commemorating the search for justice for its victims.[134]

2013 pardon

In early May 2013, the Alabama legislature cleared the path for posthumous pardons.[133] On November 21, 2013, the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles granted posthumous pardons to Weems, Wright and Patterson, the only Scottsboro Boys who had neither had their convictions overturned nor received a pardon.[135][136]

Governor Robert J. Bentley said to the press that day:

While we could not take back what happened to the Scottsboro Boys 80 years ago, we found a way to make it right moving forward. The pardons granted to the Scottsboro Boys today are long overdue. The legislation that led to today's pardons was the result of a bipartisan, cooperative effort. I appreciate the Pardons and Parole Board for continuing our progress today and officially granting these pardons. Today, the Scottsboro Boys have finally received justice.[137]

Fates of the defendants

  • In 1936, Haywood Patterson was convicted of rape and sentenced to 75 years in prison. He escaped in 1949 and in 1950 was found in Michigan, but the governor refused to extradite him. In 1951 he was convicted of an assault and sentenced to prison, where he died of cancer in 1952.
  • In 1936, Ozie Powell was involved in an altercation with a guard and shot in the face, suffering permanent brain damage. In 1937 he pleaded guilty to assault, and the rape charges were dropped. He was paroled in 1946.
  • In 1937, Charlie Weems was convicted and sentenced to 105 years. He was paroled in 1943 after having been held in prison for a total of 12 years in some of Alabama's worst institutions.
  • In 1937, Andy Wright was convicted and sentenced to 99 years. He was paroled and returned to prison after violating parole. He was paroled in New York State in 1950.
  • In 1937, Clarence Norris was convicted of rape and was the only defendant sentenced to death. Governor Bibb Graves of Alabama in 1938 commuted his death sentence to life. Given parole in 1946, he "jumped" and went into hiding. In 1976 he was found in Brooklyn, New York. Governor George Wallace pardoned him that year, declaring him "not guilty". Norris published an autobiography, The Last of the Scottsboro Boys (1979). He died of Alzheimer's disease on January 23, 1989.
  • In 1937, the state dropped all charges for Willie Roberson, Olen Montgomery, Eugene Williams, and Roy Wright, who had already been in prison for six years.
  • Roy Wright had a career in the US Army and Merchant Marine. In 1959, believing his wife had been unfaithful during his tour, he shot and killed her, and then shot himself.[128]
  • In 2013, the state of Alabama issued posthumous pardons for Patterson, Weems, and Andy Wright.
In this Ryan Walker editorial cartoon – published four days after the conclusion of the Scottsboro trial – a member of the Ku Klux Klan seizes a black baby from a cradle and charges him with rape. The jury instantly convicts the baby, and the judge instantly sentences him to death; the Klansman emphasizes that this has been a fair trial, and is preferable to a lynching.

In popular culture


  • African-American poet and playwright Langston Hughes wrote about the trials in his work Scottsboro Limited.
  • The novel To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is about growing up in the Deep South in the 1930s. An important plot element concerns the father, attorney Atticus Finch, defending a black man against a false accusation of rape. The trial in this novel is often characterized as based on the Scottsboro case. But Harper Lee said in 2005 that she had in mind something less sensational, although the Scottsboro case served "the same purpose" to display Southern prejudices.[138]
  • Ellen Feldman's Scottsboro: A Novel (2009) was shortlisted for the Orange Prize; it is a fictionalized account of the trial, told from the point of view of Ruby Bates and a fictional journalist, Alice Whittier.
  • Richard Wright's 1940 novel Native Son (New York: Harper, 1940) was influenced by the Scottsboro Boys case. There is a parallel between the court scene in Native Son in which Max calls the "hate and impatience" of "the mob congregated upon the streets beyond the window" (Wright 386) and the "mob who surrounded the Scottsboro jail with rope and kerosene" after the Scottsboro boys' initial conviction. (Maxwell 132)[139]
  • The poet Allen Ginsberg references the Scottsboro Boys in his poem America.
  • The Harlem Renaissance-Poet Countee Cullen wrote about the injustice of the trial in his poem Scottsboro, Too, Is, Worth Its Song


  • The American folk singer and songwriter Lead Belly commemorated the events in his song "The Scottsboro Boys".[140] In the song, he warns "colored" people to watch out if they go to Alabama, saying that "the man gonna get ya", and that the "Scottsboro boys [will] tell ya what it's all about."
  • Metal/Rap band Rage Against the Machine provides imagery of the Scottsboro Boys in their music video "No Shelter", along with imagery of the executions of Sacco and Vanzetti, two men who were also denied a fair trial in court and were executed by authorities.[141]

Film and television

  • In 1976, NBC aired a TV movie called Judge Horton and the Scottsboro Boys, based on the case.
  • In 1998, Court TV produced a television documentary on the Scottsboro trials for its Greatest Trials of All Time series.[142]
  • Daniel Anker and Barak Goodman produced the story of the Scottsboro Boys in the 2001 documentary Scottsboro: An American Tragedy, which received an Oscar nomination.
  • Timothy Hutton starred in a 2006 film adaptation titled Heavens Fall.[143]


  • Jean-Paul Sartre's 1946 play The Respectful Prostitute (La Putain respectueuse), in which a black man is wrongfully blamed for an incident on a train involving a white prostitute, is believed to have been based on the Scottsboro case.[144]
  • The Scottsboro Boys is a staged musical portrayal of the Scottsboro case. The show premiered Off Broadway in February 2010[145] and moved to Broadway's Lyceum Theatre in October 2010. The show received good reviews, but closed on December 12, 2010.[146][147] The musical opened in London's Young Vic Theatre in 2013 before moving to the Garrick Theatre in October 2014.
  • Direct from Death Row The Scottsboro Boys, a black ensemble vaudevillesque "play with music and masks" Mark Stein production, directed by Michael Menendian, and presented at Chicago's Raven Theatre during the 2015 and 2016 seasons.[148]

See also

Notes and references


  1. ^ "Scottsboro: An American Tragedy Transcript". PBS. Archived from the original on January 28, 2017. Retrieved January 28, 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d Linder, Douglas O. (1999). "The Trials of 'The Scottsboro Boys'". Famous Trials. University of Missouri–Kansas City. Archived from the original on December 2, 2016. Retrieved January 28, 2017.
  3. ^ Powers, Rachael; Poynton, Holly. To Kill A Mockingbird, The Text Guide. Coordination Group Publications Ltd. ISBN 978 1 84762 023 1. Even though there was medical evidence that indicated the women hadn't been raped, the all-white jury sentenced all the men except the youngest to death.
  4. ^ a b Powell v. Alabama, 1932, 287 U.S. 45.
  5. ^ a b Norris v. Alabama (1935), 294 U.S. 587, 595–596. (PDF)
  6. ^ Bentley, Robert J. (November 21, 2013). "Governor Bentley's Statement on the Pardoning of the Scottsboro Boys". Office of Alabama Governor. Archived from the original on January 17, 2017. Retrieved November 29, 2013.
  7. ^ a b c Linder, Douglas O. (1999). "Biographies of the Scottsboro Boys". University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law. Archived from the original on January 23, 2011. Retrieved March 5, 2010.
  8. ^ Powell v. Alabama, 287 U.S. 45, 49 (1932).
  9. ^ Aretha (2008), p. 10.
  10. ^ Douglas O. Linder, "Without Fear or Favor: Judge James Edwin Horton and the Trial of the 'Scottsville Boys'", Vol. 68 UMKC Law Review 549, 550.
  11. ^ Acker (2007), pp. 2–3.
  12. ^ Linder, p. 550.
  13. ^ Aretha (2008), pp. 16–17.
  14. ^ a b "Scottsboro: An American Tragedy"], PBS.org, American Experience.
  15. ^ James Goodman, Stories of Scottsboro, p. 6.
  16. ^ Aretha (2008), p. 30.
  17. ^ a b Acker (2007), p. 18.
  18. ^ Powell v. Alabama, p. 51.
  19. ^ James Goodman, Stories of Scottsboro, p. 41.
  20. ^ Doug Linder. "American Civil Liberties Union report of change of venue testimony". Law.umkc.edu. Retrieved September 20, 2009.
  21. ^ Acker (2007), p. 20.
  22. ^ Patterson v. State, 1932, 141 So. 195, 196.
  23. ^ Acker (2007), p. 31.
  24. ^ Ransdall, Hollace (May 27, 1931). "Report on the Scottsboro, Alabama Case". Archived from the original on February 1, 2011. Retrieved January 26, 2011. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  25. ^ a b Weems et al. v. State, 1932, 141 So. 215, 217–218.
  26. ^ Acker (2007), pp. 23–24.
  27. ^ Acker (2007), pp. 24–25.
  28. ^ a b Acker (2007), p. 25.
  29. ^ a b c Acker (2007), p. 26.
  30. ^ a b c d Patterson v. State, 1932, 141 So. 195, 198.
  31. ^ Bellamy, Jay (Spring 2014). "The Scottsboro Boys: Injustice in Alabama" (PDF). Prologue. Retrieved January 28, 2017.
  32. ^ Acker (2007), p. 38.
  33. ^ Acker (2007), p. 27.
  34. ^ Goodman, p. 13.
  35. ^ Patterson v. State, 1932, 141 So. 195, 198–199.
  36. ^ Aretha (2008), p. 39.
  37. ^ a b c d Aretha (2008), p. 31.
  38. ^ Acker (2007), pp. 30–31.
  39. ^ Aretha (2008), p. 38.
  40. ^ a b Aretha (2008), p. 33.
  41. ^ a b Powell v. State, 1932, 141 So. 201, 209.
  42. ^ a b Aretha (2008), p. 34.
  43. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on April 21, 2008. Retrieved April 21, 2008.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  44. ^ Chris, Norwood (January 8, 2011). "Capital punishment remains fairly common in Alabama". The Daily Home. Talladega, Alabama: Radiate Media. Retrieved November 22, 2013.
  45. ^ Acker (2007), p. 41.
  46. ^ Goodman, p. 27.
  47. ^ "A wing of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the United States, devoted to the defense of people it perceived as victims of a class war. The ILD saw African Americans in the deep South as an oppressed nation that needed liberation." Greatest Trials, Court TV.
  48. ^ Aretha (2008), p. 27.
  49. ^ Goodman, p. 57.
  50. ^ Powell v. State, Id., at p. 213.
  51. ^ a b Weems et al. v. State, 1932, 141 So. 215.
  52. ^ 141 So. 215, 1932, 195, 201.
  53. ^ a b c d e Weems et al. v. State, Id., at 214.
  54. ^ a b Weems et al. v. State, Id., at 215.
  55. ^ "Bio of Walter Pollak". Fac.org. November 8, 1974. Archived from the original on July 16, 2009. Retrieved September 20, 2009.
  56. ^ Acker (2007), p. 49
  57. ^ a b Douglas O. Linder, Without Fear or Favor: Judge James Edwin Horton and the Trial of the "Scottsville Boys"., at p. 554.
  58. ^ a b c Linder, Without Fear or Favor, p. 555.
  59. ^ a b Douglas O. Linder, Without Fear or Favor: Judge James Edwin Horton and the Trial of the "Scottsville Boys," p. 556.
  60. ^ James Goodman, p. 121.
  61. ^ James Goodman, pp. 120–121.
  62. ^ a b Acker (2007), p. 59.
  63. ^ a b c Linder, p. 557.
  64. ^ a b c d e Linder, p. 560.
  65. ^ a b Linder, pp. 560–561.
  66. ^ Goodman, pp. 126–127.
  67. ^ a b c Goodman, p. 127.
  68. ^ Linder, p. 565.
  69. ^ Goodman, p. 566.
  70. ^ Goodman, p. 129.
  71. ^ James Goodman, Stories of Scottsboro, p. 128.
  72. ^ Linder, p. 564.
  73. ^ James Goodman, Stories of Scottsboro, pp. 128–129.
  74. ^ Acker (2007), p. 68.
  75. ^ Acker (2007), p. 69.
  76. ^ James Goodman, Stories of Scottsboro, p. 129.
  77. ^ a b Linder, Without Fear or Favor, at p. 566.
  78. ^ a b c d e Linder, Without Fear or Favor, p. 567.
  79. ^ a b James Goodman, Stories of Scottsboro, pp. 132–133.
  80. ^ Linder, Without Fear or Favor, p. 568.
  81. ^ a b "The South Speaks". Newdeal.feri.org. Retrieved September 20, 2009.
  82. ^ a b Goodman, Stories of Scottsboro, pp. 132–133.
  83. ^ a b c Goodman, Stories of Scottsboro, pp. 133–134.
  84. ^ Linder, Without Fear or Favor, p. 569.
  85. ^ a b c Linder, Without Fear or Favor, p. 571.
  86. ^ a b "Scottsboro Boys pardon nears as Alabama comes to terms with its past". Retrieved February 13, 2015.
  87. ^ Linder, Without Fear or Favor, p. 573.
  88. ^ Linder, Without Fear or Favor, pp. 576–577.
  89. ^ Doug Linder. "Retrial by Judge Callahan". Law.umkc.edu. Retrieved September 20, 2009.
  90. ^ a b Acker (2007), p. 102.
  91. ^ Acker (2007), pp. 103–104.
  92. ^ Acker (2007), p. 104.
  93. ^ a b James Goodman, Stories of Scottsboro, p. 216
  94. ^ Acker (2007), 109.
  95. ^ a b c Acker (2007), p. 110.
  96. ^ a b c James Goodman, Stories of Scottsboro, p. 221.
  97. ^ a b James Goodman, Stories of Scottsboro, p. 224.
  98. ^ Acker (2007), p. 111.
  99. ^ Acker (2007), p. 112.
  100. ^ a b Goodman, Stories of Scottsboro, p. 225.
  101. ^ F. Raymond Daniell, The New York Times, November 19, 1933.
  102. ^ a b c d Goodman, Stories of Scottsboro, p. 226.
  103. ^ Acker (2007), 118.
  104. ^ Goodman, Stories of Scottsboro, pp. 225–226.
  105. ^ a b "Raymond Daniell, The New York Times, November 19, 1933.
  106. ^ Acker (2007), p. 120.
  107. ^ Goodman, Stories of Scottsboro, p. 220.
  108. ^ Goodman, Stories of Scottsboro, pp. 226–27.
  109. ^ a b Goodman, p. 227
  110. ^ Linder, Without Fear or Favor, at p. 577.
  111. ^ Time Magazine, December 11, 1933.
  112. ^ Linder, Without Fear or Favor, p. 580
  113. ^ "Testimony of Virginia Price". Law.umkc.edu. Retrieved September 20, 2009.
  114. ^ Acker (2007), p. 127.
  115. ^ Acker (2007), p. 128.
  116. ^ a b Acker (2007), p. 129
  117. ^ Acker (2007), pp. 130–131.
  118. ^ a b c Acker p. 131.
  119. ^ New York Times, December 5, 1933.
  120. ^ Acker (2007), p. 134.
  121. ^ Norris v. Alabama (1935), 294 U.S. 587.
  122. ^ Acker (2007), p. 144.
  123. ^ Norris v. Alabama (1935), 294 U.S. 587, 589.
  124. ^ Patterson v. Alabama (1935), 294 U.S. 600, 606–607.
  125. ^ Acker (2007), pp. 149.
  126. ^ Acker (2007), p. 155.
  127. ^ "A Scottsboro Chronology". English.uiuc.edu. Retrieved September 20, 2009.
  128. ^ a b "Roy Wright", Scottsboro Boys, PBS.org.
  129. ^ Montell, William Lynwood (2005). Tales from Tennessee Lawyers. The University Press of Kentucky. pp. 92–94. ISBN 0813123690. Retrieved January 15, 2017.
  130. ^ Geis, Gilbert; Bienen, Leigh B (1998). Crimes of the Century: From Leopold and Loeb to O.J. Simpson. Boston: Northeastern University Press. pp. 72–73. ISBN 1555533604. Retrieved January 15, 2017. price.
  131. ^ a b Acker (2007), pp. 208–209.
  132. ^ Acker (2007), p. 208.
  133. ^ a b Rawls, Phillip (May 4, 2013). "More work ahead in Ala for Scottsboro Boys pardons". The Huffington Post. Associated Press. Retrieved May 5, 2013.[permanent dead link]
  134. ^ "About Us", Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center website.
  135. ^ "Alabama posthumously pardons three Scottsboro Boys". BBC News. November 21, 2013. Retrieved November 21, 2013.
  136. ^ Parker, Dennis (November 21, 2013). "Scottsboro Boys Exonerated, But Troubling Legacy Remains for Black Men". ACLU.
  137. ^ Bentley, Robert J. (November 21, 2013). "Governor Bentley's Statement on the Pardoning of the Scottsboro Boys". Office of Alabama Governor. Retrieved November 29, 2013.
  138. ^ Shields, Charles J. Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee p. 118.
  139. ^ Maxwell, William J (1999). New Negro, Old Left: African-American Writing and Communism Between the Wars. New York: Columbia University Press.
  140. ^ "Leadbelly – Let It Shine on Me: The Scottsboro Boys – Free Song Clips, ARTISTdirect Network". Artistdirect.com. Retrieved September 20, 2009.
  141. ^ RATMVEVO (February 26, 2010), Rage Against The Machine – No Shelter, retrieved September 29, 2016
  142. ^ Crime Stories: "The Scottsboro Boys" (1998) at IMDb.
  143. ^ "Heavens Fall (2006)" at IMDb.
  144. ^ Julien Murphy, "Sartre on American Racism", in Julie K. Ward, Tommy L. Lott (eds), Philosophers on Race: Critical Essays, Blackwell, 2002, p. 222.
  145. ^ Komisar, Lucy (March 30, 2010), "'The Scottsboro Boys' Is a Chilling Musical", FilmFestivalTraveler.com, retrieved June 13, 2011.
  146. ^ Healy, Patrick (October 12, 2010). "Blackface and Bigotry, Finely Tuned". The New York Times. Retrieved October 26, 2010.
  147. ^ Hernandez, Ernio (February 12, 2010), "Stroman Brings New Musical The Scottsboro Boys to Off-Broadway" Archived June 4, 2011, at the Wayback Machine, Playbill, retrieved June 13, 2011.
  148. ^ Reid, Kerry. "'Direct from Death Row The Scottsboro Boys'". chicagotribune.com. Chicago Yribune. Retrieved July 25, 2016.


