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
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
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.
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.
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."
more about the STS-79 mission and crew.
Chapter - NASA-3 John Blaha: Pulling it Together!