Last night the space station Mir fell to Earth but, as with everything aeronautical, the whole thing was tested on a computer first.

Russian mission control used 3D graphics technology borrowed from the US to visualise the catastrophic final descent of the space platform.

“The station is now under control, we have begun the irreversible operation,” said Moscow mission control chief Vladimir Solovyov before the longest-serving space vehicle gave its last bow.

Programmers at US software firm Analytical Graphics created a real-time 3D animated simulation of Mir’s descent using information provided by Russian mission control.

“This [assisted] them to visualise the actual situation, position and orientation in real time of Mir,” said John Carrico, Analytical Graphics' senior astrodynamics specialist.

The programmers used real-time data from Russia to create the animation using Satellite Tool Kit software and two add-on programs called Visualisation Option and Astrogator. They were written in C and C++ - the programming language used to write Microsoft Windows.

“This allows us to make a physics-based computer simulation that shows exactly what [Mir] is doing, what it was doing a while ago and what it’s going to do,” said Carrico earlier this week.

The 15-year-old orbiting station was pushed into its final descent by the Progress cargo ship it docked with. The first burning fragments of the 140-tonne station crashed into the southern Pacific Ocean just after 0600GMT.

The Progress ship fired its engines twice on Friday, slowing the station down and changing its orbit from circular to elliptical.

Mir broke up around 40-50 km above the Earth, shattering into around four or five large pieces of debris and 1,500 small fragments weighing a total of around 30 tonnes.

Image courtesy of Analytical Graphics