Further reading

External links

24 March 1989

In Prince William Sound in Alaska, the Exxon Valdez spills 240,000 barrels (38,000 m3) of crude oil after running aground.

Exxon Valdez oil spill

Exxon Valdez oil spill
Three days after Exxon Valdez ran aground
LocationPrince William Sound, Alaska
Coordinates60°50′27″N 146°51′45″W / 60.8408°N 146.8625°W / 60.8408; -146.8625Coordinates: 60°50′27″N 146°51′45″W / 60.8408°N 146.8625°W / 60.8408; -146.8625
DateMarch 24, 1989; 31 years ago (1989-03-24)
CauseGrounding of the Exxon Valdez oil tanker
OperatorExxon Shipping Company
Spill characteristics
Volume10.8×10^6 US gal (260,000 bbl; 41,000 m3) (or 37,000 metric tonnes)
Shoreline impacted1,300 mi (2,100 km)

The Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred in Prince William Sound, Alaska, March 24, 1989, when Exxon Valdez, an oil tanker owned by Exxon Shipping Company, bound for Long Beach, California, struck Prince William Sound's Bligh Reef, 1.5 mi (2.4 km) west of Tatitlek, Alaska, at 12:04 a.m. and spilled 10.8 million US gallons (260,000 bbl) (or 37,000 metric tonnes)[1] of crude oil over the next few days.[2] It is considered the worst oil spill worldwide in terms of damage to the environment.[3] The Valdez spill is the second largest in US waters, after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, in terms of volume released.[4][5] Prince William Sound's remote location, accessible only by helicopter, plane, or boat, made government and industry response efforts difficult and severely taxed existing response plans. The region is a habitat for salmon, sea otters, seals and seabirds. The oil, originally extracted at the Prudhoe Bay Oil Field, eventually affected 1,300 miles (2,100 km) of coastline, of which 200 miles (320 km) were heavily or moderately oiled.[2][6][7]


The ship was carrying 53.1 million US gallons (1,260,000 bbl; 201,000 m3) of oil, of which about 10.8 million US gallons (260,000 bbl; 41,000 m3) were spilled into the Prince William Sound.[2][4][8][9][10]

During the first few days of the spill, heavy sheens of oil covered large areas of the surface of Prince William Sound.

Multiple factors have been identified as contributing to the incident:

Beginning three days after the vessel grounded, a storm pushed large quantities of fresh oil on to the rocky shores of many of the beaches in the Knight Island chain.[11] In this photograph, pooled black oil is shown stranded in the rocks
  • Exxon Shipping Company failed to supervise the master and provide a rested and sufficient crew for Exxon Valdez. The NTSB found this was widespread throughout the industry, prompting a safety recommendation to Exxon and to the industry.[12]
  • The third mate failed to properly maneuver the vessel, possibly due to fatigue or excessive workload.[12]
  • Exxon Shipping Company failed to properly maintain the Raytheon Collision Avoidance System (RAYCAS) radar, which, if functional, would have indicated to the third mate an impending collision with the Bligh Reef by detecting the "radar reflector", placed on the next rock inland from Bligh Reef for the purpose of keeping ships on course. This cause was brought forward by Greg Palast and is not present in the official accident report.[13]

Captain Joseph Hazelwood, who was widely reported to have been drinking heavily that night, was not at the controls when the ship struck the reef. Exxon blamed Captain Hazelwood for the grounding of the tanker, but Hazelwood accused the corporation of making him a scapegoat.[13][14] As the senior officer in command of the ship, he was accused of being intoxicated and thereby contributing to the disaster, but he was cleared of this charge at his 1990 trial after witnesses testified that he was sober around the time of the accident. In light of the other findings, investigative reporter Greg Palast stated in 2008, "Forget the drunken skipper fable. At the helm, the third mate may never have collided with Bligh Reef had he looked at his RAYCAS radar. But the radar was not turned on. In fact, the tanker's radar was left broken and disabled for more than a year before the disaster, and Exxon management knew it. It was just too expensive to fix and operate."[15]

Other factors, according to an MIT course entitled "Software System Safety" by Professor Nancy G. Leveson,[16] included:

  1. Ships were not informed that the previous practice of the Coast Guard tracking ships out to Bligh Reef had ceased.[17]
  2. The oil industry promised, but never installed, state-of-the-art iceberg monitoring equipment.[18]
  3. Exxon Valdez was sailing outside the normal sea lane to avoid small icebergs thought to be in the area.[18]
  4. Coast Guard vessel inspections in Valdez were not performed, and the number of staff was reduced.[19]
  5. Lack of available equipment and personnel hampered the spill cleanup.[17]

This disaster resulted in International Maritime Organization introducing comprehensive marine pollution prevention rules (MARPOL) through various conventions. The rules were ratified by member countries and, under International Ship Management rules, the ships are being operated with a common objective of "safer ships and cleaner oceans".[20]

In 2009, Exxon Valdez Captain Joseph Hazelwood offered a "heartfelt apology" to the people of Alaska, suggesting he had been wrongly blamed for the disaster: "The true story is out there for anybody who wants to look at the facts, but that's not the sexy story and that's not the easy story," he said. Hazelwood said he felt Alaskans always gave him a fair shake.[14]

Clean-up and major effects

Workers using high-pressure, hot-water washing to clean an oiled shoreline

Chemical dispersant, a surfactant and solvent mixture, was applied to the slick by a private company on March 24 with a helicopter. But the helicopter missed the target area. Scientific data on its toxicity were either thin or incomplete. In addition, public acceptance of a new, widespread chemical treatment was lacking. Landowners, fishing groups, and conservation organizations questioned the use of chemicals on hundreds of miles of shoreline when other alternatives may have been available."[21][22][23]

According to a report by David Kirby for TakePart, the main component of the Corexit formulation used during cleanup, 2-butoxyethanol, was identified as "one of the agents that caused liver, kidney, lung, nervous system, and blood disorders among cleanup crews in Alaska following the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill.[24]

Mechanical cleanup was started shortly afterwards using booms and skimmers, but the skimmers were not readily available during the first 24 hours following the spill, and thick oil and kelp tended to clog the equipment. Despite civilian insistence for a complete clean, only 10% of total oil was actually completely cleaned. Exxon was widely criticized for its slow response to cleaning up the disaster and John Devens, the mayor of Valdez, has said his community felt betrayed by Exxon's inadequate response to the crisis.[25] More than 11,000 Alaska residents, along with some Exxon employees, worked throughout the region to try to restore the environment.

Clean-up efforts after the Exxon Valdez oil spill

Because Prince William Sound contained many rocky coves where the oil collected, the decision was made to displace it with high-pressure hot water. However, this also displaced and destroyed the microbial populations on the shoreline; many of these organisms (e.g. plankton) are the basis of the coastal marine food chain, and others (e.g. certain bacteria and fungi) are capable of facilitating the biodegradation of oil. At the time, both scientific advice and public pressure was to clean everything, but since then, a much greater understanding of natural and facilitated remediation processes has developed, due somewhat in part to the opportunity presented for study by the Exxon Valdez spill. Despite the extensive cleanup attempts, less than ten percent of the oil was recovered.

Both the long-term and short-term effects of the oil spill have been studied.[26] Immediate effects included the deaths of 100,000 to as many as 250,000 seabirds, at least 2,800 sea otters, approximately 12 river otters, 300 harbor seals, 247 bald eagles, and 22 orcas, and an unknown number of salmon and herring.[8][27]

Although the volume of oil has declined considerably with oil remaining only about 0.14–0.28% of the original spilled volume, studies suggest the area of oiled beach has changed little since 1992.[28] A study by the National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA in Juneau, determined that by 2001 approximately 90 tonnes of oil remained on beaches in Prince William Sound in the sandy soil of the contaminated shoreline, with annual loss rates declining from 68% per year prior to 1992, to 4% per year after 2001.[29][30]

Wildlife was severely affected by the oil spill.

The remaining oil lasting far longer than anticipated has resulted in more long-term losses of species than had been expected. Laboratory experiments found that at levels as low as one part per billion, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are toxic for salmon and herring eggs. Species as diverse as sea otters, harlequin ducks and orcas suffered immediate and long-term losses. Oiled mussel beds and other tidal shoreline habitats may take up to 30 years to recover.[30]

ExxonMobil denied concerns over remaining oil, stating that they anticipated the remaining fraction would not cause long-term ecological impacts. According to the conclusions of ExxonMobil's study: "We've done 350 peer-reviewed studies of Prince William Sound, and those studies conclude that Prince William Sound has recovered, it's healthy and it's thriving."[31]

On March 24, 2014, the twenty-fifth anniversary of the spill, NOAA scientists reported that some species seem to have recovered, with the sea otter the latest creature to return to pre-spill numbers. Scientists who have monitored the spill area for the last 25 years report that concern remains for one of two pods of local orca whales, with fears that one pod may eventually die out.[32] Federal scientists estimate that between 16,000 and 21,000 US gallons (61 to 79 m3) of oil remains on beaches in Prince William Sound and up to 450 miles (725 km) away. Some of the oil does not appear to have biodegraded at all. A USGS scientist who analyses the remaining oil along the coastline states that it remains among rocks and between tide marks. "The oil mixes with seawater and forms an emulsion...Left out, the surface crusts over but the inside still has the consistency of mayonnaise – or mousse."[33] Alaska state senator Berta Gardner is urging Alaskan politicians to demand that the US government force ExxonMobil to pay the final $92 million (£57 million) still owed from the court settlement. The major part of the money would be spent to finish cleaning up oiled beaches and attempting to restore the crippled herring population.[33]

Litigation and cleanup costs

Eagles rescued from the oil spill

In the case of Exxon v. Baker, an Anchorage jury awarded $287 million for actual damages and $5 billion for punitive damages. To protect itself in case the judgment was affirmed, Exxon obtained a $4.8 billion credit line from J.P. Morgan & Co., who created the first modern credit default swap so that they would not have to hold as much money in reserve against the risk of Exxon's default.[34]

Meanwhile, Exxon appealed the ruling, and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the trial judge, Russel Holland, to reduce the punitive damages. On December 6, 2002, Holland announced that he had reduced the damages to $4 billion, which he concluded was justified by the facts of the case and was not grossly excessive. Exxon appealed again and the case returned to Holland to be reconsidered in light of a recent Supreme Court ruling in a similar case. Holland increased the punitive damages to $4.5 billion, plus interest.[35]

After more appeals, in December 2006 the damages award was cut to $2.5 billion. The court of appeals cited recent Supreme Court rulings relative to limits on punitive damages.[36]

Exxon appealed again. On May 23, 2007, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals denied ExxonMobil's request for a third hearing and let stand its ruling that Exxon owed $2.5 billion in punitive damages. Exxon then appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case.[37] On February 27, 2008, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments. Justice Samuel Alito, who at the time owned between $100,000 and $250,000 in Exxon stock, recused himself from the case.[38] In a decision issued June 25, 2008, written by Justice David Souter, the court vacated the $2.5 billion award and remanded the case back to the lower court, finding that the damages were excessive with respect to maritime common law. Exxon's actions were deemed "worse than negligent but less than malicious."[39] The punitive damages were further reduced to an amount of $507.5 million.[40] The Court's ruling was that maritime punitive damages should not exceed the compensatory damages,[40] supported by a precedent dating from 1818.[41] Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy has decried the ruling as "another in a line of cases where this Supreme Court has misconstrued congressional intent to benefit large corporations."[42]

