STS-86, the Space Shuttle had proven itself as a reliable "space
truck" that was capable of heavy-hauling supplies to a distant,
rapidly moving address and then precision-parking to make a delivery
However, after Jerry Linenger’s fire experience aboard Mir and Mike
Foale’s close call with the Progress collision, most of the public’s
attention was not on the Shuttle’s capabilities but, rather, on whether
it was safe to send astronaut David Wolf to take Mike Foale’s place.
Congressman James Sensenbrenner wrote that he did not expect that the
next mission would succeed "without a potentially life-threatening
situation." After a review, NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin
decided to press on—and the STS-86 crew delivered Wolf to begin a successful
mission on Mir.
Atlantis was literally loaded with Shuttle-Mir experience. Commander
Jim Wetherbee had led the "near Mir" mission of STS-63. Mission
Specialist—and Mir veteran—Vladimir Titov had been the backup to Sergei
Krikalev for STS-60 and had been aboard with Wetherbee on STS-63. French
astronaut Jean-Loup Chrétien had already flown on Mir. David
Wolf had been trained for Mir by the Russians, as had Scott Parazynski
and Wendy Lawrence. Earlier in the Program, Parazynski had been found
to be too tall to fit safely in the Soyuz escape capsule, and Lawrence
was deemed too short for the Russian Orlan extravehicular activity suit.
Indeed, this flight was especially poignant for Lawrence as she had
originally been slated to replace Foale and Wolf had been her backup.
(Wendy Lawrence would get to fly to Mir again to help close out the
program with STS-91.)
STS-86 was Atlantis’ last trip to Mir. Scheduled as another
nighttime launch, the mission experienced a normal countdown; but about
one minute into flight, a fuel cell behaved erratically. After Shuttle
separation from the external tank, a thruster malfunctioned. In all,
however, Atlantis and its systems performed very well throughout
the flight; the chase, rendezvous, and docking proceeded normally.
Since the Mir space station had been having trouble—losing attitude
control and drifting into slow tumble—the STS-86 crew had trained until
almost the last minute, practicing simulations of various docking situations.
The crew was also bringing up to Mir a new attitude control computer.
The timeline called for giving it to Mir Commander Anatoly Solovyev
on the second day of docked operations. But, according to Wetherbee,
"Anatoly told us, ‘No, I don’t want to wait ’til the second day.
I want you to give me that computer as soon as we have the handshake
ceremony.’ So, I decided to go him one better … to give it to him during
the handshake ceremony. Titov went down and drew a happy face on the
outside of this box, and [then] we opened up the hatch. I shook hands
with [Solovyev] with one hand, and with the other hand, I gave him his
attitude control computer…. Then, each of the other crewmembers gave
him this big, huge bucket of water that we bring up for them to use."
Besides ferrying supplies and equipment, and bringing David Wolf to
replace Mike Foale, one main activity of STS-86 was a five-hour spacewalk
by Parazynski and Titov to test tools and techniques for future construction
of the International Space Station. Their plans included the retrieval
of experiment packages that had been mounted on the docking module during
After undocking, Pilot Mike Bloomfield flew Atlantis to a point
600 feet beneath and in front of the Russian station to gather data
from a European Space Agency navigation sensor in the Shuttle’s cargo
bay. Bloomfield then brought Atlantis back to a point just 240
feet from Mir where he began a fly-around of the station.
Onboard Mir, Commander Solovyev opened a pressure valve in the station’s
node, blowing air into the depressurized Spektr module. Mission Specialist
Titov, aboard Atlantis, and Flight Engineer Pavel Vinogradov,
aboard Mir, both reported seeing particles seeping from the base of
the damaged solar array on Spektr, but not enough to identify the exact
location for a hull breach resulting from the June 25, 1997, Progress
After two "wave-offs" due to weather conditions, the Space
Shuttle Atlantis glided to a smooth landing at Kennedy Space
Center and returned astronaut Mike Foale to Earth after his 145 days
more about the STS-86 mission and crew.