Twenty-five years in the past, with a powerful “Howl for the Wolfman”, Endeavour roared into the evening for the shuttle program’s eighth (and second-to-last) docking at Russia’s Mir house station. Regardless of solely a 40-percent probability of acceptable climate on the Area Coast on the evening of twenty-two January 1998, STS-89 Commander Terry Wilcutt and his crew stepped neatly by their pre-launch rituals, donned their stress fits, headed to the launch pad and rocketed to orbit, proper on the opening of a slim, ten-minute-long “window”.
Wilcutt, who had flown to Mir before, was significantly happy that his crew didn’t should wake of their quarters on the Kennedy Area Heart (KSC) in Florida till mid-morning that Thursday, a quarter-century in the past. Simply earlier than 6 p.m. EST, they departed the Operations & Checkout Constructing, strolling out into the glare of spotlights and flashbulbs, and had been securely strapped into their seats aboard Endeavour by 7:25 p.m.
A short problem with the ground-based data-processing system pressured a slight maintain in STS-89’s countdown, requiring launch controllers to shorten the deliberate 46-minute-long maintain at T-9 minutes to simply 25 minutes to satisfy the extraordinarily tight launch window, which opened at 9:48:15 p.m. Thankfully, the gods of excellent fortune had been on Endeavour’s aspect that evening, as every part got here collectively within the last minutes.
Seated to Wilcutt’s proper aspect within the cockpit, Pilot Joe Edwards activated the three Auxiliary Energy Items (APUs) at T-5 minutes. Downstairs within the shuttle’s darkened middeck, astronaut Andy Thomas—who was heading for a 4.5-month keep on Mir—remembered listening to the APUs spinning up to the mark, far under them.
Within the gloom, he discovered the gloved palms of his STS-89 crewmates Bonnie Dunbar and Salizhan Sharipov. The trio clasped palms in a second of crewmemberly solidarity.
Initially, the Shuttle-Mir Program envisaged seven dockings between U.S. orbiters and the Russian house station, which might ship provides and tools and trade crew members to construct America’s long-duration flight expertise earlier than the appearance of the Worldwide Area Station (ISS) period. But on 30 January 1996, following a summit in Washington, D.C., between U.S. Vice President Al Gore and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, two extra dockings had been added to the manifest.
“The eighth and ninth Mir flights will use the Area Shuttle to cut back a major logistics shortfall on Mir, conduct important engineering analysis and increase our data and expertise of the results of long-duration weightlessness,” NASA defined. “As well as, these prolonged Mir operations will help Russia in its goal to increase the Mir on-orbit lifetime by Fiscal Yr 1999.”
A yr later, in January 1997, Andy Thomas arrived in Russia’s Star Metropolis cosmonaut coaching heart, on the forested outskirts of Moscow, initially as backup to fellow astronaut Dave Wolf, who was nearing the midpoint of his own training flow for the last U.S. long-duration Mir stay, scheduled to start in January 1998. Thomas was not anticipated to fly to Mir himself, however was as a substitute thought-about a non-flying backup crewman.
“The plan was I’d keep there a yr and Dave Wolf would go fly the final increment on Mir and I’d come again and do one thing else,” Thomas later associated to the NASA oral historian. “I really undertook that principally as a result of I used to be curious concerning the Russian atmosphere, not anticipating that I’d get a flight out of it.”
Within the meantime, in March 1997 the “core” STS-89 crew was introduced. Two-time shuttle veteran Wilcutt and first-timer Edwards could be joined by four-flight shuttle veteran Bonnie Dunbar and “rookies” Mike Anderson—who in February 2003 would lose his life in the STS-107 tragedy—and Jim Reilly.
And the next October, cosmonaut Salizhan Sharipov, an ethnic Uzbek, a Kyrgyz nationwide, however a citizen of Russia, was announced as the final STS-89 crew member. However by that point, the character of who could be driving uphill and downhill to and from Mir aboard Endeavour had modified markedly.
Astronaut Wendy Lawrence was assigned to spend 4 months on the station, launching aboard shuttle Atlantis on STS-86 in September 1997 and returning to Earth aboard Endeavour on STS-89 in January 1998. That will place Dave Wolf to interchange her, launching to house on STS-89 and returning home on STS-91 the following June.
Nevertheless, following a much-publicized sequence of calamities earlier in 1997—together with laptop failures, a hearth and a collision with a Progress cargo ship—it turned essential to certify U.S. Mir crew members within the Russian Extravehicular Exercise (EVA) go well with to permit them to take part in spacewalks. Since Lawrence had not skilled for an EVA and was too small to suit the Russian go well with, her long-duration stint on Mir was taken by Wolf. And correspondingly, Wolf’s personal seat on STS-89 went to Thomas.