Exxon's official position was that punitive damages greater than $25 million were not justified because the spill resulted from an accident, and because Exxon spent an estimated $2 billion cleaning up the spill and a further $1 billion to settle related civil and criminal charges. Attorneys for the plaintiffs contended that Exxon bore responsibility for the accident because the company "put a drunk in charge of a tanker in Prince William Sound."[43]

Exxon recovered a significant portion of clean-up and legal expenses through insurance claims associated with the grounding of the Exxon Valdez.[44][45] Also, in 1991, Exxon made a quiet, separate financial settlement of damages with a group of seafood producers known as the Seattle Seven for the disaster's effect on the Alaskan seafood industry. The agreement granted $63.75 million to the Seattle Seven, but stipulated that the seafood companies would have to repay almost all of any punitive damages awarded in other civil proceedings. The $5 billion in punitive damages was awarded later, and the Seattle Seven's share could have been as high as $750 million if the damages award had held. Other plaintiffs have objected to this secret arrangement,[46] and when it came to light, Judge Holland ruled that Exxon should have told the jury at the start that an agreement had already been made, so the jury would know exactly how much Exxon would have to pay.[47]

As of December 15, 2009, Exxon had paid the entire $507.5 million in punitive damages, including lawsuit costs, plus interest, which were further distributed to thousands of plaintiffs.[48]

In October 1989, Exxon filed suit against the State of Alaska, charging that the state had interfered with Exxon's attempts to clean up the spill by refusing to approve the use of dispersant chemicals until the night of the 26th. The state disputed the claim, stating that there was a long-standing agreement to allow the use of dispersants to clean up spills, thus Exxon did not require permission to use them, and that in fact Exxon had not had enough dispersant on hand to effectively handle a spill of the size created by the Valdez.[49] Exxon filed claims in October 1990 against the Coast Guard, asking to be reimbursed for cleanup costs and damages awarded to plaintiffs in any lawsuits filed by the State of Alaska or the federal government against Exxon. The company claimed that the Coast Guard was "wholly or partially responsible" for the spill, because they had granted mariners' licenses to the crew of the Valdez, and because they had given the Valdez permission to leave regular shipping lanes to avoid ice. They also reiterated the claim that the Coast Guard had delayed cleanup by refusing to give permission to immediately use chemical dispersants on the spill.[50]

Political consequences and reforms

The Oil Spill Recovery Institute was formed after United States Congress approved it to seek a solution. Collaborating with InnoCentive they found a partial solution for the flow of oil.[51]

Coast Guard report

A report by the US National Response Team summarized the event and made a number of recommendations, such as changes to the work patterns of Exxon crew in order to address the causes of the accident.

Oil Pollution Act of 1990

In response to the spill, the United States Congress passed the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA). The legislation included a clause that prohibits any vessel that, after March 22, 1989, has caused an oil spill of more than 1 million US gallons (3,800 m3) in any marine area, from operating in Prince William Sound.[52]

In April 1998, the company argued in a legal action against the Federal government that the ship should be allowed back into Alaskan waters. Exxon claimed OPA was effectively a bill of attainder, a regulation that was unfairly directed at Exxon alone.[53] In 2002, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Exxon. As of 2002, OPA had prevented 18 ships from entering Prince William Sound.[54]

OPA also set a schedule for the gradual phase in of a double hull design, providing an additional layer between the oil tanks and the ocean. While a double hull would likely not have prevented the Valdez disaster, a Coast Guard study estimated that it would have cut the amount of oil spilled by 60 percent.[55]

The Exxon Valdez supertanker was towed to San Diego, arriving on July 10. Repairs began on July 30. Approximately 1,600 short tons (1,500 t) of steel were removed and replaced. In June 1990 the tanker, renamed Exxon Mediterranean, left harbor after $30 million of repairs.[54] In 1993, owned by SeaRiver Maritime, it was named S/R Mediterranean, then in 2005 Mediterranean. In 2008 the vessel was acquired by a Hong Kong company that operated it as Dong Fang Ocean, then in 2011 renamed it Oriental Nicety. In August 2012, it was beached at Alang, India, and dismantled.[56]

Alaska regulations

In the aftermath of the spill, Alaska governor Steve Cowper issued an executive order requiring two tugboats to escort every loaded tanker from Valdez out through Prince William Sound to Hinchinbrook Entrance. As the plan evolved in the 1990s, one of the two routine tugboats was replaced with a 210-foot (64 m) Escort Response Vehicle (ERV). Tankers at Valdez are no longer single-hulled. Congress enacted legislation requiring all tankers to be double-hulled as of 2015.[57]

Economic and personal impact

In 1991, following the collapse of the local marine population (particularly clams, herring and seals) the Chugach Alaska Corporation, an Alaska Native Corporation, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. It has since recovered.[58]

According to several studies funded by the state of Alaska, the spill had both short-term and long-term economic effects. These included the loss of recreational sports, fisheries, reduced tourism, and an estimate of what economists call "existence value", which is the value to the public of a pristine Prince William Sound.[59][60][61][62]

The economy of the city of Cordova, Alaska was adversely affected after the spill damaged stocks of salmon and herring in the area.[63][64] The village of Chenega was transformed into an emergency base and media outlet. The local villagers had to cope with a tripling of their population from 80 to 250. When asked how they felt about the situation, a village councillor noted that they were too shocked and busy to be depressed; others emphasized the human costs of leaving children unattended while their parents worked to clean up.[65] Many Native Americans were worried that too much time was spent on the fishery and not enough on the land that supports subsistence hunting.

In 2010, a CNN report alleged that many oil spill cleanup workers involved in the Exxon Valdez response had subsequently become sick. Anchorage lawyer Dennis Mestas found that this was true for 6,722 of 11,000 worker files he was able to inspect. Access to the records was controlled by Exxon. Exxon responded in a statement to CNN:

After 20 years, there is no evidence suggesting that either cleanup workers or the residents of the communities affected by the Valdez spill have had any adverse health effects as a result of the spill or its cleanup.[66]


In 1992, Exxon released a video titled Scientists and the Alaska Oil Spill for distribution to schools. Critics said the video misrepresented the clean-up process.[67]

In December 1994, the Unabomber assassinated Burson-Marsteller executive Thomas Mosser, accusing him of having "helped Exxon clean up its public image after the Exxon Valdez incident".[68]

In popular culture

Several weeks after the spill, Saturday Night Live aired a pointed sketch featuring Kevin Nealon, Phil Hartman, and Victoria Jackson as cleanup workers struggling to scrub the oil off of animals and rocks on a beach in Prince William Sound.[69]

In the 1995 film Waterworld, the Exxon Valdez is the flagship of the movie's villain, "The Deacon", the leader of a band of scavenging raiders. In the ship is a portrait of their patron saint, Joseph Hazelwood.[70]

In the second Forrest Gump novel, Gump and Co. by Winston Groom, Gump commandeers the Exxon Valdez and accidentally crashes it.[71]

Composer Jonathan Larson wrote a song called "Iron Mike" about the oil spill. The song is written in the style of a sea shanty. It was first professionally recorded by George Salazar for the album The Jonathan Larson Project[72]

See also


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Further reading

External links

23 March 2001

The Russian Mir space station is disposed of, breaking up in the atmosphere before falling into the southern Pacific Ocean near Fiji.


Mir Space Station viewed from Endeavour during STS-89.jpg
Mir seen from Space Shuttle Endeavour during STS-89 (9 February 1998)
Mir insignia.svg
Mir insignia
Station statistics
COSPAR ID1986-017A
SATCAT no.16609Edit this on Wikidata
Call signMir
Launch20 February 1986 – 23 April 1996
Launch padLC-200/39, and LC-81/23, Baikonur Cosmodrome
Kennedy Space Center
Reentry23 March 2001
05:59 UTC
Mass129,700 kg
(285,940 lb)
Length19 m (62.3 ft)
from core module to Kvant-1
Width31 m (101.7 ft)
from Priroda to docking module
Height27.5 m (90.2 ft)
from Kvant-2 to Spektr
Pressurised volume350 m³
Atmospheric pressurec.101.3 kPa (29.91 inHg, 1 atm)
Periapsis altitude354 km (189 nmi) AMSL
Apoapsis altitude374 km (216 nmi) AMSL
Orbital inclination51.6 degrees
Orbital speed7.7 km/s
(27,700 km/h, 17,200 mph)
Orbital period91.9 minutes
Orbits per day15.7
Days in orbit5,510 (15 years and 31 days)
Days occupied4,592
No. of orbits86,331
Statistics as of 23 March 2001
(unless noted otherwise)
References: [1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12]
The main components of Mir shown as a line diagram, with each module highlighted in a different colour
Station elements as of May 1996

Mir (Russian: Мир, IPA: [ˈmʲir]; lit. peace or world) was a space station that operated in low Earth orbit from 1986 to 2001, operated by the Soviet Union and later by Russia. Mir was the first modular space station and was assembled in orbit from 1986 to 1996. It had a greater mass than any previous spacecraft. At the time it was the largest artificial satellite in orbit, succeeded by the International Space Station (ISS) after Mir's orbit decayed. The station served as a microgravity research laboratory in which crews conducted experiments in biology, human biology, physics, astronomy, meteorology, and spacecraft systems with a goal of developing technologies required for permanent occupation of space.

Mir was the first continuously inhabited long-term research station in orbit and held the record for the longest continuous human presence in space at 3,644 days, until it was surpassed by the ISS on 23 October 2010.[13] It holds the record for the longest single human spaceflight, with Valeri Polyakov spending 437 days and 18 hours on the station between 1994 and 1995. Mir was occupied for a total of twelve and a half years out of its fifteen-year lifespan, having the capacity to support a resident crew of three, or larger crews for short visits.

Following the success of the Salyut programme, Mir represented the next stage in the Soviet Union's space station programme. The first module of the station, known as the core module or base block, was launched in 1986 and followed by six further modules. Proton rockets were used to launch all of its components except for the docking module, which was installed by US Space Shuttle mission STS-74 in 1995. When complete, the station consisted of seven pressurised modules and several unpressurised components. Power was provided by several photovoltaic arrays attached directly to the modules. The station was maintained at an orbit between 296 km (184 mi) and 421 km (262 mi) altitude and travelled at an average speed of 27,700 km/h (17,200 mph), completing 15.7 orbits per day.[6][7][8]

The station was launched as part of the Soviet Union's manned spaceflight programme effort to maintain a long-term research outpost in space, and following the collapse of the USSR, was operated by the new Russian Federal Space Agency (RKA). As a result, most of the station's occupants were Soviet; through international collaborations such as the Intercosmos, Euromir and Shuttle–Mir programmes, the station was made accessible to space travellers from several Asian, European and North American nations. Mir was deorbited in March 2001 after funding was cut off. The cost of the Mir programme was estimated by former RKA General Director Yuri Koptev in 2001 as $4.2 billion over its lifetime (including development, assembly and orbital operation).[14]


Mir was authorised by a 17 February 1976 decree, to design an improved model of the Salyut DOS-17K space stations. Four Salyut space stations had been launched since 1971, with three more being launched during Mir's development. It was planned that the station's core module (DOS-7 and the backup DOS-8) would be equipped with a total of four docking ports; two at either end of the station as with the Salyut stations, and an additional two ports on either side of a docking sphere at the front of the station to enable further modules to expand the station's capabilities. By August 1978, this had evolved to the final configuration of one aft port and five ports in a spherical compartment at the forward end of the station.[15]

It was originally planned that the ports would connect to 7.5-tonne (8.3-short-ton) modules derived from the Soyuz spacecraft. These modules would have used a Soyuz propulsion module, as in Soyuz and Progress, and the descent and orbital modules would have been replaced with a long laboratory module.[15] Following a February 1979 governmental resolution, the programme was consolidated with Vladimir Chelomei's manned Almaz military space station programme. The docking ports were reinforced to accommodate 20-tonne (22-short-ton) space station modules based on the TKS spacecraft. NPO Energia was responsible for the overall space station, with work subcontracted to , due to ongoing work on the Energia rocket and Salyut 7, Soyuz-T, and Progress spacecraft. KB Salyut began work in 1979, and drawings were released in 1982 and 1983. New systems incorporated into the station included the Salyut 5B digital flight control computer and gyrodyne flywheels (taken from Almaz), Kurs automatic rendezvous system, Luch satellite communications system, Elektron oxygen generators, and Vozdukh carbon dioxide scrubbers.[15]

By early 1984, work on Mir had halted while all resources were being put into the Buran programme in order to prepare the Buran spacecraft for flight testing. Funding resumed in early 1984 when Valentin Glushko was ordered by the Central Committee's Secretary for Space and Defence to orbit Mir by early 1986, in time for the 27th Communist Party Congress.[15]

It was clear that the planned processing flow could not be followed and still meet the 1986 launch date. It was decided on Cosmonaut's Day (12 April) 1985 to ship the flight model of the base block to the Baikonur cosmodrome and conduct the systems testing and integration there. The module arrived at the launch site on 6 May, with 1100 of 2500 cables requiring rework based on the results of tests to the ground test model at Khrunichev. In October, the base block was rolled outside its cleanroom to carry out communications tests. The first launch attempt on 16 February 1986 was scrubbed when the spacecraft communications failed, but the second launch attempt, on 19 February 1986 at 21:28:23 UTC, was successful, meeting the political deadline.[15]

Station structure


A diagram showing the Konus drogue and module movements around Mir's docking node[16]

The orbital assembly of Mir began on 19 February 1986 with the launch of the Proton-K rocket. Four of the six modules which were later added (Kvant-2 in 1989, Kristall in 1990, Spektr in 1995 and Priroda in 1996) followed the same sequence to be added to the main Mir complex. Firstly, the module would be launched independently on its own Proton-K and chase the station automatically. It would then dock to the forward docking port on the core module's docking node, then extend its Lyappa arm to mate with a fixture on the node's exterior. The arm would then lift the module away from the forward docking port and rotate it on to the radial port where it was to mate, before lowering it to dock. The node was equipped with only two Konus drogues, which were required for dockings. This meant that, prior to the arrival of each new module, the node would have to be depressurised to allow spacewalking cosmonauts to manually relocate the drogue to the next port to be occupied.[6][17]

The other two expansion modules, Kvant-1 in 1987 and the docking module in 1995, followed different procedures. Kvant-1, having, unlike the four modules mentioned above, no engines of its own, was launched attached to a tug based on the TKS spacecraft which delivered the module to the aft end of the core module instead of the docking node. Once hard docking had been achieved, the tug undocked and deorbited itself. The docking module, meanwhile, was launched aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis during STS-74 and mated to the orbiter's Orbiter Docking System. Atlantis then docked, via the module, to Kristall, then left the module behind when it undocked later in the mission.[17][18] Various other external components, including three truss structures, several experiments and other unpressurised elements were also mounted to the exterior of the station by cosmonauts conducting a total of eighty spacewalks over the course of the station's history.[17]

The station's assembly marked the beginning of the third generation of space station design, being the first to consist of more than one primary spacecraft (thus opening a new era in space architecture). First generation stations such as Salyut 1 and Skylab had monolithic designs, consisting of one module with no resupply capability; the second generation stations Salyut 6 and Salyut 7 comprised a monolithic station with two ports to allow consumables to be replenished by cargo spacecraft such as Progress. The capability of Mir to be expanded with add-on modules meant that each could be designed with a specific purpose in mind (for instance, the core module functioned largely as living quarters), thus eliminating the need to install all the station's equipment in one module.[17]

Pressurised modules

In its completed configuration, the space station consisted of seven different modules, each launched into orbit separately over a period of ten years by either Proton-K rockets or Space Shuttle Atlantis.

