March 24, 1996 in Nation/World

Astronaut Ready For A Long Visit Aboard Russian Space Station Mir Will Be Home For Woman, 53, Until The End Of August

Orlando Sentinel
 

The NASA moving crew the space shuttle Atlantis version - arrived Saturday night at astronaut Shannon Lucid’s new digs: the Russian space station Mir.

With more than 5,200 pounds of cargo to drop off, Atlantis first unloaded the most crucial 150 pounds: Lucid herself.

Only a few hours after Atlantis docked with Mir at 9:33 p.m. ET, Lucid, a five-time astronaut, switched space vehicle allegiances and became an official crew member of Mir, joining two cosmonauts named Yuri.

Before docking, Atlantis had to play catch-up with Mir, approaching from the rear and from below, stopping at 170 feet away and then 30 feet away to make sure the shuttle was on target.

It was.

As Atlantis moved toward Mir at one inch per second, the language of space was mostly Russian. The shuttle acted as a relay system to the Russian mission control center in a Moscow suburb.

Then, 245 miles above western Russia, the shuttle’s flower-petal-like docking ring touched and grasped Mir’s similar ring, and the two spacecraft were one.

“Houston, we have contact and capture,” Atlantis Commander Kevin Chilton radioed to Earth.

Nearly two hours after the ships connected, Chilton cranked open Atlantis’ hatch and floated into Mir with his hand extended. He shook hands and then embraced Mir commander Yuri Onufrienko and then flight engineer Yuri Usachev in Russian bear hugs.

Lucid floated into Mir below an American flag attached to Mir’s ceiling. When she was aboard, she exclaimed “yeah” and grasped Onufrienko.

“I think it’ll be a great adventure,” she said in a TV interview from Atlantis before the docking. “I’ll be doing things that I haven’t done before, staying a long time in space and seeing how I react when I spend a long time in space.”

Atlantis and Mir will stay connected until Thursday. The hatch that joins the two ships will stay open except for Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning, when astronauts Linda Godwin and Rich Clifford will make a first-ever spacewalk around the shuttle-Mir complex.

“This is the first time we will have flown a shuttle to a space station, docked it and sent people out to work,” Chilton said earlier.

It was NASA’s third docking with Mir in less than a year, but the first to drop off an American astronaut for an extended stay. Lucid, 53, will live on Mir for five months.

Atlantis and Mir almost didn’t have the five days together. After Atlantis’ early Friday launch, a leak in the shuttle’s hydraulic system threatened to shorten the mission.

With Atlantis and Mir connected, the heavy work is only beginning.

Astronauts are going to have to schlep 3,773 pounds of Russian equipment and food from Atlantis’ special locker to Mir, including experiments for Lucid to conduct during her stay. Also, astronauts will move 1,400 pounds of water that is needed by the Mir crew.


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