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The 1975 Apollo-Soyuz Test Project was billed as a scientific experiment to test the possibility of an emergency space rescue. In reality, it was a carefully planned political stunt, designed to bring two superpowers together and help prevent the end of the world.


The Apollo and Soyuz spacecrafts, joined by their docking module. On display at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.

By 1972, the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union had been raging for over two decades. Both sides had built massive nuclear arsenals; both sides had waged a series of proxy wars in Asia, South America and Africa; and both sides had approached the brink of global thermonuclear warfare during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Now both sides, exhausted and overextended, sought a way to ease tensions. From 1972 to 1974, President Richard Nixon and Premiere Leonid Brezhnev visited each other's countries for a series of talks. The result was the policy of "detente", a new attitude of "peaceful co-existence" between the two superpowers that would avoid conflicts and search for areas of cooperation.

One of these areas was the Space Race, which had begun with the Soviet launch of the Sputnik satellite in 1957 and had recently continued with the American moon landing in 1969. In some of their earliest talks in 1972, the two leaders proposed a joint space mission using the Soviet Soyuz craft and the American Apollo. Billed as a "test project" to assess the possibility of a space rescue, in reality the "Apollo-Soyuz Test Project" (or "Soyuz-Apollo Test Project", as it was known in the USSR) was purely a political stunt with the sole aim of highlighting the ideal of international cooperation.

Two crews were selected for the ASTP mission.  In the US, it was announced that Thomas Stafford, Jack Swigert, and Donald "Deke" Slayton would be flying on Apollo 18. Stafford had already flown on two Gemini missions and had commanded the Apollo 10 dress rehearsal flight for the Moon landing. Deke Slayton had been selected as one of the original Mercury astronauts, but had been grounded for a medical issue with his heart; he had just been returned to flight status, and ASTP was his first spaceflight. Jack Swigert had been a backup for the aborted Apollo 13 moon-landing mission, and was assigned to the primary crew when Ken Mattingly was grounded after being exposed to measles before the flight. Shortly after this crew was announced, Swigert was removed as punishment for his evasive testimony during the NASA investigation into the Apollo 15 "stamp scandal", in which astronauts had taken some 400 unauthorized postage stamp covers into space to later sell as souvenirs. Swigert was replaced on the Apollo 18 crew by Vance Brand; ASTP would be Brand's first spaceflight.

The Russians selected Alexei Leonov to command the Soyuz 19. He had been the first human to walk in space, from Voskhod 2 in 1965. With him would be Valeri Kubasov, who had flown on Soyuz 6.



In 1973, both crews began training. Each took several trips to the other's country to visit its space facilities and familiarize themselves with each other's spacecraft and systems. They also began intensive language studies so they could speak to each other; they found it worked best when the Americans spoke Russian and the Soviets spoke English.

There were also technical challenges to be met. The American Apollo used a low-pressure 100% oxygen atmosphere while in space, but the Soviet Soyuz used a nitrogen-oxygen mixture at normal atmospheric pressure. This made it impossible for the two craft to dock directly with each other, and it was agreed that NASA engineers would take the responsibility of constructing a separate docking module, 10 feet long and 4 feet wide, that would act as an airlock between the two vehicles. Modifications also had to be made to both nations' radio communications network to allow flight controllers in Russia to work together with their counterparts in the US.

The Apollo-Soyuz Test Project flight took place in July 1975. The Soyuz launched first, on July 15, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in the USSR. It was the first Soviet launch to be broadcast around the world on live TV. On their third orbit, Leonov and Kubasov established contact with the joint Soviet-American communications network, and maneuvered into an orbit for docking. Apollo 18 was launched 8 hours after the Soyuz. On July 17, the rendezvous was completed, and Vance Brand maneuvered the Apollo's docking module into contact with the Soyuz. The docking was completed at noon on July 17, over the Atlantic Ocean. "Soyuz and Apollo are shaking hands now," Leonov reported.

