On May 29, 1999, the STS-96 crew aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery became the first to dock with the International Space Station. Using the Integrated Cargo Carrier, Discovery delivered the Russian cargo crane, STRELA, the SPACEHAB Oceaneering Space System Box, and the American crane, ORU Transfer Device, to the space station.

For the mission, Space Shuttle Discovery launched from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, on May 27, 1999, at 06:49:42 AM EDT, and returned to Kennedy on June 6, 1999, 2:02:43 AM EDT.

Today’s (May 29) story of what happened this day in Science, Technology, Astronomy, and Space Exploration history.

Space Shuttle Discovery: the first shuttle to dock at the ISS

STS-96 was the Space Shuttle Program’s second ISS mission. The first, STS-88, delivered the first American module, Unity, in December 1998. In total, 34 shuttle missions were flown during the construction of the space station.

Space Shuttle Discovery docked to the International Space Station
Illustration of the Space Shuttle Discovery docked to the International Space Station (ISS) during Space Shuttle flight STS-96.

STS-96 mission

The crew of STS-96 were:

  • Commander: Kent V. Rominger, United States, Fourth spaceflight
  • Pilot: Rick D. Husband, United States, First spaceflight
  • Mission Specialist 1: Daniel T. Barry, United States, Second spaceflight
  • Mission Specialist 2: Ellen Ochoa, United States, Third spaceflight
  • Mission Specialist 3: Tamara E. Jernigan, United States, Fifth, and last spaceflight
  • Mission Specialist 4: Julie Payette, Canada, CSA, First spaceflight
  • Mission Specialist 5: Valeri I. Tokarev, Russia, RKA (Roscosmos), First spaceflight

All major objectives were accomplished during the mission. On May 29, Discovery made the first docking to the International Space Station (ISS). Rominger eased the shuttle to a textbook linkup with Unity’s Pressurized Mating Adapter #2 as the orbiter and the ISS flew over the Russian-Kazakh border.

The 45th spacewalk in space shuttle history and the fourth of the ISS era lasted 7 hours and 55 minutes, making it the second-longest spacewalk ever conducted. Jernigan and Barry transferred a U.S.-built crane called the orbital transfer device, and parts of the Russian crane Strela from the shuttle’s payload bay and attached them to locations on the outside of the station.

The astronauts also installed two new portable foot restraints that will fit both American and Russian space boots and attached three bags filled with tools and handrails that will be used during future assembly operations. The cranes and tools fastened to the outside of the station totaled 662 pounds.

Once those primary tasks were accomplished, Jernigan and Barry installed an insulating cover on a trunnion pin on the Unity module, documented painted surfaces on both the Unity and Zarya modules, and inspected one of two Early Communications System (E-Com) antennas on the Unity.

Space Shuttle Flight 94 (STS-96) Post Flight Presentation.

During the incursion inside the ISS, Barry and Husband replaced a power distribution unit and transceiver for E-Com in the Unity module, restoring that system to its full capability. Payette and Tokarev replaced 18 battery recharge controllers in the Russian-built Zarya module, and Barry and Tokarev also installed a series of “mufflers” over fans inside Zarya to reduce noise levels in that module. The mufflers caused some air-circulating ductwork to collapse, and Rominger sent down a video inspection of the mufflers.

The crew transferred 3,567 pounds of material – including clothing, sleeping bags, spare parts, medical equipment, supplies, hardware, and about 84 gallons of water – to the interior of the station. The astronauts also installed parts of a wireless strain gauge system that will help engineers track the effects of adding modules to the station throughout its assembly, cleaning filters, and checking smoke detectors. Eighteen items weighing 197 pounds (90 kg) were moved from the station to Discovery for a return to Earth.

The astronauts spent a total of 79 hours, and 30 minutes inside the station before closing the final hatch on the orbiting outpost. Rominger and Husband commanded a series of 17 pulses of Discovery’s reaction control system jets to boost the station to an orbit of approximately 246 by 241 statute miles (153 to 150 km). After spending 5 days, 18 hours, and 17 minutes linked to the station, Discovery undocked at 6:39 p.m. EDT as Husban

fired Discovery’s jets to move to a distance of about 400 feet (120 meters) for a 2.5-lap flyaround. The crew used the flyaround to make a detailed photographic record of the ISS.

After the flyaround, mission specialist Payette deployed the STARSHINE satellite from the orbiter’s cargo bay. The spherical, reflective object entered an orbit two miles below Discovery. The small probe became instantly visible from Earth as part of a project allowing more than 25,000 students from 18 countries to track its progress.

Other payloads included the Shuttle Vibration Forces experiment and the Integrated Vehicle Health Monitoring HEDS Technology Demonstration.

May 29 in Science, Technology, Astronomy, and Space Exploration history


M. Özgür Nevres

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