Beginning with this mission, designated Shuttle/Mir Mission-3, the orbiter Atlantis will carry at least four U.S. astronauts in succession for extended stays aboard Mir. For the next 26 months there will always be at least one American living on the station. STS- 76 also kicks off a series of six Shuttle-Mir missions that will carry a SPACEHAB module in the orbiter payload bay.
Atlantis is scheduled to lift off from Launch Pad 39B at a 51.6-degree-inclination to the equator into an initial 160-nautical mile (184-statute mile/296-kilometer) orbit. As with all the docking flights the launch window is brief, between five and 10 minutes in duration.
The nine-day mission is scheduled to conclude with a landing at the Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing Facility.
STS-76 Pilot Richard A. Searfoss (Lt.Col., USAF) graduated from the USAF Academy two years after Chilton. Searfoss was serving as a flight instructor at the USAF Test Pilot School when selected to join the astronaut corps in January 1990. He served as pilot on his first Shuttle flight, STS-58 in 1993.
Four mission specialists (MS) are flying on Atlantis. Ronald M. Sega is MS 1. Sega also is a USAF Academy graduate; he has earned two post-graduate degrees and held high-ranking positions in the military, academic and scientific fields. An Air Force Reserve Officer, he became an astronaut in July 1991. His first spaceflight, STS-60 in 1994, also was the first joint U.S./Russian Space Shuttle mission. Sega also has served as NASA’s operations director in Russia, overseeing NASA activities at the cosmonaut training facility in Star City.
MS 2 Michael Richard "Rich" Clifford (Lt. Col., USA, ret.) has flown in space twice before, on STS-53 in 1992 and STS-59 in 1994. He is a West Point graduate who also attended U.S. Army Aviation School. He has earned the ranking of Experimental Test Pilot from the Navy as well as being designated a Master Army Aviator. Clifford began working at Johnson Space Center in July 1987, and was selected as an astronaut three years later.
Both Clifford and MS 3 Linda Godwin will conduct an EVA during STS-76. Godwin began working at NASA in 1980 and became an astronaut six years later. She has both a master’s and a doctorate in physics, and also is an instrument-rated private pilot. Godwin has flown in space twice, on STS-37 and with Chilton and Clifford on STS- 59. She was serving as deputy chief of the astronaut office when assigned to STS-76.
MS 4 Shannon Lucid is a spaceflight veteran who flew on STS 51-G in 1985, STS-34 in 1989, STS-43 in 1991 and STS-58 in 1993. Lucid will become the first American woman to visit Mir when she joins Mir 21 Commander Yuri Onufriyenko and Engineer Yuri Usachev for an approximately four-and-a-half-month stay. Lucid holds a doctoral degree in biochemistry and also is a commercial, instrument and multi-engine rated pilot. She will depart Mir in August, when the STS-79 crew arrives at the station and U.S. astronaut John Blaha takes her place.
Russian logistics: A gyrodyne, batteries, food and water containers, clothing and sleeping articles and a transformer are among the more than 1,900 pounds (862 kilograms) of equipment being flown up for transfer to Mir; also an Individual Equipment and Seat Liner (IESL) kit for use by Shannon Lucid in case of an emergency return to Earth from Mir in a Soyuz capsule.
U.S. logistics: Replacement film and the light and television camera originally located in the Docking Module when it was attached to Mir during STS-74 and a water bag are among the U.S. logistics items being flown.
EVA equipment: The electronic cuff checklist, tools, a 35mm-camera and other items needed to support the planned EVA also are located in the SPACEHAB module. International Space Station Risk Mitigation Experiments (RME): Some of the experiment hardware the crew will install on Mir during their spacewalk is stowed in the SPACEHAB. Also hardware for the Mir Electric Field Characterization (MEFC) experiment, which will be performed during docked operations. The MEFC will collect data on internal and external radio interference in the 400-MHz to 18-GHz frequency range.
Science and technology experiments: The European Space Agency’s Biorack houses some of the investigations planned for the mission. The Biorack is a multipurpose facility that includes two incubators and a glovebox. Among the experiments to be performed are a study of high-energy atomic number charged-particles (HZE) radiation; the study of microgravity on bone loss; the effects of using centrifuges as 1-G references; plant experiments; and a dosimetry experiment to document the radiation environment inside the Biorack facility and other locations inside the SPACEHAB module and middeck.
The Life Sciences Laboratory Equipment Refrigerator/Freezer will carry processed samples from the Biorack as well as urine and saliva samples collected from both the American and Russian crews. They will be analyzed for evidence of accelerated renal stone development and protein metabolism in microgravity. Mir Glovebox Stowage (MGBX) equipment also will be carried up to Mir to replenish hardware for the MGBX already in operation on the station. The hardware includes the Combustion Experiments Parts Box to be used with the Candle Flames in Microgravity Experiment and the Forced Flow Flamespread test, the Passive Accelerometer, the Protein Crystal Growth Experiment, and the Protein Crystal Growth Thermal Enclosure System Ancillary.
The Queen’s University Experiment in Liquid Diffusion (QUELD) will be carried up in the SPACEHAB as a replenishment for the Microgravity Isolation Mount (MIM) on Mir. The QUELD is a Canadian experiment which takes advantage of the microgravity environment to study the movement of atoms in liquid state metals.
Hardware for the High Temperature Liquid Phase payload, also known as the Optizone Liquid Phase Sintering Experiment (OLIPSE), will be transferred to Mir. This experiment is designed to study how gravity impacts liquid-phase sintering of silver and copper-based materials. Samples processed on Mir will return to Earth via the Shuttle during Mission STS-79, the fourth Shuttle-Mir docking.
Also flying in the payload bay is a Get Away Special payload, a Naval Research Laboratory experiment that will measure low-energy particle radiation in the inner magnetosphere.
Students in one Russian and six U.S. schools will be able to speak directly with crew members as part of the Shuttle Amateur Radio Experiment-II (SAREX-II).
Polished Plate Micrometeoroid Debris (PPMD) experiment, designed to expose metal witness plates to the Mir orbital environment in order to identify characteristics of meteoroid and debris impact sites;
Orbital Debris Collector (ODC), to capture hypervelocity particles to characterize their residues;
Passive Optical Samples (POSA) I and II will be used to assess the magnitude of particulate and molecular contamination on materials exposed to the Mir environment. POSA I will be mounted in a location directly viewing Mir while POSA II will be placed on the Docking Module.
The four experiments, collectively referred to as the Mir Environmental Effects Payload (MEEP), will be retrieved during an EVA 18 months later. The data from these experiments should help characterize the space environment at a 51.6-degree inclination, the same inclination at which the International Space Station will be located.
In addition, Godwin and Clifford will be working with common U.S./Russian EVA hardware such as safety tethers and foot restraints. Their EVA also represents one in a series aimed at testing equipment and procedures which may be implemented during assembly and maintenance of the International Space Station and other on-orbit activities such as Hubble Space Telescope servicing.
On Feb. 8 the flight crew participated in the Crew Equipment Interface Test (CEIT), an opportunity which allows them to become familiar with payload hardware. The payload bay doors were closed Feb. 15, followed by rollover to the Vehicle Assembly Building Feb. 19 for mating with the external tank/solid rocket booster assembly and rollout to Pad 39B on Feb. 28. The SPACEHAB module was installed at the pad on Feb. 29.
Atlantis (OV-104) flew for the first time on Mission STS 51-J in October 1985 and STS-76 will be its 16th spaceflight. Of the nine Shuttle-Mir docking flights currently planned, Atlantis is assigned to the first seven.