For the seventh time in two years, the Shuttle Atlantis gently docked with the Russian Mir Space Station this afternoon, bringing ten astronauts and cosmonauts together for six days of joint docked operations.
Operating from Atlantis’ aft flight deck, Commander Jim Wetherbee guided Atlantis to a smooth docking with the Mir at 2:58 p.m. Central time as the two vehicles flew north of the Caspian Sea east of the Russian-Kazakh border at an altitude of about 215 nautical miles.
The successful docking culminated a textbook rendezvous by Wetherbee, who commanded a flight more than two years ago in which Discovery rehearsed rendezvous techniques by flying to within 37 feet of the Mir. All of the Russian outpost’s systems functioned normally during today’s rendezvous and docking.
Less than two hours later, at 4:45 p.m., Wetherbee and Mir Commander Anatoly Solovyev opened their respective spacecraft’s hatches and shook hands, Wetherbee handing Solovyev a new computer for the Mir which was brought into orbit by Atlantis for installation following the docked phase of the mission. The ten crewmembers spent a few minutes greeting one another at the start of their joint work which will involve the transfer of some four tons of logistical supplies and water from Atlantis to the Mir.
The crewmembers planned to conduct a routine vehicle systems safety briefing after a joint meal before beginning their respective sleep periods later tonight. The transfer activities are scheduled to begin in earnest on Sunday morning, at the same time astronaut David Wolf formally becomes a member of the Mir crew following the transfer of his custom-made Soyuz seatliner from Atlantis to the Mir. Astronaut Mike Foale, who has been a Mir crewmember since May 18th, will become a Shuttle crewmember at that point.
No problems were encountered during the final phase of Atlantis’ approach to the Mir. Mission Specialist Scott Parazynski reported the first visual sighting of the Russian complex while Atlantis was at a distance of 36 miles from the Mir, just under four hours before the docking itself.
The Mir cosmonauts will begin a nine hour sleep period at 8:30 p.m. Central time tonight, two hours before Atlantis’ astronauts begin an eight-hour sleep period.
The Atlantis-Mir space complex is orbiting the Earth at an altitude of about 215 nautical miles with both spacecraft’s systems operating in excellent shape.
The next STS-86 status report will be issued at 8 a.m. Central time Sunday morning.
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