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STS-79 launched on September 16, 1999, with crew member John Blaha. He replaced astronaut Shannon Lucid, to continue the American presence on Mir and joined the Mir-22 crew of Valeri Korzun and Alexander Kaleri. Blaha returned to Earth with STS-81, on January 22, 1997, after 128 days in space.
During Blaha's increment, space station operations were improved in several areas, including: transfer procedures for a docked space shuttle; "hand-over" procedures for long duration American crew members; and "Ham" amateur radio communications. The mission completed many life sciences and materials science investigations, including: the Binary Collodial Alloy test, for liquid crystal displays; drugs that dissolve over time in the human body; treatment of oil spills with micro organisms; and the Cartilage in Space investigation into three dimensional tissue growth. Also, the Greenhouse experiment showed that wheat will grow in microgravity for a complete life cycle, and demonstrated successful photosynthesis. The Muscle Performance experiment (in conjunction with the Russian exercise program) demonstrated that exercise in space minimizes the loss of bone density, muscle volume, and muscle strength.
Two EVAs were performed during Blaha's mission. The first space walk removed electrical power connectors from a 12-year old solar power array on the base block, and connected electrical power to more efficient new solar power arrays. The second space walk installed a new docking antenna and repaired the amateur radio antenna.
In an October, 11,1996, NASA update, Blaha said: "Actually, if I could describe the [Mir] environment, I was surprised. There was a lot of empty space. It may be five times the size of the volume [of the space shuttle] . . . The environment is actually very good. The air is very healthy; it's not dry; it's not humid. Nothing smells. Two of the modules are very new inside. The other four modules look a bit used, as you could imagine something looking after people have lived in something in orbit for 10 or 11 years without having the advantage of bringing the vehicle home and letting it be cleaned up on the ground."
The residency of an American astronaut aboard the Russian space station continued with NASA Astronaut Jerry Linenger.
Profile: John Blaha
John Blaha Oral History (PDF)
Profile: Valeri Korzun
Profile: Alexander Kaleri
Ops Lead Isaac Moore Oral History (PDF)
Blaha on a Day on Mir
Blaha on EVAs
Blaha on Increments' Differences
Blaha on Launch and Docking
Blaha on Life after Mir
Blaha on Life in Russia
Blaha on Mir Environment
Blaha on Progress Arrival
Blaha on the View from Mir
Blaha on Training
Blaha on Workload
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Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty