STS-71, NASA staged a space opera that outdazzled the popular movie
Star Wars. This mission presented gleaming spacecraft, galactic vistas,
precision flying, nerves of steel, and onboard diplomacy between two
superpowers who had recently been at odds. It also included a cast of
10 crewmembers in space (six astronauts and four cosmonauts—the most
for one mission) and hundreds of team members on Earth, speaking two
STS-71 featured the first Shuttle "changeout" of Mir crews
and the return of U.S. astronaut Norm Thagard from his U.S. record-setting,
paradigm-breaking, nearly four months onboard the Russian space station.
And, to share the experience with audiences on Earth, STS-71 went "wide
screen" and captured the adventure on large-format IMAX film.
It was serious business, this first docking of a Space Shuttle to the
Mir, but the drama and thrill of this historic event could not be denied.
Indeed, Pilot Charlie Precourt said the sight of arriving at Mir reminded
him of "science-fiction movies, where Luke Skywalker is flying
in on his ship and lands on the big station … because that’s really
what you’re seeing—this outpost—against black space [and] this huge
planet’s horizon in the background. And, if you just take your imagination
one step further, you are arriving from another galaxy to this space
station outpost in some other solar system."
According to Precourt, "You can put yourself in that little world
fairly easily. To see … a little speck grow into something that has
shape and realize there are people living in that thing is pretty phenomenal."
For the docking, Commander Hoot Gibson positioned Atlantis directly
below Mir, so that the Earth’s gravity naturally braked the Orbiter’s
approach "up" to Mir. He and his crew executed a nearly perfect
docking, off by less than one inch and one-half degree. Together, Atlantis
and Mir totaled almost 500,000 pounds, the largest structure ever assembled
After docking, the two commanders met in the docking tunnel for handshakes
and greetings. Shortly after, both crews gathered in the Mir Base Block
for a ceremony. On Flight Day 4, in Spacelab with the Russian and U.S.
flags as a backdrop, the STS-71 and Mir crews exchanged ceremonial gifts.
Together, they rejoined a halved pewter medallion bearing a relief image
of a docked Shuttle and Mir space station.
After transferring responsibilities from the Mir-18 to the Mir-19 crew,
joint operations included scientific investigations and the transfer
of gear and supplies between the two spacecraft. The Atlantis
crew retrieved from Mir samples of urine, saliva, blood, and water as
well as a broken Salyut-5 computer. They transferred to Mir custom spacewalking
tools to repair a jammed solar array on the Spektr module; nitrogen
and oxygen to raise Mir’s air pressure; and more than 1,000 pounds of
water for waste system flushing and electrolysis.
Under Payload Commander Ellen Baker’s direction, STS-71 conducted a
full-scale scientific campaign, using nearly three tons of science equipment
in Spacelab. Mir-18’s research in seven medical and scientific disciplines
concluded during STS-71. Eleven experiments remained on Mir to be conducted
by the Mir-19 crew. These experiments would investigate the cardiovascular
and pulmonary systems; neurosensory effects; hygiene, sanitation, and
radiation; human behavior and performance; fundamental biology; and
When the time came for undocking on July 4, 1995, the Mir-19 crew temporarily
left Mir in their Soyuz spacecraft to videotape the separation, which
looked like a "cosmic ballet," according to Commander Gibson.
For reentry, Mir-18 crewmembers Thagard, Dezhurov, and Strekalov lay
in the mid-deck of the Atlantis in custom-made Russian seats
designed to ease their transition back into gravity. The Mir-18 crew
had exercised intensively to prepare for the stresses of reentry and
gravity after more than three months in space. Their changes in pulse,
blood pressure, voice, and posture were monitored during the reentry
portion of STS-71.
more about the STS-71 mission and crew.