| STS-79 | Crew | Payload | Mission |


Space Shuttle Atlantis

September 16, 1996, 4:54 a.m. EDT
Kennedy Space Center, Pad 39-A

STS-79 patchOrbit:
196-245 nautical miles

51.6 degrees

September 26, 1996, 8:13 a.m. EDT
Kennedy Space Center

10 days, 3 hours, 19 minutes

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| STS-79 | Crew | Payload | Mission |

STS-79 Crew

STS-79 crewCommander William F. Readdy
Third Shuttle flight

Pilot Terrence W. Wilcutt
Second Shuttle flight

Mission Specialist Thomas D. Akers
Fourth Shuttle flight

Mission Specialist Jay Apt, Ph.D.
Fourth Shuttle flight

Mission Specialist Carl E. Walz
Third Shuttle flight

Mission Specialist John E. Blaha
Fifth Shuttle flight; remaining on Mir

Mission Specialist Shannon W. Lucid, Ph.D.
Fourth Shuttle flight; returning from Mir

STS-79 Crew Biographies

Read the Shuttle-Mir Oral Histories (PDF)


| STS-79 | Crew | Payload | Mission |


Space Habitation (Double) Module
IMAX large-format camera
Shuttle Shortwave Amateur Radio Experiment
Biotechnology Systems Experiment Facility
Material in Devices as Superconductors Facility
Commercial Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus
Extreme Temperature Translation Furnace
Commercial Protein Crystal Growth Experiment
Mechanics of Granular Materials Experiment

Read more about Shuttle-Mir Science


| STS-79 | Crew | Payload | Mission |

Mission: September 16 - 26, 1996

Akers checks off items on his list as he reviews stowage items to be transferred to MirSTS-79 faced several delays, causing Shannon Lucid to remain in space for a total of 188 days and to set records for the longest spaceflight by an American and by a woman of any nationality. Lucid’s replacement, John Blaha, ferried up to Mir onboard STS-79 to continue the U.S. presence on the Russian space station.

Originally slated for launch on July 31, 1996, Atlantis had to be rolled back twice into the Vehicle Assembly Building due to threats from Hurricanes Bertha and Fran. Also, the Orbiter’s solid rocket boosters had to be replaced because of abnormal sooting on the solid rocket joints. (A 1986 joint failure had caused the Space Shuttle Challenger to explode after liftoff.) An analysis showed that the probable cause of the sooting was a new adhesive, used for the first time on STS-78. For this mission, managers decided to replace the motors with a new set of motors using the old adhesive material.

Another predawn Shuttle launch to Mir had been scheduled for STS-79. The countdown proceeded smoothly to an on-time liftoff. Onboard Mir, Lucid was able to see Atlantis during the final portion of its ascent. Approximately 13 minutes into flight, an auxiliary power unit shut down prematurely, but the Mission Management Team at Johnson Space Center in Houston analyzed the situation and concluded that the mission could proceed as planned.

STS-79 was the first Shuttle to carry a SPACEHAB double module, which astronaut Tom Akers called "a lot bigger than my JSC office." SPACEHAB was berthed near the back of the Shuttle payload bay to balance the Orbiter’s mass. The forward section carried crew experiments. The aft section mainly carried food, clothing, supplies, and spare equipment for Mir. Soft storage bags were arrayed on walls and the floor. Colored labels indicated their uses: pink would go to Mir; blue would hold materials from Mir; and white would stay on Atlantis. Before docking, the Atlantis crew filled eight of the 15 planned 100-pound water bags for Mir. In microgravity, the bags reminded the astronauts of sea cows.

Lucid & Blaha before departure STS-79 performed the first docking with Mir in its completed configuration. The newest and final Mir module, Priroda, had arrived at the station during Lucid’s stay. Atlantis’ payload bay floodlights illuminated Mir as Atlantis made its final approach, and sunrise occurred as Commander Readdy brought the Orbiter to within 15 feet of Mir. Docking took place over the Carpathian Mountains, west of Kiev, at the beginning of the 12-minute communications window over Russian ground stations. Together, the 120-ton Atlantis, the 121-ton Mir, the seven-ton Soyuz, and the seven-ton Progress comprised a mass of 255 tons—the heaviest combined spacecraft ever to orbit the Earth.

 Wilcutt surrounded by water transfer bags in the Atlantis's middeck During five days of docked operations, the two crews transferred more than 4,000 pounds of supplies to Mir, including water generated by Orbiter fuel cells. Three experiments also were transferred: the Biotechnology System for study of cartilage development; Material in Devices as Superconductors to measure electrical properties of high-temperature superconductor materials; and the Commercial Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus, containing several smaller experiments, including self-contained aquatic systems. About 2,000 pounds of experiment samples and equipment were transferred from Mir to Atlantis for a total logistical transfer of more than 6,000 pounds, the most extensive to date.

Three experiments remained on Atlantis: Extreme Temperature Translation Furnace, a new furnace design allowing space-based processing up to 871°F (1,600°C) and above; Commercial Protein Crystal Growth, a complement of 128 individual samples involving 12 different proteins; and Mechanics of Granular Materials, designed to study "loose" materials that could lead to a better understanding of how Earth’s surface responds during Earthquakes and landslides.

Wilcutt, Lucid, Readdy look out shuttle's overhead windowsAfter Atlantis landed back at Kennedy Space Center, Shannon Lucid walked from the Orbiter to the crew transport vehicle, and later the same day she received congratulations from U.S. President Bill Clinton.

Back at Johnson Space Center, Commander Readdy discussed his job of picking up Shannon Lucid—late. He said, "Depending on whether you want to look at the glass as half full or half empty, it meant that Shannon had to spend an awful lot longer on Mir than she planned … [but] I think Shannon’s girlhood dream to run her own laboratory was such that actually, you know, it fit right in with her plan; and it also allowed her to set the world record for time in space."

Read more about the STS-79 mission and crew.

Next Chapter - NASA-3 John Blaha: Pulling it Together!