Module Expedition Launch date Launch system Nation Isolated view Station view
Mir Core Module
(Core Module)
N/A 19 February 1986 Proton-K Soviet Union RP1357 p103 Mir base block.svg
Mir Core Module.JPG
The base block for the entire Mir complex, the core module, or DOS-7, provided the main living quarters for resident crews and contained environmental systems, early attitude control systems and the station's main engines. The module was based on hardware developed as part of the Salyut programme, and consisted of a stepped-cylinder main compartment and a spherical 'node' module, which served as an airlock and provided ports to which four of the station's expansion modules were berthed and to which a Soyuz or Progress spacecraft could dock. The module's aft port served as the berthing location for Kvant-1.[19]
(Astrophysics Module)
EO-2 31 March 1987 Proton-K Soviet Union RP1357 p162 Kvant module.svg Mir-kvant.jpg
The first expansion module to be launched, Kvant-1 consisted of two pressurised working compartments and one unpressurised experiment compartment. Scientific equipment included an X-ray telescope, an ultraviolet telescope, a wide-angle camera, high-energy X-ray experiments, an X-ray/gamma ray detector, and the Svetlana electrophoresis unit. The module also carried six gyrodynes for attitude control, in addition to life support systems including an Elektron oxygen generator and a Vozdukh carbon dioxide scrubber.[19]
(Augmentation Module)
EO-5 26 November 1989 Proton-K Soviet Union RP1357 p164 Kvant 2 module.svg Mir Kvant 1-Base Block-Kvant 2.jpg
The first TKS based module, Kvant-2, was divided into three compartments: an EVA airlock, an instrument/cargo compartment (which could function as a backup airlock), and an instrument/experiment compartment. The module also carried a Soviet version of the Manned Maneuvering Unit for the Orlan space suit, referred to as Ikar, a system for regenerating water from urine, a shower, the Rodnik water storage system and six gyrodynes to augment those already located in Kvant-1. Scientific equipment included a high-resolution camera, spectrometers, X-ray sensors, the Volna 2 fluid flow experiment, and the Inkubator-2 unit, which was used for hatching and raising quail.[19]
(Technology Module)
EO-6 31 May 1990 Proton-K Soviet Union RP1357 p166 Kristall module.svg Mir from Soyuz TM-17.jpg
Kristall, the fourth module, consisted of two main sections. The first was largely used for materials processing (via various processing furnaces), astronomical observations, and a biotechnology experiment utilising the Aniur electrophoresis unit. The second section was a docking compartment which featured two APAS-89 docking ports initially intended for use with the Buran programme and eventually used during the Shuttle-Mir programme. The docking compartment also contained the Priroda 5 camera used for Earth resources experiments. Kristall also carried six gyrodines for attitude control to augment those already on the station, and two collapsible solar arrays.[19]
(Power Module)
20 May 1995 Proton-K Russia Spektr module drawing.png Mir from STS-74.jpg
Spektr was the first of the three modules launched during the Shuttle-Mir programme; it served as the living quarters for American astronauts and housed NASA-sponsored experiments. The module was designed for remote observation of Earth's environment and contained atmospheric and surface research equipment. It featured four solar arrays which generated approximately half of the station's electrical power. The module also had a science airlock to expose experiments to the vacuum of space selectively. Spektr was rendered unusable following the collision with Progress M-34 in 1997 which damaged the module, exposing it to the vacuum of space.[17]
Docking Module EO-20 15 November 1995 Space Shuttle Atlantis
US Mir Docking Module drawing.svg Mir from STS-74PLB.jpg
The docking module was designed to help simplify Space Shuttle dockings to Mir. Before the first shuttle docking mission (STS-71), the Kristall module had to be tediously moved to ensure sufficient clearance between Atlantis and Mir's solar arrays. With the addition of the docking module, enough clearance was provided without the need to relocate Kristall. It had two identical APAS-89 docking ports, one attached to the distal port of Kristall with the other available for shuttle docking.[17]
(Earth Sensing Module)
EO-21 26 April 1996 Proton-K Russia Priroda module drawing.svg Mir from STS-81.jpg
The seventh and final Mir module, Priroda's primary purpose was to conduct Earth resource experiments through remote sensing and to develop and verify remote sensing methods. The module's experiments were provided by twelve different nations, and covered microwave, visible, near infrared, and infrared spectral regions using both passive and active sounding methods. The module possessed both pressurised and unpressurised segments, and featured a large, externally mounted synthetic aperture radar dish.[17]

Unpressurised elements

The Travers radar antenna, Sofora girder, VDU thruster block, SPK unit and a Strela crane, alongside Kvant-2 and Priroda

In addition to the pressurised modules, Mir featured several external components. The largest component was the Sofora girder, a large scaffolding-like structure consisting of 20 segments which, when assembled, projected 14 metres from its mount on Kvant-1. A self-contained thruster block, the VDU, was mounted on the end of Sofora and was used to augment the roll-control thrusters on the core module. The VDU's increased distance from Mir's axis allowed an 85% decrease in fuel consumption, reducing the amount of propellant required to orient the station.[17] A second girder, Rapana, was mounted aft of Sofora on Kvant-1. This girder, a small prototype of a structure intended to be used on Mir-2 to hold large parabolic dishes away from the main station structure, was 5 metres long and used as a mounting point for externally mounted exposure experiments.[17]

To assist in moving objects around the exterior of the station during EVAs, Mir featured two Strela cargo cranes mounted to the sides of the core module, used for moving spacewalking cosmonauts and parts. The cranes consisted of telescopic poles assembled in sections which measured around 1.8 metres (6 ft) when collapsed, but when extended using a hand crank were 14 metres (46 ft) long, meaning that all of the station's modules could be accessed during spacewalks.[20]

Each module was fitted with external components specific to the experiments that were carried out within that module, the most obvious being the Travers antenna mounted to Priroda. This synthetic aperture radar consisted of a large dish-like framework mounted outside the module, with associated equipment within, used for Earth observations experiments, as was most of the other equipment on Priroda, including various radiometers and scan platforms.[19] Kvant-2 also featured several scan platforms and was fitted with a mounting bracket to which the cosmonaut manoeuvring unit, or Ikar, was mated. This backpack was designed to assist cosmonauts in moving around the station and the planned Buran in a manner similar to the US Manned Maneuvering Unit, but it was only used once, during EO-5.[17]

In addition to module-specific equipment, Kvant-2, Kristall, Spektr and Priroda were each equipped with one Lyappa arm, a robotic arm which, after the module had docked to the core module's forward port, grappled one of two fixtures positioned on the core module's docking node. The arriving module's docking probe was then retracted, and the arm raised the module so that it could be pivoted 90° for docking to one of the four radial docking ports.[19]

Power supply

The four solar arrays on Spektr

Photovoltaic (PV) arrays powered Mir. The station used a 28 volt DC supply which provided 5-, 10-, 20- and 50-amp taps. When the station was illuminated by sunlight, several solar arrays mounted on the pressurised modules provided power to Mir's systems and charged the nickel-cadmium storage batteries installed throughout the station.[17] The arrays rotated in only one degree of freedom over a 180° arc, and tracked the sun using sun sensors and motors installed in the array mounts. The station itself also had to be oriented to ensure optimum illumination of the arrays. When the station's all-sky sensor detected that Mir had entered Earth's shadow, the arrays were rotated to the optimum angle predicted for reacquiring the sun once the station passed out of the shadow. The batteries, each of 60 Ah capacity, were then used to power the station until the arrays recovered their maximum output on the day side of Earth.[17]

The solar arrays themselves were launched and installed over a period of eleven years, more slowly than originally planned, with the station continually suffering from a shortage of power as a result. The first two arrays, each 38 m2 (409 ft2) in area, were launched on the core module, and together provided a total of 9 kW of power. A third, dorsal panel was launched on Kvant-1 and mounted on the core module in 1987, providing a further 2 kW from a 22 m2 (237 ft2) area.[17] Kvant-2, launched in 1989, provided two 10 m (32.8 ft) long panels which supplied 3.5 kW each, whilst Kristall was launched with two collapsible, 15 m (49.2 ft) long arrays (providing 4 kW each) which were intended to be moved to Kvant-1 and installed on mounts which were attached during a spacewalk by the EO-8 crew in 1991.[17][19]

This relocation was begun in 1995, when the panels were retracted and the left panel installed on Kvant-1. By this time all the arrays had degraded and were supplying much less power. To rectify this, Spektr (launched in 1995), which had initially been designed to carry two arrays, was modified to hold four, providing a total of 126 m2 (1360 ft2) of array with a 16 kW supply.[17] Two further arrays were flown to the station on board the Space Shuttle Atlantis during STS-74, carried on the docking module. The first of these, the Mir cooperative solar array, consisted of American photovoltaic cells mounted on a Russian frame. It was installed on the unoccupied mount on Kvant-1 in May 1996 and was connected to the socket that had previously been occupied by the core module's dorsal panel, which was by this point barely supplying 1 kW.[17] The other panel, originally intended to be launched on Priroda, replaced the Kristall panel on Kvant-1 in November 1997, completing the station's electrical system.[17]

Orbit control

Graph showing the changing altitude of Mir from 19 February 1986 until 21 March 2001

Mir was maintained in a near circular orbit with an average perigee of 354 km (220 mi) and an average apogee of 374 km (232 mi), travelling at an average speed of 27,700 km/h (17,200 mph) and completing 15.7 orbits per day.[6][7][8] As the station constantly lost altitude because of slight atmospheric drag, it needed to be boosted to a higher altitude several times each year. This boost was generally performed by Progress resupply vessels, although during the Shuttle-Mir programme the task was performed by US Space Shuttles, and, prior to the arrival of Kvant-1, the engines on the core module could also accomplish the task.[17]

Attitude control was maintained by a combination of two mechanisms; in order to hold a set attitude, a system of twelve control moment gyroscopes (CMGs, or "gyrodynes") rotating at 10,000 rpm kept the station oriented, six CMGs being located in each of the Kvant-1 and Kvant-2 modules.[19][21] When the attitude of the station needed to be changed, the gyrodynes were disengaged, thrusters (including those mounted directly to the modules, and the VDU thruster used for roll control mounted to the Sofora girder) were used to attain the new attitude and the CMGs were reengaged.[21] This was done fairly regularly depending on experimental needs; for instance, Earth or astronomical observations required that the instrument recording images be continuously aimed at the target, and so the station was oriented to make this possible.[17] Conversely, materials processing experiments required the minimisation of movement on board the station, and so Mir would be oriented in a gravity gradient attitude for stability.[17] Prior to the arrival of the modules containing these gyrodynes, the station's attitude was controlled using thrusters located on the core module alone, and, in an emergency, the thrusters on docked Soyuz spacecraft could be used to maintain the station's orientation.[17][22]


Radio communications provided telemetry and scientific data links between Mir and the RKA Mission Control Centre (TsUP). Radio links were also used during rendezvous and docking procedures and for audio and video communication between crew members, flight controllers and family members. As a result, Mir was equipped with several communication systems used for different purposes. The station communicated directly with the ground via the Lira antenna mounted to the core module. The Lira antenna also had the capability to use the Luch data relay satellite system (which fell into disrepair in the 1990s) and the network of Soviet tracking ships deployed in various locations around the world (which also became unavailable in the 1990s).[17] UHF radio was used by cosmonauts conducting EVAs. UHF was also employed by other spacecraft that docked to or undocked from the station, such as Soyuz, Progress, and the Space Shuttle, in order to receive commands from the TsUP and Mir crew members via the TORU system.[17]


Mir in orbit

At Mir's orbital altitude, the force of Earth's gravity was 88% of sea level gravity. While the constant free fall of the station offered a perceived sensation of weightlessness, the onboard environment was not one of weightlessness or zero gravity. The environment was often described as microgravity. This state of perceived weightlessness was not perfect, being disturbed by five separate effects:[23]

  • The drag resulting from the residual atmosphere;
  • Vibratory acceleration caused by mechanical systems and the crew on the station;
  • Orbital corrections by the on-board gyroscopes (which spun at 10,000 rpm, producing vibrations of 166.67 Hz[21]) or thrusters;
  • Tidal forces. Any parts of Mir not at exactly the same distance from Earth tended to follow separate orbits. As each point was physically part of the station, this was impossible, and so each component was subject to small accelerations from tidal forces;
  • The differences in orbital plane between different locations on the station.

Life support

Mir's environmental control and life support system (ECLSS) provided or controlled atmospheric pressure, fire detection, oxygen levels, waste management and water supply. The highest priority for the ECLSS was the station's atmosphere, but the system also collected, processed, and stored waste and water produced and used by the crew—a process that recycles fluid from the sink, toilet, and condensation from the air. The Elektron system generated oxygen. Bottled oxygen and solid fuel oxygen generation (SFOG) canisters, a system known as Vika, provided backup. Carbon dioxide was removed from the air by the Vozdukh system.[17] Other byproducts of human metabolism, such as methane from the intestines and ammonia from sweat, were removed by activated charcoal filters. Similar systems are presently used on the ISS.

The atmosphere on Mir was similar to Earth's.[24] Normal air pressure on the station was 101.3 kPa (14.7 psi); the same as at sea level on Earth.[17] An Earth-like atmosphere offers benefits for crew comfort, and is much safer than the alternative, a pure oxygen atmosphere, because of increased fire risk such as occurred with Apollo 1.[25]

International cooperation

Reinhold Ewald (right) and Vasily Tsibliyev in the core module during Ewald's visit to Mir
Scale model replica of the MIR Space Station at the Euro Space Center Belgium


Intercosmos ("ИнтерКосмос" Interkosmos) was a Soviet Union space exploration programme which allowed members from the military forces of allied Warsaw Pact countries to participate in manned and unmanned space exploration missions. Participation was also made available to governments of countries, such as France and India.

