NASA and the Russian space agency began a new era in international space cooperation when the Space Shuttle Atlantis docked with the Russian space station Mir for the first time. Atlantis' mission, STS-71, launched on June 27 and marked the 100th US human space launch. Together, Atlantis and Mir became the largest combined spacecraft ever in orbit, totaling almost a half a million pounds. For the docking, Shuttle Commander Hoot Gibson positioned Atlantis directly below Mir, so that the Earth's gravity naturally braked the orbiter's approach 'up' to Mir. The final approach rate of about an inch per minute ended 216 nautical miles above Russia's Lake Baykal region, with a nearly perfect docking, off by less than one inch and one half a degree.
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