NASA and the Russian space agency kicked off a new era in international space cooperation in June of 1995, when the US Space Shuttle Atlantis docked with the Russian space station Mir for the first time. Atlantis’ mission, STS-71, was launched on June 27 from launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and marked the 100th U.S. human space launch. Together, Atlantis and Mir became the largest combined spacecraft ever in orbit, totaling almost a half a million pounds. The US shuttle Atlantis delivered a relief crew of two cosmonauts to the Russian Mir space station, signalling a new era of space co-operation between the two former Cold War rivals.
The operation to link the craft was led by the commander of the Atlantis, Robert Gibson. Flying over the Mediterranean at 17,500mph, he lined up the Mir in his sights and with barely a shudder the two craft touched. After the safety of the spacecraft was confirmed with the pressure between them equalised, Gibson opened the hatch separating them. Propelling himself through to the Russian craft he stretched out his arm to shake hands with his counterpart. The symbolic gesture was watched live from Moscow by US Vice President Al Gore, and by the head of NASA Dan Goldin at the Russian control centre.
The crew of the US shuttle moved into the Mir for group photos, before presenting the cosmonauts with gifts of chocolate, fruit and flowers. The Russians gave the Americans gifts of bread and salt, the traditional symbols of welcome.
Mr Gibson said: “After all the training and the preparation it seems hard to believe we’re actually there but indeed we are.” The two spacecraft remained attached for few days, giving the Mir crew time to stock up on fresh water, oxygen and nitrogen. The crews carried out a range of scientific experiments. The mission saw the first American to be part of a Mir crew, NASA-1 Mir Astronaut Norman Thagard.