Only the last three of the programme's fourteen missions consisted of an expedition to Mir but none resulted in an extended stay in the station:

European involvement

Various European astronauts visited Mir as part of several cooperative programmes:[29]

Canadian involvement

Chris Hadfield  Canada visited Mir in November 1995 as a Mission Specialist 1 STS-74.[30] Hadfield played guitar aboard the station.[31]

Shuttle–Mir program

The seven NASA astronauts who carried out long-duration missions on Mir

In the early 1980s, NASA planned to launch a modular space station called Freedom as a counterpart to Mir, while the Soviets were planning to construct Mir-2 in the 1990s as a replacement for the station.[17] Because of budget and design constraints, Freedom never progressed past mock-ups and minor component tests and, with the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Space Race, the project was nearly cancelled entirely by the United States House of Representatives. The post-Soviet economic chaos in Russia also led to the cancellation of Mir-2, though only after its base block, DOS-8, had been constructed.[17] Similar budgetary difficulties were faced by other nations with space station projects, which prompted the US government to negotiate with European states, Russia, Japan, and Canada in the early 1990s to begin a collaborative project.[17] In June 1992, American president George H. W. Bush and Russian president Boris Yeltsin agreed to cooperate on space exploration. The resulting Agreement between the United States of America and the Russian Federation Concerning Cooperation in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space for Peaceful Purposes called for a short joint space programme with one American astronaut deployed to the Russian space station Mir and two Russian cosmonauts deployed to a Space Shuttle.[17]

In September 1993, US Vice President Al Gore, Jr., and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin announced plans for a new space station, which eventually became the ISS.[32] They also agreed, in preparation of this new project, that the United States would be heavily involved in the Mir programme as part of an international project known as the Shuttle–Mir Programme.[33] The project, sometimes called "Phase One", was intended to allow the United States to learn from Russian experience in long-duration spaceflight and to foster a spirit of cooperation between the two nations and their space agencies, the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roskosmos). The project prepared the way for further cooperative space ventures, specifically, "Phase Two" of the joint project, the construction of the ISS. The programme was announced in 1993; the first mission started in 1994, and the project continued until its scheduled completion in 1998. Eleven Space Shuttle missions, a joint Soyuz flight, and almost 1000 cumulative days in space for US astronauts occurred over the course of seven long-duration expeditions.

Other visitors

Life on board

Time exposure of Mir passing over Earth's surface, May 1997.
A video tour of Mir from September 1996, during STS-79
A view of the interior of the core module's docking node, showing the crowded nature of the station.

Inside, the 130-tonne (140-short-ton) Mir resembled a cramped labyrinth, crowded with hoses, cables and scientific instruments—as well as articles of everyday life, such as photos, children's drawings, books and a guitar. It commonly housed three crew members, but was capable of supporting as many as six for up to a month. The station was designed to remain in orbit for around five years; it remained in orbit for fifteen.[36] As a result, NASA astronaut John Blaha reported that, with the exception of Priroda and Spektr, which were added late in the station's life, Mir did look used, which is to be expected given it had been lived in for ten to eleven years without being brought home and cleaned.[37]

Crew schedule

The time zone used on board Mir was Moscow Time (UTC+03). The windows were covered during night hours to give the impression of darkness because the station experienced 16 sunrises and sunsets a day. A typical day for the crew began with a wake-up at 08:00, followed by two hours of personal hygiene and breakfast. Work was conducted from 10:00 until 13:00, followed by an hour of exercise and an hour's lunch break. Three more hours of work and another hour of exercise followed lunch, and the crews began preparing for their evening meal at about 19:00. The cosmonauts were free to do as they wished in the evening, and largely worked to their own pace during the day.[17]

In their spare time, crews were able to catch up with work, observe the Earth below, respond to letters, drawings and other items brought from Earth (and give them an official stamp to show they had been aboard Mir), or make use of the station's ham radio.[17] Two amateur radio call signs, U1MIR and U2MIR, were assigned to Mir in the late 1980s, allowing amateur radio operators on Earth to communicate with the cosmonauts.[38] The station was also equipped with a supply of books and films for the crew to read and watch.[22]

NASA astronaut Jerry Linenger related how life on board Mir was structured and lived according to the detailed itineraries provided by ground control. Every second on board was accounted for and all activities were timetabled. After working some time on Mir, Linenger came to feel that the order in which his activities were allocated did not represent the most logical or efficient order possible for these activities. He decided to perform his tasks in an order that he felt enabled him to work more efficiently, be less fatigued, and suffer less from stress. Linenger noted that his comrades on Mir did not "improvise" in this way, and as a medical doctor he observed the effects of stress on his comrades that he believed was the outcome of following an itinerary without making modifications to it. Despite this, he commented that his comrades performed all their tasks in a supremely professional manner.[39]

Astronaut Shannon Lucid, who set the record for longest stay in space by a woman while aboard Mir (surpassed by Sunita Williams 11 years later on the ISS), also commented about working aboard Mir saying "I think going to work on a daily basis on Mir is very similar to going to work on a daily basis on an outstation in Antarctica. The big difference with going to work here is the isolation, because you really are isolated. You don't have a lot of support from the ground. You really are on your own."[37]


Shannon Lucid exercises on a treadmill during her stay aboard Mir.

The most significant adverse effects of long-term weightlessness are muscle atrophy and deterioration of the skeleton, or spaceflight osteopenia. Other significant effects include fluid redistribution, a slowing of the cardiovascular system, decreased production of red blood cells, balance disorders, and a weakening of the immune system. Lesser symptoms include loss of body mass, nasal congestion, sleep disturbance, excess flatulence, and puffiness of the face. These effects begin to reverse quickly upon return to the Earth.[40]

To prevent some of these effects, the station was equipped with two treadmills (in the core module and Kvant-2) and a stationary bicycle (in the core module); each cosmonaut was to cycle the equivalent of 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) and run the equivalent of 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) per day.[17] Cosmonauts used bungee cords to strap themselves to the treadmill. Researchers believe that exercise is a good countermeasure for the bone and muscle density loss that occurs in low-gravity situations.[41]


One of the space toilets used aboard Mir

There were two space toilets (ASUs) on Mir, located in the core module and Kvant-2.[22] They used a fan-driven suction system similar to the Space Shuttle Waste Collection System. The user is first fastened to the toilet seat, which was equipped with spring-loaded restraining bars to ensure a good seal. A lever operated a powerful fan and a suction hole slid open: the air stream carried the waste away. Solid waste was collected in individual bags which were stored in an aluminium container. Full containers were transferred to Progress spacecraft for disposal. Liquid waste was evacuated by a hose connected to the front of the toilet, with anatomically appropriate "urine funnel adapters" attached to the tube so both men and women could use the same toilet. Waste was collected and transferred to the Water Recovery System, where it was recycled back into drinking water, although this was usually used to produce oxygen via the Elektron system.[17]

Mir featured a shower, the Bania, located in Kvant-2. It was an improvement on the units installed in previous Salyut stations, but proved difficult to use due to the time required to set up, use, and stow. The shower, which featured a plastic curtain and fan to collect water via an airflow, was later converted into a steam room; it eventually had its plumbing removed and the space was reused. When the shower was unavailable, crew members washed using wet wipes, with soap dispensed from a toothpaste tube-like container, or using a washbasin equipped with a plastic hood, located in the core module. Crews were also provided with rinse-less shampoo and edible toothpaste to save water.[17]

On a 1998 visit to Mir, bacteria and larger organisms were found to have proliferated in water globules formed from moisture that had condensed behind service panels.[42]

Sleeping in space

Cosmonaut Yury Usachov in his Kayutka

The station provided two permanent crew quarters, the Kayutkas, phonebox-sized booths set towards the rear of the core module, each featuring a tethered sleeping bag, a fold-out desk, a porthole, and storage for personal effects. Visiting crews had no allocated sleep module, instead attaching a sleeping bag to an available space on a wall; US astronauts installed themselves within Spektr until a collision with a Progress spacecraft caused the depressurisation of that module.[17] It was important that crew accommodations be well ventilated; otherwise, astronauts could wake up oxygen-deprived and gasping for air, because a bubble of their own exhaled carbon dioxide had formed around their heads.[43]

Food and drink

Most of the food eaten by station crews was frozen, refrigerated or canned. Menus were prepared by the cosmonauts, with the help of a dietitian, before their flight to the station. The diet was designed to provide around 100 g of protein, 130 g of fat and 330 g of carbohydrates per day, in addition to appropriate mineral and vitamin supplements. Meals were spaced out through the day to aid assimilation.[17] Canned food such as jellied beef tongue was placed into a niche in the core module's table, where it could be warmed in 5–10 minutes. Usually, crews drank tea, coffee and fruit juices, but, unlike the ISS, the station also had a supply of cognac and vodka for special occasions.[22]

Microbiological environmental hazards

In the 1990s samples of extremophile moulds were taken from Mir. Ninety species of micro-organisms were found in 1990, four years after the station's launch. By the time of its decommission in 2001, the number of known different micro-organisms had grown to 140. As space stations get older, the problems with contamination get worse.[44] Moulds that develop aboard space stations can produce acids that degrade metal, glass and rubber.[45] The moulds in Mir were found growing behind panels and inside air-conditioning equipment. The moulds also caused a foul smell, which was often cited as visitors' strongest impressions.[46] Researchers in 2018 reported, after detecting the presence on the International Space Station (ISS) of five Enterobacter bugandensis bacterial strains, none pathogenic to humans, that microorganisms on ISS should be carefully monitored to continue assuring a medically healthy environment for the astronauts.[47][48]

Some biologists were concerned about the mutant fungi being a major microbiological hazard for humans, and reaching Earth in the splashdown, after having been in an isolated environment for 15 years.[46]

Station operations


Mir was visited by a total of 28 long-duration or "principal" crews, each of which was given a sequential expedition number formatted as EO-X. Expeditions varied in length (from the 72-day flight of the crew of EO-28 to the 437-day flight of Valeri Polyakov), but generally lasted around six months.[17] Principal expedition crews consisted of two or three crew members, who often launched as part of one expedition but returned with another (Polyakov launched with EO-14 and landed with EO-17).[17] The principal expeditions were often supplemented with visiting crews who remained on the station during the week-long handover period between one crew and the next before returning with the departing crew, the station's life support system being able to support a crew of up to six for short periods.[17][49] The station was occupied for a total of four distinct periods; 12 March–16 July 1986 (EO-1), 5 February 1987 – 27 April 1989 (EO-2–EO-4), the record-breaking run from 5 September 1989 – 28 August 1999 (EO-5–EO-27), and 4 April–16 June 2000 (EO-28).[49] By the end, it had been visited by 104 different people from twelve different nations, making it the most visited spacecraft in history (a record later surpassed by the ISS).[17]

Early existence

The core module with Kvant-1 and Soyuz TM-3

Due to the pressure to launch the station on schedule, mission planners were left without Soyuz spacecraft or modules to launch to the station at first. It was decided to launch Soyuz T-15 on a dual mission to both Mir and Salyut 7.[15]

Leonid Kizim and Vladimir Solovyov first docked with Mir on 15 March 1986. During their nearly 51-day stay on Mir, they brought the station online and checked its systems. They unloaded two Progress spacecraft launched after their arrival, and .[50]

On 5 May 1986, they undocked from Mir for a day-long journey to Salyut 7. They spent 51 days there and gathered 400 kg of scientific material from Salyut 7 for return to Mir. While Soyuz T-15 was at Salyut 7, the unmanned Soyuz TM-1 arrived at the unoccupied Mir and remained for 9 days, testing the new Soyuz TM model. Soyuz T-15 redocked with Mir on 26 June and delivered the experiments and 20 instruments, including a multichannel spectrometer. The EO-1 crew spent their last 20 days on Mir conducting Earth observations before returning to Earth on 16 July 1986, leaving the new station unoccupied.[51]

The second expedition to Mir, EO-2, launched on Soyuz TM-2 on 5 February 1987. During their stay, the Kvant-1 module, launched on 30 March 1987, arrived. It was the first experimental version of a planned series of '37K' modules scheduled to be launched to Mir on Buran. Kvant-1 was originally planned to dock with Salyut 7; due to technical problems during its development, it was reassigned to Mir. The module carried the first set of six gyroscopes for attitude control. The module also carried instruments for X-ray and ultraviolet astrophysical observations.[19]

The initial rendezvous of the Kvant-1 module with Mir on 5 April 1987 was troubled by the failure of the onboard control system. After the failure of the second attempt to dock, the resident cosmonauts, Yuri Romanenko and Aleksandr Laveykin, conducted an EVA to fix the problem. They found a trash bag which had been left in orbit after the departure of one of the previous cargo ships and was now located between the module and the station, which prevented the docking. After removing the bag, docking was completed on 12 April.[52][53]

The Soyuz TM-2 launch was the beginning of a string of 6 Soyuz launches and three long-duration crews between 5 February 1987 and 27 April 1989. This period also saw the first international visitors, Muhammed Faris (Syria), Abdul Ahad Mohmand (Afghanistan) and Jean-Loup Chrétien (France). With the departure of EO-4 on Soyuz TM-7 on 27 April 1989 the station was again left unoccupied.[17]

Third start

The launch of Soyuz TM-8 on 5 September 1989 marked the beginning of the longest human presence in space, until 23 October 2010, when this record was surpassed by the ISS.[13] It also marked the beginning of Mir's second expansion. The Kvant-2 and Kristall modules were now ready for launch. Alexander Viktorenko and Aleksandr Serebrov docked with Mir and brought the station out of its five-month hibernation. On 29 September the cosmonauts installed equipment in the docking system in preparation for the arrival of Kvant-2, the first of the 20 tonne add-on modules based on the TKS spacecraft from the Almaz programme.[54]

Mir following the arrival of Kvant-2 in 1989

After a 40-day delay caused by faulty computer chips, Kvant-2 was launched on 26 November 1989. After problems deploying the craft's solar array and with the automated docking systems on both Kvant-2 and Mir, the new module was docked manually on 6 December. Kvant-2 added a second set of gyrodines to Mir, and brought the new life support systems for recycling water and generating oxygen, reducing dependence on ground resupply. The module featured a large airlock with a one-metre hatch. A special backpack unit (known as Ikar), an equivalent of the US Manned Maneuvering Unit, was located inside Kvant-2's airlock.[54][55]

Soyuz TM-9 launched EO-6 crew members Anatoly Solovyev and Aleksandr Balandin on 11 February 1990. While docking, the EO-5 crew noted that three thermal blankets on the ferry were loose, potentially creating problems on reentry, but it was decided that they would be manageable. Their stay on board Mir saw the addition of the Kristall module, launched 31 May 1990. The first docking attempt on 6 June was aborted due to an attitude control thruster failure. Kristall arrived at the front port on 10 June and was relocated to the lateral port opposite Kvant-2 the next day, restoring the equilibrium of the complex. Due to the delay in the docking of Kristall, EO-6 was extended by 10 days to permit the activation of the module's systems and to accommodate an EVA to repair the loose thermal blankets on Soyuz TM-9.[56]

Kristall contained furnaces for use in producing crystals under microgravity conditions (hence the choice of name for the module). The module was also equipped with biotechnology research equipment, including a small greenhouse for plant cultivation experiments which was equipped with a source of light and a feeding system, in addition to equipment for astronomical observations. The most obvious features of the module were the two Androgynous Peripheral Attach System (APAS-89) docking ports designed to be compatible with the Buran spacecraft. Although they were never used in a Buran docking, they were useful later during the Shuttle-Mir programme, providing a berthing location for US Space Shuttles.[57]

The EO-7 relief crew arrived aboard Soyuz TM-10 on 3 August 1990. The new crew arrived at Mir with quail for Kvant-2's cages, one of which laid an egg en route to the station. It was returned to Earth, along with 130 kg of experiment results and industrial products, in Soyuz TM-9.[56] Two more expeditions, EO-8 and , continued the work of their predecessors whilst tensions grew back on Earth.

