An amazing historic photo of the Space Shuttle Atlantis still connected to Russia’s Mir Space Station. It was taken on July 4, 1995, by the Mir-19 crew.

Mir-19 was the 19th crewed expedition to the space station Mir, lasting from June to September 1995. The crew, consisting of two Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Solovyev (commander) and Nikolai Budarin (flight engineer), launched on June 27, 1995, aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis on the STS-71 mission – the 100th U.S. human space launch.

After remaining aboard Mir for approximately 75 days, Solovyev and Budarin returned aboard the Soyuz TM-21 spacecraft on September 11, 1995.

The Space Shuttle Atlantis docked with the Russian space station Mir for the first time.

Space Shuttle Atlantis Meets Mir Space Station (1995)
NASA and the Russian space agency kicked off a new era in international space cooperation in June of 1995 when the Space Shuttle Atlantis docked with the Russian space station Mir for the first time. Photo:

For the docking, Shuttle Commander Hoot Gibson positioned Atlantis directly below Mir, so that the Earth’s gravity naturally braked the orbiter’s approach “up” to Mir. The final approach rate of about an inch per minute ended 216 nautical miles (400 kilometers) above Russia’s Lake Baikal region, with a nearly perfect docking, off by less than one inch and one half a degree.

The Shuttle-Mir program included 11 Space Shuttle flights and 7 astronaut residencies on Mir and helped pave the way for the International Space Station now in orbit.

Cosmonauts Anatoly Y. Solovyev and Nikolai M. Budarin, Mir-19 commander and flight engineer, respectively, temporarily unparked the Soyuz spacecraft from the cluster of Mir elements to perform a brief fly-around. They took pictures while the NASA STS-71 crew, with Mir-18’s three crewmembers aboard, undocked Atlantis for the completion of this leg of the joint activities.

How and why the USA-Russia space collaboration started?

When the USSR dissolved in 1991, Russia’s budget for space programs like Mir fell greatly. This scared the Americans: if the Russian Space Agency failed, there would be a lot of highly qualified – but unemployed rocket engineers looking for a job. And countries like Iran and North Korea more than willing to give these engineers new jobs.

In June 1992, the new Russian President Boris Yeltsin and the United States President George H. W. Bush announced a program of cooperation between the two nations.

Basically, the US would supply funds to keep the Russian Space Agency afloat and the Russians would share their expertise in long-term crewed space operations.

In his video titled “Space Station Collision – Mir Crash with Progress Supply Vessel”, Paul Shillito “Curious Droid” tells about “how and why the USA-Russia space collaboration started”, too.

Mir Space Station

Operated by the Soviet Union and later by Russia, Mir was the first modular space station that had a greater mass than any previous spacecraft. It was operational between 1986 and 2001.

Mir was also the largest artificial satellite in orbit, succeeded by the International Space Station (ISS) after Mir’s orbit decayed.

Like the ISS, it served as a microgravity research laboratory: the crews conducted many scientific experiments in biology, human biology, physics, astronomy, meteorology, etc.

Crews also experimented with/tested spacecraft systems with the goal of developing technologies required for the permanent occupation of space.

Mir was the first continuously inhabited long-term orbital research station. It also held the record for the longest continuous human presence in space at 3,644 days, until it was surpassed by the International Space Station on 23 October 2010.

Space Shuttle Atlantis

Constructed by the Rockwell International company and delivered to the Kennedy Space Center in April 1985 (construction began on March 3, 1980), Space Shuttle Atlantis (Orbiter Vehicle Designation: OV‑104) was NASA’s fourth space-rated space shuttle, after Columbia (1981), Challenger (1983) and Discovery (1984).

Starting with STS-71, Atlantis pioneered the Shuttle-Mir missions, flying the first seven missions to dock with the Russian space station. When linked, Atlantis and Mir together formed the largest spacecraft in orbit at the time.

The missions to Mir included the first on-orbit U.S. crew exchanges, now a common occurrence on the International Space Station. On STS-79, the fourth docking mission, Atlantis ferried astronaut Shannon Lucid back to Earth after her record-setting 188 days in orbit aboard Mir.

Atlantis landed for the final time at the Kennedy Space Center on 21 July 2011. By the end of its final mission, Atlantis had orbited the Earth a total of 4,848 times, traveling nearly 126,000,000 miles (203,000,000 km) or more than 525 times the distance from the Earth to the Moon.


M. Özgür Nevres

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