STS-89 marked Endeavour’s return-to-flight after greater than a yr of upkeep. As the youngest member of NASA’s shuttle fleet, she logged 11 missions between May 1992 and May 1996, then headed to Palmdale, Calif., in July 1996 for eight months of refurbishment.
Throughout her time on the West Coast, Endeavour acquired 63 upgrades, together with the switch of her airlock from its “inside” perch within the middeck to a brand new “exterior” place in her payload bay and the addition of an Orbiter Docking System (ODS) for Mir and ISS operations. On the identical time, her Prolonged Period Orbiter (EDO) functionality was eliminated and her Thermal Safety System (TPS) acquired important consideration.
Returned to the East Coast on the finish of March 1997, Endeavour was put immediately again into pre-launch processing for STS-89. And on her twelfth orbital voyage, she turned the primary within the fleet to boast three upgraded Block IIA most important engines, a part of an interim effort as technical difficulties had been labored in certifying Pratt & Whitney’s high-pressure gas turbopump earlier than the introduction of the next-generation, $1 billion Block II engine.
Six seconds earlier than liftoff on 22 January 1998, these three Block IIA engines got here alive with a thunderous rumble. From his seat, Edwards reported that every one had been working at full energy. At T-0, the dual Stable Rocket Boosters (SRBs) ignited and STS-89 speared into the darkish Florida sky.
Though the middeck had no massive home windows, it made little distinction. “You didn’t want a window,” Thomas later quipped, “to know what was occurring!”
9 minutes after launch, Endeavour settled easily into orbit. And over the following two days, Wilcutt and Edwards regularly narrowed the space between themselves and Mir. By the morning of 24 January, the 2 spacecraft had been about 190 miles (310 kilometers) aside, closing quickly, till Mir appeared as a brilliant glint of sunshine within the distance.
“After sundown, it turned as a star,” Sharipov remembered. “It’s unforgettable. It’s so stunning, I’ll always remember this view.”
The view from Mir was equally spectacular. “It was an actual pleasure watching you guys come out of the sky,” Wolf stated later. And Wilcutt’s docking at 3:14 p.m. EST was so clean that the Mir crew—Wolf and a pair of Russian cosmonauts, Anatoli Solovyov and Pavel Vinogradov—hardly felt the second of affect.
After 4 months in house, Wolf was overjoyed to see Endeavour and waved heartily from Mir’s home windows in the course of the last strategy. After docking, Dunbar joked that Thomas had forgotten his suitcases they usually must take him again.
However Wolf was having none of it. His 4 months had handed neither too shortly, nor too slowly. Earlier than launching the earlier September, he had mentally ready himself for the swap.
“That was my device for lasting the time and sometime I’ll transfer again to Earth,” he stated later. “I didn’t really feel like I used to be shifting again to Earth till the shuttle launched to return get me.”
The thrill was acute for Dunbar, too, who had skilled with Solovyov for a long-duration Mir keep a number of years earlier. At one level, Solovyov and Vinogradov even kidded Mission Management that Dunbar was undecided about whether or not to return on STS-89 or not.
Hugs and laughter had been shared, as Endeavour’s crew started offloading cargo, included recent oranges, goodies formed like shuttles, new notebooks, ink pens, 5 massive luggage of ingesting water and Swiss military knives. Analysis payloads included a habitat for swordtail guppy fish and snails, a plant nutrient facility and an experiment to grasp the habits of sands and salts at low confining pressures.
And except for an inaccurate studying of a thruster leak, Endeavour carried out superbly on her twelfth flight. After 5 days docked to Mir, the crews exchanged farewell needs and went their separate methods, with Thomas becoming a member of Solovyov and Vinogradov and Wolf becoming a member of Wilcutt’s STS-89 crew.
Endeavour landed safely on Runway 15 at KSC at 5:35 p.m. EST on 31 January, wrapping up a mission of just below 9 days. And for Wolf, returning to terra firma and the candy scent of Earth after 128 days, the expertise was exhilarating.
“There’s a knock on the door and the hatch deal with’s turning,” one of many middeck crew remarked as floor personnel started cranking open Endeavour’s hatch.
“I’m fairly enthusiastic about this,” got here Wolf’s reply. “And the hatch is open! Oh, the scent…and the air from the Earth!”
A well known “celebration animal”, Wolf joked about wanting a scorching pepperoni pizza, a number of drinks and a seashore celebration, proper after touchdown. However after agreeing to be stretchered off the shuttle for medical knowledge assortment, he determined that discretion was the higher a part of valor and opted in opposition to a direct celebration. That must wait.