Post-Soviet period

A view of Mir from Soyuz TM-17 on 3 July 1993 showing ongoing docking operations at the station

The crew, launched aboard Soyuz TM-13 on 2 October 1991, was the last crew to launch from the USSR and continued the occupation of Mir during the fall of the Soviet Union. The crew launched as Soviet citizens and returned to Earth on 25 March 1992 as Russians. The newly formed Russian Federal Space Agency (Roskosmos) was unable to finance the unlaunched Spektr and Priroda modules, instead putting them into storage and ending Mir's second expansion.[58][59][60]

The first manned mission flown from an independent Kazakhstan was Soyuz TM-14, launched on 17 March 1992, which carried the crew to Mir, docking on 19 March before the departure of Soyuz TM-13. On 17 June, Russian President Boris Yeltsin and US President George H. W. Bush announced what would later become the Shuttle-Mir programme, a cooperative venture which proved useful to the cash-strapped Roskosmos (and led to the eventual completion and launch of Spektr and Priroda). EO-12 followed in July, alongside a brief visit by French astronaut Michel Tognini.[49] The following crew, , began preparations for the Shuttle-Mir programme by flying to the station in a modified spacecraft, Soyuz TM-16 (launched on 26 January 1993), which was equipped with an APAS-89 docking system rather than the usual probe-and-drogue, enabling it to dock to Kristall and test the port which would later be used by US space shuttles. The spacecraft also enabled controllers to obtain data on the dynamics of docking a spacecraft to a space station off the station's longitudinal axis, in addition to data on the structural integrity of this configuration via a test called Rezonans conducted on 28 January. Soyuz TM-15, meanwhile, departed with the EO-12 crew on 1 February.[49]

Throughout the period following the collapse of the USSR, crews on Mir experienced occasional reminders of the economic chaos occurring in Russia. The initial cancellation of Spektr and Priroda was the first such sign, followed by the reduction in communications as a result of the fleet of tracking ships being withdrawn from service by Ukraine. The new Ukrainian government also vastly raised the price of the Kurs docking systems, manufactured in Kiev – the Russians' attempts to reduce their dependence on Kurs would later lead to accidents during TORU tests in 1997. Various Progress spacecraft had parts of their cargoes missing, either because the consumable in question had been unavailable, or because the ground crews at Baikonur had looted them. The problems became particularly obvious during the launch of the crew aboard Soyuz TM-17 in July; shortly before launch there was a black-out at the pad, and the power supply to the nearby city of Leninsk failed an hour after launch.[17][49] Nevertheless, the spacecraft launched on time and arrived at the station two days later. All of Mir's ports were occupied, and so Soyuz TM-17 had to station-keep 200 metres away from the station for half an hour before docking while Progress M-18 vacated the core module's front port and departed.[49]

The EO-13 crew departed on 22 July, and soon after Mir passed through the annual Perseid meteor shower, during which the station was hit by several particles. A spacewalk was conducted on 28 September to inspect the station's hull, but no serious damage was reported. Soyuz TM-18 arrived on 10 January 1994 carrying the crew (including Valeri Polyakov, who was to remain on Mir for 14 months), and Soyuz TM-17 left on 14 January. The undocking was unusual in that the spacecraft was to pass along Kristall in order to obtain photographs of the APAS to assist in the training of space shuttle pilots. Due to an error in setting up the control system, the spacecraft struck the station a glancing blow during the manoeuvre, scratching the exterior of Kristall.[49]

On 3 February 1994, Mir veteran Sergei Krikalev became the first Russian cosmonaut to launch on a US spacecraft, flying on Space Shuttle Discovery during STS-60.[61]

The launch of Soyuz TM-19, carrying the crew, was delayed due to the unavailability of a payload fairing for the booster that was to carry it, but the spacecraft eventually left Earth on 1 July 1994 and docked two days later. They stayed only four months to allow the Soyuz schedule to line up with the planned space shuttle manifest, and so Polyakov greeted a second resident crew in October, prior to the undocking of Soyuz TM-19, when the crew arrived in Soyuz TM-20.[49]


Space Shuttle Atlantis docked to Mir on STS-71.

The 3 February launch of Space Shuttle Discovery, flying STS-63, opened operations on Mir for 1995. Referred to as the "near-Mir" mission, the mission saw the first rendezvous of a space shuttle with Mir as the orbiter approached within 37 feet (11 m) of the station as a dress rehearsal for later docking missions and for equipment testing.[62][63][64] Five weeks after Discovery's departure, the crew, including the first US cosmonaut Norman Thagard, arrived in Soyuz TM-21. The EO-17 crew left a few days later, with Polyakov completing his record-breaking 437-day spaceflight. During EO-18, the Spektr science module (which served as living and working space for American astronauts) was launched aboard a Proton rocket and docked to the station, carrying research equipment from America and other nations. The expedition's crew returned to Earth aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis following the first Shuttle–Mir docking mission, STS-71.[17][22] Atlantis, launched on 27 June 1995, successfully docked with Mir on 29 June becoming the first US spacecraft to dock with a Russian spacecraft since the ASTP in 1975.[65] The orbiter delivered the EO-19 crew and returned the EO-18 crew to Earth.[62][66][67] The EO-20 crew were launched on 3 September, followed in November by the arrival of the docking module during STS-74.[18][62][68][69]

The two-man EO-21 crew was launched on 21 February 1996 aboard Soyuz TM-23 and were soon joined by US crew member Shannon Lucid, who was brought to the station by Atlantis during STS-76. This mission saw the first joint US spacewalk on Mir take place deploying the Mir Environmental Effects Payload package on the docking module.[70] Lucid became the first American to carry out a long-duration mission aboard Mir with her 188-day mission, which set the US single spaceflight record. During Lucid's time aboard Mir, Priroda, the station's final module, arrived as did French visitor Claudie Haigneré flying the Cassiopée mission. The flight aboard Soyuz TM-24 also delivered the crew of Valery Korzun and Aleksandr Kaleri.[17][62][71]

Lucid's stay aboard Mir ended with the flight of Atlantis on STS-79, which launched on 16 September. This, the fourth docking, saw John Blaha transferring onto Mir to take his place as resident US astronaut. His stay on the station improved operations in several areas, including transfer procedures for a docked space shuttle, "hand-over" procedures for long-duration American crew members and "ham" amateur radio communications, and also saw two spacewalks to reconfigure the station's power grid. Blaha spent four months with the EO-22 crew before returning to Earth aboard Atlantis on STS-81 in January 1997, at which point he was replaced by physician Jerry Linenger.[62][72][73] During his flight, Linenger became the first American to conduct a spacewalk from a foreign space station and the first to test the Russian-built Orlan-M spacesuit alongside Russian cosmonaut Vasili Tsibliyev, flying EO-23. All three crew members of EO-23 performed a "fly-around" in Soyuz TM-25 spacecraft.[17] Linenger and his Russian crewmates Vasili Tsibliyev and Aleksandr Lazutkin faced several difficulties during the mission, including the most severe fire aboard an orbiting spacecraft (caused by a malfunctioning Vika), failures of various systems, a near collision with during a long-distance TORU test and a total loss of station electrical power. The power failure also caused a loss of attitude control, which led to an uncontrolled "tumble" through space.[17][22][39][62]

Damaged solar arrays on Mir's Spektr module following a collision with Progress-M34 in September 1997

Linenger was succeeded by Anglo-American astronaut Michael Foale, carried up by Atlantis on STS-84, alongside Russian mission specialist Elena Kondakova. Foale's increment proceeded fairly normally until 25 June when during the second test of the Progress manual docking system, TORU, Progress M-34 collided with solar arrays on the Spektr module and crashed into the module's outer shell, puncturing the module and causing depressurisation on the station. Only quick actions on the part of the crew, cutting cables leading to the module and closing Spektr's hatch, prevented the crews having to abandon the station in Soyuz TM-25. Their efforts stabilised the station's air pressure, whilst the pressure in Spektr, containing many of Foale's experiments and personal effects, dropped to a vacuum.[22][62] In an effort to restore some of the power and systems lost following the isolation of Spektr and to attempt to locate the leak, EO-24 commander Anatoly Solovyev and flight engineer Pavel Vinogradov carried out a risky salvage operation later in the flight, entering the empty module during a so-called "intra-vehicular activity" or "IVA" spacewalk and inspecting the condition of hardware and running cables through a special hatch from Spektr's systems to the rest of the station. Following these first investigations, Foale and Solovyev conducted a 6-hour EVA outside Spektr to inspect the damage.[62][74]

After these incidents, the US Congress and NASA considered whether to abandon the programme out of concern for the astronauts' safety, but NASA administrator Daniel Goldin decided to continue.[39] The next flight to Mir, STS-86, carried David Wolf aboard Atlantis. During the orbiter's stay, Titov and Parazynski conducted a spacewalk to affix a cap to the docking module for a future attempt by crew members to seal the leak in Spektr's hull.[62][75] Wolf spent 119 days aboard Mir with the EO-24 crew and was replaced during STS-89 with Andy Thomas, who carried out the last US expedition on Mir.[62][76] The crew arrived in Soyuz TM-27 in January 1998 before Thomas returned to Earth on the final Shuttle–Mir mission, STS-91.[62][77][78]

Final days and deorbit

Mir breaks up in Earth's atmosphere over the South Pacific on 23 March 2001.

Following the 8 June 1998 departure of Discovery, the EO-25 crew of Budarin and Musabayev remained on Mir, completing materials experiments and compiling a station inventory. On 2 July, Roskosmos director Yuri Koptev announced that, due to a lack of funding to keep Mir active, the station would be deorbited in June 1999.[17] The crew of Gennady Padalka and Sergei Avdeyev arrived on 15 August in Soyuz TM-28, alongside physicist Yuri Baturin, who departed with the EO-25 crew on 25 August in Soyuz TM-27. The crew carried out two spacewalks, one inside Spektr to reseat some power cables and another outside to set up experiments delivered by , which also carried a large amount of propellant to begin alterations to Mir's orbit in preparation for the station's decommissioning. 20 November 1998 saw the launch of Zarya, the first module of the ISS, but delays to the new station's service module Zvezda had led to calls for Mir to be kept in orbit past 1999. Roscosmos confirmed that it would not fund Mir past the set deorbit date.[17]

The crew of , Viktor Afanasyev and Jean-Pierre Haigneré, arrived in Soyuz TM-29 on 22 February 1999 alongside Ivan Bella, who returned to Earth with Padalka in Soyuz TM-28. The crew carried out three EVAs to retrieve experiments and deploy a prototype communications antenna on Sofora. On 1 June it was announced that the deorbit of the station would be delayed by six months to allow time to seek alternative funding to keep the station operating. The rest of the expedition was spent preparing the station for its deorbit; a special analog computer was installed and each of the modules, starting with the docking module, was mothballed in turn and sealed off. The crew loaded their results into Soyuz TM-29 and departed Mir on 28 August 1999, ending a run of continuous occupation, which had lasted for eight days short of ten years.[17] The station's gyrodines and main computer were shut down on 7 September, leaving to control Mir and refine the station's orbital decay rate.[17]

Near the end of its life, there were plans for private interests to purchase Mir, possibly for use as the first orbital television/movie studio. The privately funded Soyuz TM-30 mission by MirCorp, launched on 4 April 2000, carried two crew members, Sergei Zalyotin and Aleksandr Kaleri, to the station for two months to do repair work with the hope of proving that the station could be made safe. This was to be the last manned mission to Mir—while Russia was optimistic about Mir's future, its commitments to the ISS project left no funding to support the aging station.[17][79]

Mir's deorbit was carried out in three stages. The first stage involved waiting for atmospheric drag to reduce the station's orbit to an average of 220 kilometres (140 mi). This began with the docking of Progress M1-5, a modified version of the Progress-M carrying 2.5 times more fuel in place of supplies. The second stage was the transfer of the station into a 165 × 220 km (103 × 137 mi) orbit. This was achieved with two burns of Progress M1-5's control engines at 00:32 UTC and 02:01 UTC on 23 March 2001. After a two-orbit pause, the third and final stage of the deorbit began with the burn of Progress M1-5's control engines and main engine at 05:08 UTC, lasting 22+ minutes. Atmospheric reentry (arbitrarily defined beginning at 100 km/60 mi AMSL) occurred at 05:44 UTC near Nadi, Fiji. Major destruction of the station began around 05:52 UTC and most of the unburned fragments fell into the South Pacific Ocean around 06:00 UTC.[80][81]

Visiting spacecraft

Soyuz TM-24 docked with Mir as seen from the Space Shuttle Atlantis during STS-79

Mir was primarily supported by the Russian Soyuz and Progress spacecraft and had two ports available for docking them. Initially, the fore and aft ports of the core module could be used for dockings, but following the permanent berthing of Kvant-1 to the aft port in 1987, the rear port of the new module took on this role from the core module's aft port. Each port was equipped with the plumbing required for Progress cargo ferries to replace the station's fluids and also the guidance systems needed to guide the spacecraft for docking. Two such systems were used on Mir; the rear ports of both the core module and Kvant-1 were equipped with both the Igla and Kurs systems, whilst the core module's forward port featured only the newer Kurs.[17]

