NASA has received concurrence from the final panels reviewing the safety of the Russian Mir space station to proceed with its plans to exchange U.S. astronauts on the orbiting outpost.
An independent task force, chaired by Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Stafford, USAF (Ret.), a former Gemini and Apollo astronaut, has reaffirmed NASA's internal reviews to proceed with the Sept. 25 Space Shuttle mission to replace Dr. Michael Foale with Dr. David Wolf on Mir.
"This careful and thorough review of the Shuttle-Mir mission analyzed risk, readiness and, foremost, safety," said NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin. "We move forward not only because it is safe, but for the important scientific and human experience we can gain only from Mir. As we prepare for the June 1998 launch of the first element of the International Space Station, nothing can beat the hands-on, real-time training aboard Mir."
Stafford's group conducts an independent external assessment before each Space Shuttle mission to Mir. The panel reviews and issues reports on the preparations for Shuttle-Mir missions and makes appropriate recommendations on Shuttle-Mir safety, training, operations, rendezvous and docking.
NASA also asked Mr. A. Thomas Young to conduct an additional external assessment. Mr. Young is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and recently retired Executive Vice President of Lockheed Martin and President and Chief Operating Officer of Martin Marietta Corp. Mr. Young's assessment also endorsed the safety process.
In addition to the Stafford panel, NASA conducted two separate internal reviews. NASA's Shuttle-Mir Program Office, led by its manager, astronaut Capt. Frank Culbertson, USN (Ret.), conducted a Flight Readiness Review (FRR) in which each major Shuttle-Mir system and component critical to the crew's safety and mission success was reviewed and determined ready for flight. This concluded with the Shuttle FRR, a separate comprehensive review of all aspects of Shuttle mission readiness conducted by NASA's Space Shuttle Program Office. This review was held on Sept. 12 and resulted in unanimous approval to proceed with Thursday's Shuttle launch to Mir.
Astronaut Col. Fred Gregory, USAF (Ret.), Associate Administrator of the Office of Safety and Mission Assurance, conducted another NASA review. In this review, Gregory gave his certification of the Shuttle-Mir flight safety as one of the key NASA management approvals prior to a Shuttle mission.
Atlantis is scheduled for launch on Sept. 25 at 10:34 p.m. EDT from the Kennedy Space Center, FL.