STS-81 was Jerry Linenger, who would replace U.S. astronaut John Blaha
after his four-month stay aboard the Russian space station Mir. This
mission, the fifth of nine dockings, transferred the most materials
to date. Atlantis also brought back to Earth the first plants
to complete a life cycle in space—a crop of wheat planted by Shannon
Lucid and grown from seed to seed.
Liftoff occurred at the opening of the available launch window at 4:27
a.m. EST. At that moment, Mir was high above the Galápagos Islands,
about 2,400 miles southwest of Kennedy Space Center. About 25 minutes
after launch, the Mir-22 crew was notified of the Shuttle launch, which
they viewed via video uplink. By the next morning, Atlantis trailed
Mir by 6,000 miles and was catching up to it about 600 miles with each
orbit. In the SPACEHAB double module, the STS-81 crew tested the Shuttle
Treadmill Vibration Isolation and Stabilization System, designed for
use in the Russian service module of the International Space Station.
Rendezvous and docking occurred on Flight Day 3. At the time of docking,
the two spacecraft were about 210 miles above and southeast of Moscow.
The Atlantis crew had sighted Mir when they were about 40 miles
out. Onboard Mir and nearing the end of his 118-day flight, John Blaha
did not see Atlantis until about eight minutes before docking.
Soon after the Shuttle’s docking, an informal greeting ceremony occurred
in Mir’s core module (Base Block), where the STS-81 crew presented the
cosmonauts with new flashlights. Sections of Mir—including the Kristall
module—were being kept dark to conserve power. Linenger demonstrated
how to hold a flashlight in one’s teeth, while using one hand to anchor
oneself in microgravity and the other hand to do work.
During five days of mated-spacecraft operations, Commander Michael
Baker and Pilot Brent Jett fired the Shuttle’s small vernier jet thrusters
to gather engineering data for the International Space Station. All
nine members of the two crews floated back and forth, hauling materials
between the two spacecraft. They transferred nearly 6,000 pounds of
logistics to Mir, including 1,600 pounds of water; 1,100 pounds of U.S.
science equipment; and 2,200 pounds of Russian logistical equipment.
About 2,400 pounds of materials were moved to Atlantis from Mir.
Astronaut John Grunsfeld compared Mir to "exploring a cave."
At first, a newcomer found it difficult to find the Priroda module,
where the crews stowed much of the equipment for transfer onto Mir.
Pilot Jett later described going from the docking module to the Kristall
module. He said that Flight Engineer Alexander Kaleri "kind of
grabbed me and said, ‘Okay. Just kind of follow this.’ There was a line
that went through the Kristall module, and you could kind of use it
as a translation aid; but it was also very helpful because there was
so much equipment, and at times the passageway got very narrow. The
Kristall is kind of like their attic…. They put a lot of extra equipment
there … but then, once you get … into the node and then into the Base
Block, it’s a lot more like what you would expect for a station."
Every evening, Blaha shared with Linenger what he had learned about
living and working onboard Mir. Linenger would work with the Mir-22
crew of Commander Valeri Korzun and Flight Engineer Alexander Kaleri
until the arrival in February of the Mir-23 crew of Commander Vasily
Tsibliev, Flight Engineer Aleksandr Lazutkin, and German researcher
Reinhold Ewald. (After a brief stay on the station, Ewald returned to
Earth with the Mir-22 cosmonauts.)
Atlantis undocked on January 19, 1997, and performed a fly-around of
Mir, 1,000 feet out from the station. Upon deorbiting, Atlantis
reentered the atmosphere over British Columbia, Canada to fly across
the central United States and then land on a clear Florida morning at
Kennedy Space Center.
Later in Houston, Brent Jett said that Jerry Linenger "seemed
real comfortable over in the Mir. I knew he was going to do a really,
really great job. He’s a very disciplined person, and I knew he would
have a great mission. I was kind of sad to be leaving him … I knew I
would see him again and I knew I’d see the cosmonauts again, but, you
know … seeing Jerry on the other side of the hatch when we closed it,
I was thinking that he is now part of a Russian crew, and he won’t be—except
for video links and audio links—he won’t be really able to talk to his
friends…. And, of course, I had no idea that he would go through a very
critical situation like he had with the fire."
more about the STS-81 mission and crew.