Soyuz spacecraft provided manned access to and from the station allowing for crew rotations and cargo return, and also functioned as a lifeboat for the station, allowing for a relatively quick return to Earth in the event of an emergency.[49][82] Two models of Soyuz flew to Mir; Soyuz T-15 was the only Igla-equipped Soyuz-T to visit the station, whilst all other flights used the newer, Kurs-equipped Soyuz-TM. A total of 31 (30 manned, 1 unmanned) Soyuz spacecraft flew to the station over a fourteen-year period.[49]

The unmanned Progress cargo vehicles were only used to resupply the station, carrying a variety of cargoes including water, fuel, food and experimental equipment. The spacecraft were not equipped with reentry shielding and so, unlike their Soyuz counterparts, were incapable of surviving reentry.[83] As a result, when its cargo had been unloaded, each Progress was refilled with rubbish, spent equipment and other waste which was destroyed, along with the Progress itself, on reentry.[49] In order to facilitate cargo return, ten Progress flights carried Raduga capsules, which could return around 150 kg of experimental results to Earth automatically.[49] Mir was visited by three separate models of Progress; the original 7K-TG variant equipped with Igla (18 flights), the Progress-M model equipped with Kurs (43 flights), and the modified Progress-M1 version (3 flights), which together flew a total of 64 resupply missions.[49] Whilst the Progress spacecraft usually docked automatically without incident, the station was equipped with a remote manual docking system, TORU, in case problems were encountered during the automatic approaches. With TORU cosmonauts could guide the spacecraft safely in to dock (with the exception of the catastrophic docking of Progress M-34, when the long-range use of the system resulted in the spacecraft's striking the station, damaging Spektr and causing decompression).[17]

In addition to the routine Soyuz and Progress flights, it was anticipated that Mir would also be the destination for flights by the Soviet Buran space shuttle, which was intended to deliver extra modules (based on the same "37K" bus as Kvant-1) and provide a much improved cargo return service to the station. Kristall carried two Androgynous Peripheral Attach System (APAS-89) docking ports designed to be compatible with the shuttle. One port was to be used for Buran; the other for the planned Pulsar X-2 telescope, also to be delivered by Buran.[17][57] The cancellation of the Buran programme meant these capabilities were not realised until the 1990s when the ports were used instead by US Space Shuttles as part of the Shuttle-Mir programme (after testing by the specially modified Soyuz TM-16 in 1993). Initially, visiting Space Shuttle orbiters docked directly to Kristall, but this required the relocation of the module to ensure sufficient distance between the shuttle and Mir's solar arrays.[17] To eliminate the need to move the module and retract solar arrays for clearance issues, a Mir Docking Module was later added to the end of Kristall.[84] The shuttles provided crew rotation of the American astronauts on station and carried cargo to and from the station, performing some of the largest transfers of cargo of the time. With a space shuttle docked to Mir, the temporary enlargements of living and working areas amounted to a complex that was the largest spacecraft in history at that time, with a combined mass of 250 tonnes (280 short tons).[17]

Mission control centre

Mir and its resupply missions were controlled from the Russian mission control centre (Russian: Центр управления полётами) in Korolyov, near the RKK Energia plant. Referred to by its acronym ЦУП ("TsUP"), or simply as 'Moscow', the facility could process data from up to ten spacecraft in three separate control rooms, although each control room was dedicated to a single programme; one to Mir; one to Soyuz; and one to the Soviet space shuttle Buran (which was later converted for use with the ISS).[85][86] The facility is now used to control the Russian Orbital Segment of the ISS.[85] The flight control team were assigned roles similar to the system used by NASA at their mission control centre in Houston, including:[86]

  • The Flight Director, who provided policy guidance and communicated with the mission management team;
  • The Flight Shift Director, who was responsible for real-time decisions within a set of flight rules;
  • The Mission Deputy Shift Manager (MDSM) for the MCC was responsible for the control room's consoles, computers and peripherals;
  • The MDSM for Ground Control was responsible for communications;
  • The MDSM for Crew Training was similar to NASA's 'capcom,' or capsule communicator; usually someone who had served as the Mir crew's lead trainer.

Unused equipment

Three command and control modules were constructed for the Mir program. One was used in space; one remained in a Moscow warehouse as a source of repair parts if needed,[87] and the third eventually was sold to an educational/entertainment complex in the US. In 1997, "Tommy Bartlett's World & Exploratory" purchased the unit and had it shipped to Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, where it became the centrepiece of the complex's Space Exploration wing.[88]

Safety aspects

Ageing systems and atmosphere

In the later years of the programme, particularly during the Shuttle-Mir programme, Mir suffered from various systems failures. It had been designed for five years of use, but eventually flew for fifteen, and in the 1990s was showing its age, with frequent computer crashes, loss of power, uncontrolled tumbles through space and leaking pipes. Jerry Linenger in his book about his time on the facility says that the cooling system had developed tiny leaks too small and numerous to be repaired, that permitted the constant release of coolant. He says that it was especially noticeable after he had made a spacewalk and become used to the bottled air in his spacesuit. When he returned to the station and again began breathing the air inside Mir, he was shocked by the intensity of the smell and worried about the possible negative health effects of breathing such contaminated air.[39]

Various breakdowns of the Elektron oxygen-generating system were a concern; they led crews to become increasingly reliant on the backup Vika solid-fuel oxygen generator (SFOG) systems, which led to a fire during the handover between EO-22 and EO-23.[17][22] (see also ISS ECLSS)


A charred panel in Kvant-1 following the Vika fire

Several accidents occurred which threatened the station's safety, such as the glancing collision between Kristall and Soyuz TM-17 during proximity operations in January 1994. The three most alarming incidents occurred during EO-23. The first was on 23 February 1997 during the handover period from to EO-23, when a malfunction occurred in the backup Vika system, a chemical oxygen generator later known as solid-fuel oxygen generator (SFOG). The Vika malfunction led to a fire which burned for around 90 seconds (according to official sources at the TsUP; astronaut Jerry Linenger insists the fire burned for around 14 minutes), and produced large amounts of toxic smoke that filled the station for around 45 minutes. This forced the crew to don respirators, but some of the respirator masks initially worn were broken. Some of the fire extinguishers mounted on the walls of the newer modules were immovable.[22][39]

Picture of the damage caused by the collision with Progress M-34. Picture was taken by Space Shuttle Atlantis during STS 86

The other two accidents concerned testing of the station's TORU manual docking system to manually dock and Progress M-34. The tests were to gauge the performance of long-distance docking and the feasibility of removal of the expensive Kurs automatic docking system from Progress spacecraft. Due to malfunctioning equipment, both tests failed, with Progress M-33 narrowly missing the station and Progress M-34 striking Spektr and puncturing the module, causing the station to depressurise and leading to Spektr being permanently sealed off. This in turn led to a power crisis aboard Mir as the module's solar arrays produced a large proportion of the station's electrical supply, causing the station to power down and begin to drift, requiring weeks of work to rectify before work could continue as normal.[17][22]

Radiation and orbital debris

Without the protection of the Earth's atmosphere, cosmonauts were exposed to higher levels of radiation from a steady flux of cosmic rays and trapped protons from the South Atlantic Anomaly. The station's crews were exposed to an absorbed dose of about 5.2 cGy over the course of a , producing an equivalent dose of 14.75 cSv, or 1133 µSv per day.[89][90] This daily dose is approximately that received from natural background radiation on Earth in two years.[91] The radiation environment of the station was not uniform; closer proximity to the station's hull led to an increased radiation dose, and the strength of radiation shielding varied between modules; Kvant-2's being better than the core module, for instance.[92]

The increased radiation levels pose a higher risk of crews developing cancer, and can cause damage to the chromosomes of lymphocytes. These cells are central to the immune system and so any damage to them could contribute to the lowered immunity experienced by cosmonauts. Over time, lowered immunity results in the spread of infection between crew members, especially in such confined areas. Radiation has also been linked to a higher incidence of cataracts in cosmonauts. Protective shielding and protective drugs may lower the risks to an acceptable level, but data is scarce and longer-term exposure will result in greater risks.[40]

At the low altitudes at which Mir orbited there is a variety of space debris, consisting of everything from entire spent rocket stages and defunct satellites, to explosion fragments, paint flakes, slag from solid rocket motors,[93] coolant released by RORSAT nuclear powered satellites,[94] small needles, and many other objects. These objects, in addition to natural micrometeoroids,[95] posed a threat to the station as they could puncture pressurised modules and cause damage to other parts of the station, such as the solar arrays.[96] Micrometeoroids also posed a risk to spacewalking cosmonauts, as such objects could puncture their spacesuits, causing them to depressurise.[97] Meteor showers in particular posed a risk, and, during such storms, the crews slept in their Soyuz ferries to facilitate an emergency evacuation should Mir be damaged.[17]

In popular culture


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External links

Preceded by
Salyut 7
Succeeded by
Mir-2 as the ROS in the ISS

22 March 2017

A terrorist attack in London near the Houses of Parliament leaves four people dead and at least 20 injured.

2017 Westminster attack

2017 Westminster attack
Part of Islamic terrorism in Europe (2014–present)
Parliament at Sunset.JPG
Hyundai Tucson 4x4 mounts Westminster Bridge pavement
Vehicle collides with 11 pedestrians (One killed, 10 injured). One pedestrian jumps off the bridge into River Thames
Vehicle crashes into railings outside New Palace Yard
Masood abandons vehicle and enters New Palace Yard
Masood attacks PC Palmer and is shot by surrounding officers
[Full screen]
LocationWestminster, London, United Kingdom
Coordinates51°30′03″N 0°07′19″W / 51.50083°N 0.12194°W / 51.50083; -0.12194Coordinates: 51°30′03″N 0°07′19″W / 51.50083°N 0.12194°W / 51.50083; -0.12194
Date22 March 2017
14:40 (GMT (UTC))
Attack type
Deaths6 (4 pedestrians, 1 police officer, and the perpetrator)
PerpetratorKhalid Masood
MotiveRevenge for Western military action in the Middle East[1]

On 22 March 2017, a terrorist attack took place outside the Palace of Westminster in London, seat of the British Parliament. The attacker, 52-year-old Briton Khalid Masood, drove a car into pedestrians on the pavement along the south side of Westminster Bridge and Bridge Street, injuring more than 50 people, four of them fatally. He then crashed the car into the perimeter fence of the Palace grounds and ran into New Palace Yard, where he fatally stabbed an unarmed police officer. He was then shot by an armed police officer and died at the scene.

Police treated the attack as "Islamist-related terrorism". Masood reportedly said in a final text message that he was waging jihad in revenge for Western military action in Muslim countries in the Middle East. Amaq News Agency, which is linked to Islamic State, said the attacker answered the group's calls to target citizens of states that are fighting against it, though the claim was questioned by the UK police and government. Police have found no link with a terrorist organisation and believe Masood acted alone.[1]


Prior to the attack, the UK Threat Level for terrorism in the country was listed at "severe", meaning an attack was "highly likely".[2][3]

There had not been a killing at the Palace of Westminster since the assassination of Airey Neave by the Irish National Liberation Army in 1979, which took place close to New Palace Yard, during the Northern Ireland conflict.[4] The previous terrorist attack to have caused multiple casualties on the British mainland had been the 7 July 2005 London bombings. Shortly before the attack, a division (vote) had been called in the House of Commons.[5]


Each stage of the attack and Masood's route through Westminster
Westminster Bridge, Bridge Street and the Palace of Westminster, the main locations where the attack took place
New Palace Yard, where the knife attack and shooting by police took place

At 14:40 local time on 22 March 2017,[6] a grey Hyundai Tucson,[7][8][9][10] hired in Birmingham,[7] was driven at up to 76 miles per hour (122 km/h)[11] into pedestrians along the pavement on the south side of Westminster Bridge and Bridge Street, causing multiple casualties.[12][13]

The attack started when Khalid Masood mounted the kerb. He turned the car toward the pavement and crashed into Kurt Cochran and Melissa Cochran. Before the collision, Kurt had pushed Melissa out of the way and took the full hit. Kurt flew off the bridge and landed on the embankment below falling 5.12 metres (16 ft 10 in) down, fatally injured. Melissa survived the attack and was wounded after being pushed by the car into a kiosk. The attack continued as Masood drove down the pavement and moved 22 metres (72 ft 2 in) forward. Masood then hit Leslie Rhodes and dragged him underneath the vehicle for 33 metres (108 ft 3 in), whilst moving back to the road to avoid a traffic sign. Masood then mounted the pavement again and hit Aysha Frade. Aysha Frade somersaulted approx. 17.1 metres (56 ft 1 in) and landed in the bus lane, underneath the rear of a bus. The bus was moving during the time and ran over her. The vehicle moved towards the road again, with the driver's side on the road while the passenger's side was on the pavement.

The car struck multiple people before hitting Andreea Cristea. Before being hit, Cristea had been out with her boyfriend and had taken a photo of the car.[14] Cristea, a Romanian tourist, was thrown by the car's impact over the parapet of the bridge into the River Thames below. Having been knocked unconscious and sustained severe injuries from the fall, she was later rescued by the crew of a river cruise and brought aboard a London Fire Brigade boat.[8] She later died in hospital from her injuries.[15]

After striking Andreea, the car went back into the roadway, before mounting the pavement again, and drove past the traffic lights for a very short distance. The vehicle then went back to the road and crashed into railings on Bridge Street at the north perimeter of the Palace of Westminster, trying to aim at a group of pedestrians in the area.[16][14]

Masood, wearing black clothes and wielding a knife in each hand, got out of the car and ran around the corner into Parliament Square and through the open Carriage Gates where he got into a struggle with an unarmed police officer, PC Keith Palmer. Masood pushed PC Keith Palmer back against the barrier wall, making Palmer trip. While Palmer was lying against the wall, Masood fatally stabbed Palmer. An armed police officer (believed to have been the Metropolitan Police close protection officer for the then Secretary of State for Defence Michael Fallon[17]) witnessed the stabbing, ran towards the scene and shot Masood dead. During that time, Palmer managed to go past the vehicle barrier and tried to go towards the area where the armed officers who had shot Masood were, until he eventually collapsed.[17][18][19][14] The entire attack, from start to finish, lasted 82 seconds.[6]

Despite attempts to resuscitate him, Masood died at the scene having been hit by all 3 shots fired by the police. The first bullet, which struck his upper torso, was believed to be the cause of death;[20][21][22][23] he was pronounced dead at 15:35 at hospital.[24] Police colleagues and passers-by, including MP Tobias Ellwood (the Foreign Minister for the Middle East and Africa) and paramedics, attempted to revive PC Palmer, also without success.[25][22] Police later confirmed that PC Palmer had been wearing a protective vest, which did not appear to have been punctured in the attack.[26]


Theresa May, the Prime Minister, who was in the Commons for a vote, was evacuated by her security team in the Prime Ministerial car,[27] and taken to 10 Downing Street.[28]

