It was June 29th 1995 that Atlantis, the US space shuttle docks with Mir, the Russian space station. It marked a new beginning in space relations and the coupling also formed the biggest man made satellite to ever orbit our planet.
A massive moment
This was a momentous occasion for both countries that had been running competitive space programs for many years. To add to the occasion, it was also the 100th manned American space mission to be undertaken.
Then chief of NASA, Daniel Goldin, said it was “a new era of friendship and cooperation” between the two nations. Millions of TV viewers watched the shuttle blast off from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida on June 27th 1995 as it made its way to meet up with the Russians.
Where and when
At about 6am on the 29th June, the shuttle and its 7 crewmembers approached the Mir space station as both crafts orbited the earth at about 245 miles above the Earth surface. Both crafts were overhead the Russian-Mongolian border they spotted each other. The Russian team of Cosmonauts then started to broadcast Russian Folk songs to welcome the Atlantis crew. The shuttles commander was called Robert “Hoot” Gibson , and he did an amazing job getting the craft up alongside Mir. It took tow hours to make the docking as he steered the 100 ton space ship to within three inches of Mir at an approach rate of one foot every ten seconds.
This docking was a piece of space travel mastery as it happened just two seconds after it was scheduled at 8am in the morning. In addition to this incredible time keeping, the crew were able to use 200 pounds less fuel than had been planned which gave them more flexibility within the rest of the mission. This was the largest joint craft ever to orbit and also the first time that a coupling had been made in space between two nations since the Soviet Soyuz and US Apollo capsules briefly joined up in 1975.
Gifts were shared
The two crews embraced each other as they met by clasping hands to celebrate the victory of the moment. Gifts were shared with the American crew handing over fruit, flowers and chocolate whilst the Russians handed over bread and salt. The Atlantis crew remained with the team on Mir for 5 days and then returned to Earth. Atlantis left two fresh cosmonauts to occupy Mir and took three back to Earth.
The start of a bigger relationship
The relationship continued to flourish and 11 further trips were made to Mir, which very much paved the way for the success of the International Space Station now orbiting earth.