Spaceflight Insider

Our Spaceflight Heritage: STS-86

Space shuttle Atlantis prepares for its Sept. 25, 1997 flight to the Russian space station, Mir. Photo Credit: NASA

On September 26, 1997, six NASA astronauts and one Russian cosmonaut launched on Space Shuttle Atlantis from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex-39A in Florida to complete its seventh docking to the Mir space station. This mission carried SPACEHAB, the double module used for docking with Mir for cargo transfer and astronaut exchange. The previous Shuttle-Mir missions were STS-71, STS-74, STS-76, STS-79, STS-81, and STS-84 and served as a precursor to the eventual collaboration between the U.S. and Russia on the International Space Station.

Photo  Credit: NASA

Photo Credit: NASA

STS-86 was led by Commander Jim Wetherbee and Pilot Mike Bloomfield with Mission Specialists Jean-Loup Chretien of the French National Center of Space Research (CNES), Scott Parazynski, Wendy Lawrence, and David Wolf. Also on board was cosmonaut Vladimir Georgiyevich Titov.

Atlantis docked to Mir at 3:58 p.m. EDT (1958 GMT) on Sept. 27, with the hatches between the spacecraft opened at 5:45 p.m. EDT (2145 GMT). Wolf officially became a member of the 24th crew of Mir at 12 p.m. EDT (1600 GMT) the following day (Sept 28). Wolf became the sixth U.S. astronaut to live on Mir to continue Phase 1B of the NASA/Roscosmos cooperative effort. 

Wolf switched places with Michael Foale. Lawrence had been scheduled to replace Foale, who was her backup, but due to size restrictions of the MIR-Orlan space suit, Foale was chosen. The first joint U.S.-Russian EVA took place during the mission, which was also 39th in the Space Shuttle program, was conducted by Titov and Parazynski. The five hour, one minute long space walk took place on Oct. 1 when the pair affixed a 121 pound Solar Array Cap to the docking module for future use by the Mir crew members.

Photo Credit: NASA

Photo Credit: NASA

During the flight, Wetherbee and Bloomfield fired small jet thrusters on Atlantis to provide data for the Mir Structural Dynamics Experiment (MISDE), which was an instrument designed to measure the structural vibrational forces of how Mir moves, bends, and twists during events such as the impact of the shuttle docking with the Mir.

Other experiments conducted during the mission were the Commercial Protein Crystal Growth investigation; the Cell Culture Module Experiment (CCM-A), the Cosmic Radiation Effects and Activation Monitor (CREAM) and the Radiation Monitoring Experiment-III (RME-III); the Shuttle Ionospheric Modification with Pulsed Local Exhaust (SIMPLE) experiment; and the Midcourse Space Experiment.

Two NASA educational outreach programs were also conducted, Seeds in Space-II and Kidsat. Foale returned to Earth after spending 145 days in space which 134 of them were aboard Mir. He holds the most time in space for a citizen of the United Kingdom with cumulative hours of 374 days, 11 hours, 19 minutes.

Atlantis landed on Oct. 6 at Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing Facility. The Shuttle-Mir project would mark the beginning of the International Space Station program, which would see some 16 different nations cooperate on orbit. Atlantis would serve an integral part in the construction of the ISS, carrying out 12 flights to construct the orbiting laboratory.

Photo Credit: STS-86 / NASA

Photo Credit: STS-86 / NASA

 

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Heather Smith's fascination for space exploration – started at the tender age of twelve while she was on a sixth-grade field trip in Kenner, Louisiana, walking through a mock-up of the International Space Station and seeing the “space potty” (her terminology has progressed considerably since that time) – she realized at this point that her future lay in the stars. Smith has come to realize that very few people have noticed how much spaceflight technology has improved their lives. She has since dedicated herself to correcting this problem. Inspired by such classic literature as Anne Frank’s Diary, she has honed her writing skills and has signed on as The Spaceflight Group’s coordinator for the organization’s social media efforts.

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