On This Day

mir atlantis, mir atlantis connected, mir atlantis docked, sds 71
Mir-19 Crew/NASA
The Space Shuttle Atlantis connected to the Mir Space Station, photographed by the Mir-19 crew, July 4, 1995.

On This Day: Atlantis Shuttle Docks With Mir Space Station

June 29, 2011 06:00 AM
by Denis Cummings
On June 29, 1995, the NASA Space Shuttle Atlantis docked with the Russian space station Mir, forming the largest-ever satellite in orbit.

Atlantis and Mir Connect

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The Atlantis was launched June 27, 1995, carrying five American astronauts and two Russian cosmonauts. Two days later, at about 9 a.m. EDT, the Atlantis successfully docked with the space station Mir. The seven Atlantis crewmembers then joined the three Russian cosmonauts on board the Mir.

It was just the second time in history that American and Russian spacecraft had linked together in space; the much smaller Apollo and Soyuz capsules linked in 1975. The Atlantis-Mir docking was much larger in size, and also in significance.

“The two spacecraft at one time were major tools in the waging of the cold war and their linkup today was hailed as symbolizing a new partnership between former adversaries,” wrote William J. Broad in The New York Times. “The docking was a picture-perfect start to what American and Russian space officials see as decades of cooperative work in space, including the building of an international outpost bigger than a football field and perhaps one day voyaging to other planets.”

The Atlantis spent five days docked with the Mir as the astronauts conducted 15 different biomedical and scientific investigations. At the conclusion of the trip, the three Mir cosmonauts left in the Atlantis with the five NASA astronauts, leaving the two Atlantis cosmonauts in their place. It was the first ever in-orbit changeout of shuttle crew.

The mission, called SDS-71 achieved a number of other feats. The Mir and Atlantis formed the largest ever spacecraft in orbit, and the Atlantis was NASA’s 100th manned space launch.

History of the Mir Space Station

Mir was launched by the Soviet Union in 1986 as a one-module space station; six additional modules were added over the next 10 years, including a docking module brought by the Atlantis in November 1995. It was taken out of orbit in 2001 after 15 years in space.

Mir was the first of the third-generation space stations, preceding the International Space Station. It was the largest single satellite in orbit and was manned continuously for nearly 10 years, both records that have since been eclipsed by the ISS. Valeri Polyakov spent 437 days aboard Mir, which remains a record for most continuous days in space.

“The Russian Space Station Mir endured 15 years in orbit, three times its planned lifetime,” writes NASA. “It outlasted the Soviet Union, that launched it into space. It hosted scores of crewmembers and international visitors. It raised the first crop of wheat to be grown from seed to seed in outer space. It was the scene of joyous reunions, feats of courage, moments of panic, and months of grim determination. It suffered dangerous fires, a nearly catastrophic collision, and darkened periods of out-of-control tumbling.”

History of the Atlantis

Atlantis was one of the five spacecraft in the NASA Space Shuttle program, along with the Challenger, Columbia, Discovery and Endeavour. Since its first launch in October 1985, it has completed many noteworthy missions. It was the first Shuttle to launch interplanetary probes, sending the Galileo to Jupiter in 1989 and the Magellan to Venus in 1990.

Since 2000, the Atlantis has primarily been used to deliver parts and supplies to the International Space Station. It is scheduled to make its 33rd and final mission on July 11, 2011, before being retired. It will mark the final mission in the 30-year history of the NASA Shuttle program, as NASA will dedicate its resources toward building spacecraft that can move beyond low-Earth orbit.
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