After nine days in Space, the Space Shuttle Atlantis touched down in Florida at 09h28 (15h28 Central European Time) on Saturday 24 May, on the Shuttle Landing Facility's Runway 3 3 at Kennedy Space Center. Thick clouds over the runway at the time of the first opportunity to land caused Atlantis to make another orbit of the Earth. As it approached the second time, 90 minutes later, the clouds had cleared and the Shuttle was given the approval to land.
During the STS-84 mission, Atlantis' crew - which included ESA astronaut Jean-Francois Clervoy - spent five days docked to the Russian space station Mir. NASA astronaut Jerry Linenger was brought home after four months aboard Mir. He has been replaced on Mir by Mike Foale, who is scheduled to stay on the station until September this year.
Clervoy, who has now completed two Space Shuttle missions, had a number of crucial tasks onboard, including monitoring systems performance at lift-off and during docking, activating Spacehab, coordinating the transfer of supplies to Mir and being prepared for any emergency work outside of the complex. The mission carried ESA's Biorack - one of the most successful and versatile space experimentation facilities - as well as a solidification experiment called MOMO. The Biorack was the main science payload and housed a series of microgravity experiments from scientists in France, Germany and the United States. Those scientists will now begin to analyse the data collected during the mission.
During the Shuttle's approach and departure from Mir, new ESA-developed technology to be used in an automated rendez-vous and docking was successfully tested. Data from the experiment will help European engineers develop technology for ESA's unmanned Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) which will approach and depart the International Space Station on regular supply missions early in the next century. The technology will be tested again on the next Shuttle-to-Mir mission (STS-86) in September.
After touchdown, Mr Jurg Feustel-Buechl, ESA's Director of Manned Spaceflight and Microgravity, hailed the mission as a great success for Europe. "This has been an excellent flight in terms of the valuable manned and technological experience that we have gained in preparation for our role on the International Space Station" he said.
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