Additional armed police officers arrived,[29] including Counter Terrorist Specialist Firearms Officers who were on scene within 6 minutes.[30] An air ambulance from London HEMS attended the scene, landing in Parliament Square.[31] Parliament was suspended and MPs remained in the Commons debating chamber as a precaution.[32] Parliamentary staff were confined to their offices; journalists and visitors to Parliament were not permitted to leave the building. Some were later evacuated to Westminster Abbey.[18]

The Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales also suspended their proceedings that afternoon.[33][34] The UK government's emergency Cabinet Office Briefing Room (COBRA) committee, chaired by the Prime Minister, met in response to the attack.[19] It was decided there was no need for the threat level to be raised as a result of the attack.[29]


Reported casualties by nationality
Nationality Dead Injured
British[35] 4[a] 11
American[35] 1 1
Romanian[36] 1 1
South Korean[35] 4
French[37] 3
Greek[35] 2
Italian[38][39] 2
Australian[40] 1
Chinese[41] 1
Irish[35] 1
Polish[35] 1
Portuguese[42] 1
Not stated[35][18] 18
Total[35] 6[a] 49
  1. ^ a b Includes attacker


The hearse carrying PC Keith Palmer en route to Southwark Cathedral

Six people, including the attacker, died as a result of the incident, and around 50 others were injured, some of them severely. Of the five people killed by the attacker, three were British nationals.[13][18] One of the dead was a female teacher who was believed to have been walking along the bridge to pick up her children from school.[43] A tourist from the United States also died; he was visiting London from Utah to celebrate his 25th anniversary with his wife, who was among the injured.[18][44] The police officer killed was PC Keith Palmer, 48, an unarmed police officer who was on duty with the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection command.[45][46] Palmer had 15 years of experience in the Metropolitan Police Service.[21]

The fourth victim was a 75-year-old man from Clapham in south-west London, who was hit by the car and later died in hospital after his life support was switched off.[47][48] A fifth victim, a 31-year-old female tourist from Romania, fell into the Thames during the attack; she died in hospital as a result of her injuries on 6 April after her life support was withdrawn. Her Romanian boyfriend, who had planned to propose marriage during their trip to London, was also injured during the attack.[49][36]


A dozen people received serious injuries, some described as "catastrophic",[19] and eight others were treated for less serious injuries at the scene.[22] Injured members of the public were taken to St Thomas' Hospital, which is located immediately across Westminster Bridge in Lambeth, and to King's College Hospital (which declared a 'major incident' in its designated trauma centre), St Mary's Hospital, the Royal London Hospital and the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital.[18][22] Three French students, from Concarneau in Brittany, were among those injured;[50] others included three police officers who were returning from a commendation ceremony, four students from Edge Hill University in Lancashire, and the wife of the American who was killed.[18][22]


The attacker was identified by the Metropolitan Police as 52-year-old Briton Khalid Masood.[51] He was born Adrian Russell Elms, but later changed the name to Adrian Russell Ajao when he took the name of his stepfather.[52][53][54] He changed his name to Khalid Masood after he converted to Islam. Police said he also used several other aliases, including Khalid Choudry.[52][55]

Born in Kent, Masood was brought up in Rye, East Sussex, and later attended secondary school in Tunbridge Wells in Kent. Most recently he was living in the West Midlands.[56] When he was 16, he dropped out of school and by 18 he was described as a heavy cocaine user.[57] In 2000, he was sentenced to two years in prison for grievous bodily harm after a knife attack in a public house in Northiam in Sussex. In 2003, he was sentenced to a further six months in prison for possession of an offensive weapon following another knife attack in Eastbourne in Sussex.[58][59] As well as these two prison terms, Masood had convictions for public order offences going back to 1983.[58][59]

He converted to Islam while in prison[60] and changed his name to Khalid Masood in 2005. Some reports suggested he became radicalised there, but police found no evidence of this.[61][62]

A British newspaper obtained a CV of Masood's in which he described himself as having taught English in Saudi Arabia from November 2005 to November 2006, and again from April 2008 to April 2009.[63][64] After this, according to the CV he returned to the United Kingdom and worked at a TEFL college in Luton.[65] In early March 2015, he made a brief trip to Saudi Arabia on an Umrah visa, normally issued to those making a pilgrimage to Mecca.[53][64] During his time in Saudi Arabia he was not recorded as having a criminal record there.[64]

In 2010, Masood was described as a "peripheral figure" in an MI5 investigation of a group of Islamists later convicted of plotting to bomb a Territorial Army base in Luton. Following a risk assessment, MI5 decided he did not pose a threat.[66][67] The Metropolitan Police said he was not the subject of any current investigations and there was no prior intelligence about his intent to mount a terrorist attack.[68] He had not been convicted of any terrorism offences.[69]

Farasat Latif, director of the language school in Luton where Masood taught between 2010 and 2012, told The Guardian that when Masood lived in Luton he was apolitical and not aligned with the younger and predominantly Asian local radical Islamist group Al-Muhajiroun. Although aware of violence in Masood's past, Latif had only seen him become angry once, when Masood learnt of plans for a march by the English Defence League through Luton.[70] Between 2012 and 2016, Masood appeared in MI5 investigations as a contact of individuals linked to Al-Muhajiroun.[60]

Three days before the attack, Masood carried out reconnaissance of Westminster Bridge in person and online.[60] Masood spent the night before the attack at the Preston Park Hotel in Brighton in Sussex and was described as "laughing and joking" by the manager there.[71] At a pre-inquest hearing, it was revealed that he had used anabolic steroids shortly before the terrorist attack.[72]

Masood's profile was atypical in that most jihadi terrorists are under 30, while he was 52.[73]


The first media and public briefing from the Metropolitan Police Service, provided by Commander Ben-Julian Harrington at New Scotland Yard following the attack

On 22 March, the day of the attack, the Metropolitan Police said it believed the attack was inspired by "international terrorism"[74][75] and that they were working under the assumption that it was "Islamist-related terrorism".[76][77][78] On 23 March, the Islamic State-associated Amaq News Agency announced that the attacker was "a soldier of the Islamic State, executing the operation in response to calls to target citizens of coalition nations".[79] The Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, cast doubts on this claim.[80] Analysts monitoring Islamic State online said the claim appeared to be an effort to mask its losses in Iraq and Syria, adding that the lack of biographical information on the attacker and lack of specifics about the attack suggested it was not directly involved.[81]

Describing Masood as a "terrorist",[82] the Metropolitan Police said it was investigating whether he was a lone actor inspired by terrorist propaganda or was being directed by others.[83] On 25 March Neil Basu, Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and Senior National Coordinator for UK Counter-Terrorism Policing, announced that investigators believed Masood acted alone.[84] On 27 March, Basu announced that Masood clearly had an interest in jihad, that his methods echoed the rhetoric of Islamic State leaders and that investigators have found no evidence he was linked with it or al-Qaeda.[85][66]

The security services later recovered the last WhatsApp message sent by Masood shortly before his attack. In it, Masood reportedly said he was waging jihad in revenge for Western military action in Muslim countries of the Middle East.[1] He had written a document named "Jihad in the Quran and Sunnah", with his photograph on the front page and multiple extracts from the Quran that could be seen as supportive of jihad and martyrdom.[60] He sent this document to numerous contacts a few minutes before the attack.[60]

Initial reports

Some early reports gave descriptions of two supposed attackers, one described as a "bald white man" and another as a "black man with goatee beard".[18] On the morning after the attack, however, Mark Rowley, the Metropolitan Police's Assistant Commissioner for Specialist Operations, stated that the police believed the attacker acted alone.[74] Abu Izzadeen was also erroneously identified as the attacker on social media, Channel 4 News and The Independent shortly after the attack, although Izzadeen was actually in prison at the time.[86] In April 2017, OFCOM announced an investigation into the Channel 4 News naming of Izzadeen.[87]


Police and media outside the Hagley Road premises that were raided on 22 March, seen on the morning following the raid

At 23:00 on 22 March, West Midlands Police raided a flat in Hagley Road, Birmingham. By the morning of 23 March, six locations in East London and Birmingham had been raided resulting in the arrests of eight people on suspicion of preparing terrorist acts.[18][51][88] Officials also carried out searches in London, Brighton and Carmarthenshire.[89][51] The investigation was named Operation Classific. By 24 March, three further arrests had taken place, two men overnight in the West Midlands and North West England and a woman during the day in Manchester.[90] A woman, arrested earlier in East London, was released on bail.[91] Later on 24 March, seven of those initially arrested were released without further action and the woman arrested in Manchester was released on bail.[92][21][53]

By 25 March, only one man from Birmingham remained in custody and the woman on bail from East London had been removed from police enquiries. Up to that point in the investigation, 2,700 items had been seized and 3,500 witnesses had been contacted.[6] A further arrest was made in Birmingham on 26 March.[93] By 1 April, all 12 suspects arrested after the attack had been released without charge.[94]


Inquests for the dead victims were opened and adjourned on 29 March 2017, and into Masood's death the following day,[24] both under the Senior Coroner for Westminster, Dr Fiona Wilcox.[24]

On 12 October 2018, the jury at the inquest into Masood's death, held under the direction of the chief coroner of England and Wales, found that Masood had been lawfully killed by a minister's close protection officer identified only as SA74. Two plain-clothed armed officers from the Royalty and Specialist Protection branch of the Metropolitan Police were awaiting their principle when they became aware of the ongoing attack. SA74 recounted to the court how Masood had ignored shouted warnings and how he had opened fire in response to Masood running towards him while brandishing two bloodied knives.[95]


Floral tributes left in Parliament Square following the attack

Reactions to the attack expressed shock and outrage, and characterised it as an attack against liberty, freedom of speech, and democracy.[96][97]


Both the House of Commons and the House of Lords resumed their normal functions on 23 March, the day after the attack.[21] A one-minute silence in honour of the dead was observed in Parliament, and by London's emergency services, at 09:33. The time was selected to coincide with the start of the day's official parliamentary business.[98][78] In the morning session of parliament, Prime Minister Theresa May said that, "Yesterday an act of terrorism tried to silence our democracy, but today we meet as normal ... to deliver a simple message: We are not afraid and our resolve will never waver in the face of terrorism."[98][78] In a later statement following the 2017 London Bridge attack, May stated that all three recent attacks were "bound together by the single evil ideology of Islamic extremism".[99] The Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, the Leader of the Opposition, described the attack as "an appalling atrocity".[98][78] The speakers of both Houses of Parliament jointly offered sympathy to those affected, and thanked the emergency services.[100] The Scottish Parliament suspended the day's proceedings, including a debate on a second independence referendum.[101] Some MSPs who opposed the decision to suspend parliament said that doing so was "giving in to terrorism".[102]

On 23 March, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh faith leaders met officers at Scotland Yard to discuss responses to the attack.[103] Muslim groups, including the Muslim Council of Britain,[22] Ahmadi Muslims UK,[104] and individual mosques across the country condemned the attack.[103] That evening, there was a public candlelit vigil in Trafalgar Square to honour victims of the attack. It was led by the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, the Home Secretary Amber Rudd and the Acting Metropolitan Commissioner Craig Mackey and attended by leaders of different faiths.[105][106]

Candlelit vigil in Trafalgar Square 23 March
Candlelit vigil in Trafalgar Square on 23 March

The Metropolitan Police honoured PC Palmer by retiring his shoulder number 4157U; Charlton Athletic F.C. announced that his season ticket seat at the Valley would not be occupied at the club's next home game, but would instead have a club scarf placed over it as a mark of respect.[107] A JustGiving fund was set up, with the target of raising £100,000 for his family, a goal attained in less than 24 hours.[69] A group called "Muslims United for London" also raised over £29,000 to support victims and victims' families, releasing a statement saying, "The British Muslim community stands with the community during these difficult times".[108][109][110] Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced that PC Palmer would be remembered at the National Memorial Arboretum's UK Police Memorial in Staffordshire.[111]

On 24 March, Prince Charles visited victims of the attack at King's College Hospital;[112] Tobias Ellwood was appointed to the Privy Council for his role in rendering aid to PC Palmer, as was security minister Ben Wallace MP, who helped co-ordinate the government response.[113]

On 26 March, in an event organised by Women's March on London, roughly 100 women, including many Muslims, joined hands to form a chain along Westminster Bridge and stood in silence for five minutes to pay tribute to the victims of the attack.[114][115][116] Amber Rudd appeared on BBC's The Andrew Marr Show to call for government backdoor access to encrypted messaging services like WhatsApp, which Masood used to send a message shortly before the attack. She announced a meeting with similar technology industry leaders for 30 March, where she would persuade them to voluntarily co-operate with the government. She refused to rule out passing new legislation to this end if the companies do not comply.[117][1]

Prince William laid a wreath at the Arboretum in honour of PC Palmer on 29 March.[118] In the 2017 Queen's Birthday Honours, Palmer was posthumously awarded the George Medal.[119][120]


In addition to the expressions of shock, support, solidarity and sympathy offered by many national governments and heads of state,[a] the United Nations Security Council observed a minute of silence at its morning meeting on 23 March.[160][161] The attack was denounced by the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.[150][144]

On the evening of the attack, the Brandenburg Gate in Germany and Tel Aviv City Hall in Israel were illuminated with the Union Jack.[162] At midnight that evening, the Eiffel Tower's lights were switched off to honour those killed in the London attack.[163] On 23 March, Jean-Marc Ayrault, France's Minister of Foreign Affairs, came to London, where he first visited the hospital where three French high school students injured in the attack were being treated and later attended the morning session in the House of Commons.[164][165]


The BBC TV series Hospital was filming a routine meeting at St Mary's when the attack occurred; within minutes St Mary's declared a "major incident", one of several central London hospitals to do so. The cameras recorded the involvement of the emergency room and intensive care staff over the next few hours, and then followed the cases of three patients until their discharge. The hour-long episode was broadcast in June, resulting in "a powerful, moving portrait of a major trauma centre's response to such an event, and of the brilliant human beings who work there."[166]

See also


  1. ^ These included the governments and heads of state of: Algeria,[121] Argentina,[122] Armenia,[123] Australia,[124] Canada,[125] China,[126] Colombia,[127] Czech Republic,[128] Denmark,[129] East Timor,[130] Egypt,[131] Finland,[132] France,[21] Germany,[133] Hungary,[134] India,[135] Indonesia,[136] Iran,[137][138] Ireland,[139] Israel,[140] Italy,[141] Japan,[142][143] Jordan,[144] Laos,[145] Malaysia,[146] the Netherlands,[147] New Zealand,[126] Pakistan,[148] Philippines,[149] Poland,[150] Romania,[151] Russia,[152] Saudi Arabia,[144] Singapore,[153] South Korea,[154] Spain,[150] Sweden,[155] Thailand,[156] Tunisia,[157] Turkey,[152] Ukraine,[158] the United States[150] and Vietnam.[159]


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