Tim Furniss/LONDON

THE SPACE SHUTTLE Atlantis landed at the Kennedy Space Center on 20 November after its successful eight-day mission to perform the second docking and joint flight with the Russian Mir 1 space station as part of the Shuttle Mir Mission (SMM) programme.

The mission "...far exceeded expectations", says Shuttle manager Tommy Holloway.

The Atlantis, flying the STS74 mission, linked up with the Mir using a Russian/US-built, 5m (16ft)-long, 4,100kg docking module, which will remain attached to the space station. The module will make future Shuttle link-ups safer, as it gives better clearance from the station's many solar arrays, although it makes the pilot's job more difficult. The same method will be used for Alpha International Space Station missions.

The docking module carries two stowed solar-arrays, one Russian and one with panels made by Lockheed Martin under contract to Rocketdyne as part of a co-operation with RSC Energia for the Alpha. These will be installed on the Mir's Kvant 1 module during a space walk by Russian cosmonauts in 1996.

The five-man crew of the STS74 delivered 275 items weighing over 900kg, including water, food, equipment and personal items, to the three-man crew aboard the Mir, and returned to Earth with 195 items (mainly science experiments) weighing 360kg.

Four US astronauts, one Canadian, one German/European Space Agency and two Russian cosmonauts aboard the Mir/Shuttle combination, represent all the countries participating in the Alpha Space Station (except Japan).

Five more SMMs are planned for the Atlantis, with the SMM3/ STS76 due to begin in March. Commanded by Kevin Chilton, the STS76 will deliver NASA astronaut Shannon Lucid to the Mir 1 for a planned five-month stay.

This will be preceded by the STS72/Endeavour and STS75/Columbia. The STS72, to be launched on 11 January 1996, will deploy and retrieve a Spartan free-flier, retrieve the Japanese Space Flying Unit launched earlier this year, and host a two-astronaut space walk to practise Alpha Space Station operations.

Source: Flight International