ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter and his Russian crewmates, Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Avdeev, are preparing to receive house guests in their orbiting home, the Mir space station. The five-man crew of the American shuttle Atlantis (*) are due to meet the mixed Russian/ESA crew on Mir later this month. This will be the first contact with the rest of humanity for the three men since they bade farewell to the previous Mir crew on 11 September.
Atlantis is due to lift off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Florida, on 11 November. If all goes according to plan, the shuttle will dock with Mir on 14 November at around 0900 h CET (Central European Time). The two crews will work together for three days.
This historic moment in the story of manned spaceflight will give an early taste of the new space station era, as for the first time American, Canadian, European and Russian astronauts will be working together aboard the same spacecraft. They represent the partners which, along with Japan, are building the international space station, for which Europe is providing the Columbus laboratory module, the Automated Transfer Vehicle and other equipments.
The Atlantis astronauts will bring the Mir crew a selection of fresh food, including steak, vegetables and ice cream. They will also bring gifts of flowers and sweets, and a collapsible classical guitar. The main goal of the shuttle mission is to attach a special adapter for docking with Mir's Kristall module, which will be used by all visiting shuttles in future. As part of their training, the EUROMIR 95 crew visited the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, to familiarise themselves with the space shuttle. The two crews will be able to move freely between each other's spacecraft.
Members of the press will have an opportunity to question the Mir and shuttle crews in space during a news conference, linked to ESA Headquarters in Paris, the Russian mission control centre (TsUP), NASA's centres and the Canadian Space Agency. This event is tentatively scheduled for 16 November. Further details and the time will be announced in a later press release.
Atlantis will leave Mir on 17 November carrying a bounty of results from EUROMIR 95 experiments. The 20 kilograms of ESA cargo will include frozen medical samples, experimental materials processed using furnaces aboard the station and scientific data recorded on videotape and computer disk. The shuttle is due to land on 19 November at the Kennedy Space Center, where ESA officials will be on hand to collect the cargo.
Thomas Reiter has now been in space longer than any other West European astronaut. His journey to the space station began on 3 September and he will remain on board until 29 February 1996. ESA and RSC Energia recently announced an extension of the flight and the addition of a second spacewalk for Reiter. On 20 October the German-born astronaut became the first ESA astronaut to walk in space.
(*) The shuttle crew is led by mission commander Kenneth Cameron. The pilot is James Halsell. The mission specialists are Chris Hadfield, of Canada, Jerry Ross and William McArthur.