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Shuttle Flights & Mir Increments - STS-63: Propellant Leak and Flight Team Cooperation

During launch, a leak occurred in the Shuttle's reaction control system, causing propellant to spew in a cone-shaped pattern, "like a snowstorm for five miles up into space," according to Commander Jim Wetherbee. Flight controllers worried that the propellant could contaminate the Soyuz's optical sensors, needed in preparation for reentering Earth's atmosphere. But the leak lessened as the Shuttle neared Mir and the two ground control teams agreed to proceed with the rendezvous.

In his Oral History, Wetherbee said: "As I think about the flight, probably the biggest thing about that flight was the fact that we got people talking to each other, the engineers on the ground discussing the leak, opening up their books and sharing data with each other did a lot to help STS-71, the first docking mission, because then they all were friends and it went along more smoothly. You could've done the docking mission, Hoot [Gibson] could've gone up there and docked and had no trouble if we had never even flown STS-63, but the people on the ground were a lot closer together, and so from that point of view, it was worth flying the mission."

Related Links:
James Wetherbee Oral History (PDF)

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Curator: Kim Dismukes
Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty