When STS-76 took Shannon Lucid up to Mir, the U.S. began a continuous
presence in orbit that would last for more than two years. The mission
also marked the first U.S. spacewalk around the two mated spacecraft,
and the first time the SPACEHAB pressurized module was used to carry
supplies and equipment to and from Mir.
After a dayís delay because of a high wind forecast, Atlantis
launched in the cold predawn morning, with light from the engines reflecting
off the clouds. During ascent, a sensor detected a leak in one of Atlantisí
hydraulic systems, but NASA determined it was not a danger to the Orbiter.
Over the next two days, the Russian flight controllers were satisfied
that Mir was not at risk, and they gave their go-ahead to continue the
joint mission. On Flight Day 2, rendezvous and docking came with future
Mir resident David Wolf serving as CAPCOM in Houston and cosmonaut Sergei
Krikalev sitting next to him. Onboard Atlantis, Rick Searfoss
took the Commanderís seat, and Kevin Chilton controlled the Orbiter
from the aft flight deck windows. Former NASA Director of Russian Operations
Ron Sega handled computations on the laptop computer. As the two spacecraft
closed, the Sun set and Mir turned a rosy color. Then, Mirís rusty-hued
docking module inched down toward the Shuttleís docking system. After
"capture," a slight glitch with the fasteners caused the two
spacecraft to sway slightly, effectively demonstrating the robustness
of the docking system.
Shannon Lucid linked up with her Mir crew, and everyone began transferring
equipment and supplies. The U.S. astronauts discovered that Mir was,
in different ways, both large and small. Searfoss observed that, at
first, it was possible to get disoriented in Mirís transfer node, and
that moving around in Mir is kind of like being a spelunker. Ron Sega
later noted the tightness of some passageways: "After hearing of
the experiences of the two previous [STS] shuttle crews that had been
on Mir . . . we had a pretty good idea of what the Mir would be like.
Some of the tools were placed in more tenuous situations . . . so you
were cautioned, correctly, by the cosmonauts to be careful . . . not
to dislodge pliers and screwdrivers and . . . things that were tacked
along the sides." During five days of docked operations, approximately
1,500 pounds of water and two tons of scientific equipment, logistical
material, and resupply items were transferred to Mir while experiment
samples and miscellaneous equipment were brought over to Atlantis.
On Flight Day 6, NASA Mission Specialists Linda M. Godwin and Michael
"Rich" Clifford conducted the first U.S. extravehicular activity
around the two mated spacecraft. This was also the first time since
Skylabó22 years beforeóthat U.S. astronauts had spacewalked outside
a space station. According to Godwin, the Russians were understandably
concerned about the two Americans getting too close to solar arrays
and other fragile equipment, but it was a thrilling experience for the
spacewalkers and for those watching them. During their six-hour extravehicular
activity, Godwin and Clifford attached four Mir Environmental Effects
Payload experiments to Mirís docking module.
Flight controllers shortened STS-76 by one day due to weather concerns
at Kennedy Space Center. After leaving Lucid on Mir and undocking, Atlantis
performed a fly-around about which Searfoss later commented: "The
whole station is chameleon-like with different orbital lighting conditions
and Sun angles. . . . I was enthralled by the constantly changing and
indescribably beautiful hues of white, tan, gold, and blue."
Commander Chilton landed Atlantis at Edwards Air Force Base
in California and, for the first time, a Space Shuttle had returned
with fewer astronauts than it had launched with.
more about the STS-76 mission and crew.