Atlantis launched from Kennedy Space Center on November 12 at 7:30 AM EST and landed at Kennedy on November 20, 1995 at 12:01 PM EST. The shuttle orbited 129 times at an altitude of 213 nautical miles at an inclination of 51.6 degrees and travelled 3.4 million miles. The mission lasted 8 days, 4 hours, 30 minutes, and 44 seconds.
STS-74 marked the second docking of a U.S. Space Shuttle to the Russian Space Station Mir, continuing Phase I activities leading to construction of International Space Station later this decade. Shuttle crew included Hadfield, fourth Canadian to fly on the shuttle but the first Canadian mission specialist. Hardware in the payload bay included the Canadian-built Remote Manipulator System (RMS) arm, U.S.-built Orbiter Docking System (ODS), a Russian-built docking module and solar array and the U.S.-Russian-built solar array. Awaiting Atlantis aboard Mir were two Russian cosmonauts and a German cosmonaut, along with Russian and European Space Agency research samples and equipment.
Unlike the first docking flight during which crew exchange took place, the second docking focused on the delivery of equipment to Mir. The primary payload of the mission was the Russian-built Docking Module (DM), designed to become a permanent extension on Mir to afford better clearances for Shuttle-Mir linkups. Two solar arrays were stowed on DM for later transfer to Mir by spacewalking cosmonauts.
On flight day three, Hadfield operated the RMS robot arm to lift DM from stowed position in aft section of payload bay, rotated it to vertical, and moved it to within five inches above ODS in the forward part of bay. ODS is being flown on all Shuttle-Mir docking flights and serves as a passageway between the two spacecraft. Cameron then fired downward steering jets to push Atlantis against the DM. Once mating was confirmed, the robot arm ungrappled from the DM, hatches between DM and ODS opened, and a centerline camera was mounted inside the top hatch of the DM.
On flight day four, Atlantis caught up with Mir. Terminal Phase Initiation (TI) burn started with Atlantis eight nautical miles (9.2 statute miles/14.8 kilometers) behind Mir to begin the final phase of the rendezvous. Air-to-air communications between Atlantis and Mir 20 crew began around this time. The approach to Mir was the same as for STS-71, along the R-bar, with Atlantis closing in on station from directly below. Handheld lasers were used by the shuttle crew during final approach to supplement distance and closing rates made by orbiter navigational equipment.
The manual phase of the rendezvous began when Atlantis was about a half-mile (804.7 meters) from Mir, with Cameron taking control of orbiter using aft flight deck controls. At 170 feet (51.8 meters) from Mir, Cameron halted the approach while Mir was maneuvered into alignment for docking. After a go-ahead from flight directors in Moscow and Houston, Cameron moved Atlantis to 30 feet (9.1 meters) from Mir, and then halted momentarily again to make final adjustments. The key camera for the final approach was elbow camera on RMS arm.
The hatches between Mir and Atlantis were opened at 4:02 a.m. EST, Nov. 15. Control of the DM transferred to the Mir 20 crew. During mated operations, nearly 1,000 pounds (453.6 kilograms) of water transferred to Mir. Numerous experiment samples, including blood, urine and saliva, were moved to the shuttle for return to Earth. The shuttle crew also brought up gifts, including Canadian maple sugar candies and a guitar, the second guitar on Mir. Lithium hydroxide canisters — a late addition — were transferred to Mir in case faulty environmental control systems failed again and the station’s air needed to be “scrubbed.”
The two spacecraft separated at 4:15 a.m. EST, Nov. 18, after which a flyaround of station was initiated when Atlantis was 400 feet (121.9 meters) away.
Atlantis was crewed by Commander Kenneth D. Cameron, Pilot James D. Halsell Jr., and Mission Specialists Jerry L. Ross, William S. McArthur Jr. and Chris A. Hadfield (Canada).