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STS 71



STS 71 was an American Shuttle that was launched from Cape Canaveral. It marked a number of historic firsts in human spaceflight history: 100th U.S. human space launch conducted from Cape; first US Space Shuttle-Russian Space Station Mir docking and joint on-orbit operations; the largest spacecraft ever in orbit; and the first on-orbit changeout of a Shuttle crew.

Docking occurred at 9 a.m. EDT, June 29, using R-Bar or Earth radius vector approach, with Atlantis closing in on Mir from directly below. R-bar approach allowed natural forces to brake orbiter's approach more than would occur along standard approach directly in front of space station; also, R-bar approach minimized the number of orbiter jet firings needed for approach. Manual phase of docking began with Atlantis about a half-mile below Mir, with Gibson at controls on aft flight deck. Stationkeeping performed when orbiter was about 250 feet from Mir, pending approval from Russian and U.S. flight directors to proceed. Gibson then maneuvered orbiter to a point at about 30 feet from Mir before beginning final approach to station. Closing rate was close to targeted 0.1 feet per second and closing velocity was approximately 0.107 feet per second at contact. Interface contact was nearly flawless: less than one inch lateral misalignment and an angular misalignment of less than 0.5-degrees per axis. Docking occurred about 216 nautical miles above Lake Baykal region of the Russian Federation. Orbiter Docking System (ODS) with Androgynous Peripheral Docking System served as actual connection point to a similar interface on the docking port on Mir's Krystall module. ODS located in forward payload bay of Atlantis, performed flawlessly during docking sequence.

When linked, Atlantis and Mir formed the largest spacecraft ever in orbit, with a total mass of almost one-half million pounds (about 225 tons) orbiting some 218 nautical miles above the Earth. After hatches on each side opened, the STS-71 crew passed into Mir for welcoming ceremony. On the same day, the Mir 18 crew officially transferred responsibility for the station to the Mir 19 crew, and the two crews switched spacecraft.

For the next five days, about 100 hours total, joint U.S.-Russian operations were conducted, including biomedical investigations, and transfer of equipment to and from Mir. Fifteen separate biomedical and scientific investigations were conducted, using the Spacelab module installed in the aft portion of Atlantis' payload bay, and covering seven different disciplines: cardiovascular and pulmonary functions; human metabolism; neuroscience; hygiene, sanitation and radiation; behavioral performance and biology; fundamental biology; and microgravity research. The Mir 18 crew served as test subjects for the investigations. Three Mir 18 crew members also carried out an intensive program of exercise and other measures to prepare for re-entry into the gravity environment after more than three months in space.

Numerous medical samples as well as disks and cassettes were transferred to Atlantis from Mir, including more than 100 urine and saliva samples, about 30 blood samples, 20 surface samples, 12 air samples, several water samples and numerous breath samples taken from the Mir 18 crew members. Also moved into the orbiter was a broken Salyut-5 computer. Transferred to Mir were more than 1,000 pounds of water generated by the orbiter for waste system flushing and electrolysis; specially designed spacewalking tools for use by the Mir 19 crew during a spacewalk to repair a jammed solar array on the Spektr module; and transfer of oxygen and nitrogen from Shuttle's environmental control system to raise air pressure on the station, requested by Russians to improve the Mir consumables margin.

The spacecraft undocked on July 4, following a farewell ceremony, with the Mir hatch closing at 3:32 p.m. EDT. July 3 and the hatch on the Orbiter Docking System shut 16 minutes later. Gibson compared the separation sequence to a "cosmic" ballet: Prior to Mir-Atlantis undocking, the Mir 19 crew temporarily abandoned station, flying away from it in their Soyuz spacecraft so they could record images of Atlantis and Mir separating. Soyuz unlatched at 6:55 a.m. EDT, and Gibson undocked Atlantis from Mir at 7:10 a.m. EDT.

Returning a crew of eight equaled the largest crew (STS-61A, October 1985) in Shuttle history. To ease their re-entry into gravity environment after more than 100 days in space, the Mir 18 crew members Thagard, Dezhurov and Strekalov lay supine in custom-made recumbent seats installed prior to landing in orbiter middeck.

Inflight problems included a glitch with the General Purpose Computer 4 (GPC 4), which was declared failed when it did not synchronize with GPC 1; subsequent troubleshooting indicated it was an isolated event, and GPC 4 operated satisfactorily for the remainder of the mission.

Alternate Names

  • 23600
  • STS71

Facts in Brief

Launch Date: 1995-06-27
Launch Vehicle: Shuttle
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral, United States
Mass: 12191 kg

Funding Agency

  • NASA-Office of Space Flight (United States)


  • Human Crew

Additional Information

Questions and comments about this spacecraft can be directed to: Coordinated Request and User Support Office

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