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Spinoff 1996

Space Operations

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Space Operations

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On March 24, 1996, the Space Shuttle Orbiter Atlantis flew to a rendezvous with the Russian space station Mir, docked with it, and the six-astronaut crew of Shuttle flight STS-76 joined the three cosmonaut crew of the orbiting station.

Among the Americans was mission specialist Shannon W. Lucid, a veteran of five Shuttle flights who was reporting for duty aboard Mir as a cosmonaut researcher. Lucid was to spend almost six months on Mir, then return to Earth on another Shuttle/Mir rendezvous/docking mission. Her arrival at Mir kicked off a two-year span of continuous U.S. presence in orbit.U S astronaut Shannon Lucid assists cosmonaut crewmates inventory food supplies at Russia's Mir space station

U.S. astronaut Shannon Lucid helps her cosmonaut crewmates inventory newly-delivered food supplies in the base block module of Russia's Mir space station. At left is Mir commander Yuri Onufriyenko and in the background is flight engineer Yuri Usachev.

STS-76 marked the third docking flight with Mir and the fifth in a multistep preliminary agenda intended to provide a framework for International Space Station assembly operations, which begin in 1997. Known as Phase I of the International Space Station developmental program, this agenda is intended to lay the foundation for Phases II/III through integration of U.S. and Russian hardware, working methods and scientific procedures; risk reduction, or mitigation of potential surprises; and early initiation of joint scientific and technological research. Prior flights included:

  • STS-60, Orbiter Discovery, launched February 11, 1994, in which cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev served on the Shuttle crew as a mission specialist.

  • STS-63, Orbiter Discovery, launched February 3, 1995 to a rendezvous with Mir and a slow "flyaround," in which the Orbiter circled the station at a distance of about 450 feet for photography and communications tests. The rendezvous and flyaround validated a number of techniques for subsequent employment in docking missions, such as those essential to orbital assembly of the International Space Station.

  • STS-74, Orbiter Atlantis, launched November 12, 1995 to the second Shuttle/Mir docking. The flight focused on delivery of equipment to Mir and demonstration of the Russian-built docking system. STS-74 underlined the international flavor of the space station effort: the Shuttle crew was made up of four Americans and a Canadian mission specialist; hardware in the payload bay included the U.S.-built Orbiter Docking System, the Russian docking module, the Canadian Remote Manipulator System, and two Russian-built solar arrays. The Mir was staffed by two Russian and one German cosmonauts, who were operating Russian and European Space Agency equipment.

crew of STS 74 joins the crew of the MIR space station for a group photograph during their linkup in November of 1995
The crew of STS-74 (two-tone shirts) join the crew of the Mir space station for a group portrait after their November 1995 Shuttle/Mir linkup. The Shuttle members are, from left, STS-74 commander Kenneth D. Cameron; pilot James D. Halsell Jr.; Canadian mission specialist Chris Hadfield; NASA mission specialists Jerry L. Ross and William S. McArthur Jr.

On STS-76, Atlantis and Mir remained docked for five days during which the crews transferred to Mir some 1,500 pounds of water and two tons of scientific equipment, and moved to Atlantis a number of experiment samples and miscellaneous equipment. They also conducted joint experiments with the ESA's Biorack experiment rack housed in a SPACEHAB pressurized module aboard the Orbiter; the Biorack work embraced 11 separate investigations of the effects of microgravity on a variety of living materials. Another highlight was the first U.S. EVA (extravehicular activity) around two mated spacecraft, a six-hour "walk" performed by mission specialists Linda M. Goodwin and Rich Clifford. STS-76 landed at Edwards Air Force Base, California on March 31, 1995.

At Spinoff publication time (midyear 1996), the Orbiter Atlantis was poised for its fourth docking with Mir in mid-August. It was to pick up Shannon Lucid and deliver her replacement, astronaut John Blaha. After that, the Phase I plan contemplated three more Shuttle/Mir hookups in December 1996, May 1997 and September 1997. Each flight will involve pickup of the American crew member of Mir and delivery of a replacement; all flights will be made by Atlantis, the only Orbiter equipped for docking with Mir.

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