June 29, 1995, the American space shuttle Atlantis docks with russian space station Mir to form the largest artificial satellite ever orbiting the Earth.
This historic moment of cooperation between former rival space programs was also the 100th human space mission in American history. At the time, Daniel Goldin, head of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), called it the start of a “new era of friendship and cooperation” between the United States and Russia. With millions of viewers watching TV, Atlantis took off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in eastern Florida on June 27, 1995.
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Just after 6 a.m. on June 29, Atlantis and his seven crew members approached Mir as the two craft circled the Earth about 245 miles above Central Asia, near the Russian-Mongolian border. When they spotted the shuttle, the three cosmonauts Mir broadcast Russian folk songs to Atlantis to welcome them. Over the next two hours, the shuttle commander, Robert “Hoot” Gibson, skillfully maneuvered his spacecraft to the space station. To make the mooring, Gibson had to steer the 100-ton shuttle within three inches of Mir at a closing rate of no more than one foot every 10 seconds.
The stowage went smoothly and was completed at 8 a.m., just two seconds from the scheduled arrival time and using 200 pounds less fuel than expected. Combined, Atlantis and the 123 tonnes Mir formed the largest spacecraft ever in orbit. It was only the second time that ships from two countries had connected to space; the first dates back to June 1975, when an American Apollo capsule and a soviet Soyuz spacecraft briefly joined into orbit.
When the docking is complete, Gibson and Mir ’Vladimir Dezhurov’s commander greeted himself by shaking hands to celebrate the historic moment victoriously. An official gift exchange followed, with Atlantis crew bringing chocolate, fruit and flowers and Mir cosmonauts offering traditional Russian welcome gifts of bread and salt. Atlantis stayed docked at Mir for five days before returning to Earth, leaving two new Russian cosmonauts on the space station. The three veterans Mir The crew members returned with the shuttle, including two Russians and Norman Thagard, an American astronaut who piloted a Russian rocket to the space station in mid-March 1995 and spent more than 100 days in space, a American endurance record. NASA’s Shuttle-Mir program continued for 11 missions and was a crucial step towards the construction of the International Space Station currently in orbit.
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