THE SPACE Shuttle STS76/Atlantis landed at Edwards AFB, California, on 31 March after the successful third Shuttle Mir Mission (SMM).

The Atlantis, launched on 22 March, docked with the Russian Mir 1 space station, delivering US astronaut Shannon Lucid to the station to undertake a 143-day flight with two Russian cosmonauts (Flight International, 20-26 March).

NASA hopes that Lucid's flight will begin a permanent US presence in space. More NASA astronauts will make Mir missions by the time the first astronaut-commander of the Alpha International Space Station is scheduled to be launched, in 1998.

The Atlantis also delivered 635kg of water, 740kg of US science experiments and 880kg of Russian supplies to the station. Two Atlantis astronauts also completed the first spacewalk between the docked spacecraft.

An emergency landing by the Atlantis was avoided by just 10min on 30 March after the orbiter's landing at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida had been put back by one day. Its payload bay doors could not be opened.

Flight rules dictated an immediate return to the nearest-available emergency landing site, but this was avoided when an errant computer indication was over-ridden and the doors were opened.

Source: Flight International