Mir's Docking Compartment
The Space Shuttle Atlantis docks to Mir during the STS-74 mission.
Docking Compartment (316GK) at a glance:
In 1994, Russia and the United States signed an agreement calling for seven Shuttle missions to Mir until 1998. In order to receive the Shuttle, the Kristall module, equipped with the only compatible docking port on the station had to be pivoted to the front docking port of the Core Module, because in its permanent position, the solar arrays on Mir would prevent the docking with the Space Shuttle. In order to avoid multiple transfers of Kristall, both sides agreed to introduce an extension to the Kristall module, which would give enough clearance for the Shuttle to dock to Kristall in its usual location. In accordance with the contract, RKK Energia had to build the so-called Docking Compartment, which was to be delivered to the station aboard the Space Shuttle.
The Docking Compartment was also designed to serve as a carrier for two new solar panels, which would be later transferred and deployed from pre-positioned attachments on the Kvant-1 module. Photovoltaic elements for one of the panels were to be supplied by the US.
The docking compartment also included its own thermal control, telemetry and TV-transmission systems.
In June 1995, the newly completed Docking Compartment made an air trip aboard an An-124 transport plane from Moscow to Cape Canaveral.
On Nov. 13, 1995, the Space Shuttle Atlantis lifted off on the STS-74 mission with the Docking Compartment in its cargo bay. The orbiter's robotic arm was used to lift the module from the cargo bay and mount it on top of the Shuttle's docking port. On November 15, the Atlantis successfully docked with Mir via the Docking Compartment. At the conclusion of the visit, the US orbiter undocked from the Russian station, leaving the Docking Compartment permanently attached to Kristall.
The Docking Compartment reentered the Earth atmosphere and burned up along with the rest of the Mir space station in March 2001.
Docking compartment can be seen attached to the Mir space station. Click to enlarge. Credit: NASA
A full-scale mockup of the Docking Compartment (right) used for the underwater training. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2000 Anatoly Zak