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Mission Monday: Fast facts about STS-4 & STS-71

This week we are celebrating the historic launch of two shuttle missions that rocketed into space on the same day, 13 years apart. Look back at both iconic flights with three fast facts about each mission.


On June 27, 1982, STS-4 lifted off. Two NASA astronauts, Thomas Mattingly and Henry Hartsfield, rocketed into space aboard the shuttle orbiter Columbia for a seven day flight. They traveled 2.9 million miles and completed 113 orbits on the fourth shuttle mission and final shuttle test flight.

1. This mission marked the first time astronauts had donned the shuttle suit in orbit.

STS-4 marked the first time a shuttle suit had been donned in zero gravity. As mission commander, it was Mattingly’s assignment to suit up in orbit. While Hartsfield was nearby in case Mattingly had any issues donning the suit, it was ultimately a task he had to try to accomplish on his own. NASA had to know astronauts would be able to get into their suits on their own and donning them while in space was the ultimate test.

2. Mattingly and Hartsfield built a sign for President Ronald Reagan, who observed the landing of STS-4.

Mattingly and Hartsfield built a sign for the President that read, “Welcome to Columbia. Thirty minutes ago, this was in space.” President Reagan was in California to watch the landing and welcome the crew back to Earth, so Mattingly and Hartsfield figured he would want to come inside the shuttle and look around. What better welcome than a welcome sign flown in space?

3. The crew of two landed on Independence Day.

According to Mattingly in a 2002 NASA interview, it didn’t matter when the crew was going to take off, but, “they wanted to make sure we landed on the Fourth of July.” The crew of two did indeed land on Independence Day, welcomed back by a crowd of more than 45,000 people, including celebrities like Roy Rogers.

Upon their return, President Reagan gave a speech with Mattingly and Hartsfield beside him. He announced in that speech that the shuttle test flights were completed, and the program was to move into the operational phase. According to NASA, Reagan also committed to a new American space policy focused on “establishing a more permanent presence in space.”


June 27, 1995, STS-71 lifted off. A crew of ten, six astronauts and four cosmonauts – the largest crew for a mission, rounded out the flight. It also marked the first time Mir crews traded places via the shuttle. The 100th human spaceflight lasted nearly ten days, traveled a total distance of 4.1 million miles, and completed 153 orbits. Atlantis landed on July 7 at NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

1. This mission marked the first docking of a shuttle orbiter to Mir.

STS-71 marked the first docking of a shuttle orbiter to the Russian Mir space station. After docking, the Mir and STS-71 crews exchanged ceremonial gifts and began joint operations which included scientific research and the transfer of supplies and equipment between Atlantis and Mir.

2. The flight was compared to something out of science fiction.

STS-71 pilot Charles Precourt described the first sight of Mir as something you would see in a science fiction movie. He compared the scene to something out of “Star Wars,” saying it was like when, “Luke Skywalker is flying in on his ship and lands on the big station.”

Commander Gregory “Hoot” Gibson later described the undocking as a “cosmic ballet.” The Soyuz capsule also undocked (temporarily) at the time, carrying the Mir crew to film the historic event.

3. When Atlantis was docked with Mir, it made the largest space structure ever assembled…at the time.

Together, Atlantis and Mir totaled nearly 500,000 pounds. According to NASA, it was then the largest structure that had ever been assembled in space! The International Space Station overtook this record, currently weighing in at 925,335 pounds! Still, the docking of Atlantis and Mir was a sight to behold and made one massive spacecraft!

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