Three hours later, the airlock was ready, and TV viewers around the world watched as Stafford and Leonov met and shook hands. Congratulatory radio calls were made by President Nixon and Premiere Brezhnev. Over the next 30 hours, the two crews visited each other's spaceships, had lunch together, exchanged gifts, and gave live TV tours.

On July 19, the two craft temporarily undocked to perform a joint solar experiment, redocked and then, at 11:30am, undocked for good.  "It was a very good show," Leonov declared. Brand answered, "This was a very good job." Apollo 18 maneuvered away into a new orbit. Soyuz 16 stayed in its orbit another 30 hours to perform a series of experiments, then landed in the Soviet Union, live on TV. Apollo 18 stayed in orbit an additional six days before landing in the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii.

The ASTP Apollo 18 Command Module is now on display at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. The Soyuz 19 Re-entry Module is on display at the Energiya Museum in Moscow. At the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington DC, the entire Apollo-Soyuz configuration is on display, using the backup docking module and the original full-size Apollo and Soyuz mock-ups that were used to test it.



Originally posted to Kossack Air Force on Tue Jan 28, 2014 at 02:03 PM PST.

Also republished by SciTech and History for Kossacks.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Great story. (5+ / 0-)

    One thing I remember about it was buying a pack of Apollo Soyuz cigarettes, which, if I'm remembering right, were made from a blend of Russian and American tobacco. They were sold as a collectible, but I smoked them anyway. Not bad.

  •  alas, the ASTP thaw did not last long . . . (6+ / 0-)

    In 1981, Reagan took office, the military budget skyrocketed, and all the talk began of "winning a nuclear war" against the "evil empire". I thought that crazy old fool would go ahead and push the button . . .

    For young people today who did not live through the Cold War, it is impossible to realize just how scary those times were--when all of human civilization could have been ended in just a few minutes.

    The much-vaunted "terrists oh noez !!!!" of 9-11 are mere pissants compared to that.

    In the end, reality always wins.

    by Lenny Flank on Tue Jan 28, 2014 at 02:29:41 PM PST

    •  Scene from The Americans..... (0+ / 0-)

      The best TV drama on today....

      The Soviets and the United States are playing a game of brinksmanship based not on a real threat, but on a fiction. The need for war is a bureaucratic imperative. “I’m giving it to you now, but you’re not hearing me,” the Colonel tells Phillip when they meet on a park bench, after mocking the call sign he dreamed up (Gabriel would be proud). “The technology. It’s incredibilis. At best it’s fifty years from being remotely operational. The damn thing’s a fantasy.” Colonel “Some people say the president only hears what he wants to hear. Some people say it’s all one big psyop, a way of getting the Soviets to spin themselves to spin themselves into oblivion trying to keep up with a technology that’ll never span out. And really, that’s what the world needs, another crazy arms race. But this time it’s in space.” Games without frontiers, indeed.

      Learn about Centrist Economics, learn about Robert Rubin's Hamilton Project.

      by PatriciaVa on Tue Jan 28, 2014 at 03:19:46 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Some great memories there. Somewhere, in (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    palantir, blueyedace2, rodentrancher

    among the boxes I still haven't unpacked, is a press pass for the launch from Analog magazine (don't ask).

    There was never anything to compare with one of the big birds heading up.

    At least half the future I've been expecting hasn't gotten here yet. Sigh.... (Yes, there's gender bias in my name; no, I wasn't thinking about it when I signed up. My apologies.)

    by serendipityisabitch on Tue Jan 28, 2014 at 02:47:51 PM PST

  •  One of the results from ASTP was ... (8+ / 0-)

    ... development of the APAS docking adapter, which has served as the basis for many docking adapters since then.

    The Shuttle used APAS, as do the Chinese. The Russians have it, but rarely use it for their crewed ships, although the main connection of the International Space Station is via APAS. The Buran space shuttle was going to use APAS, but never flew with one.

    "The Obama Administration has been an unmitigated disaster" - Osama Bin Laden

    by Explorer8939 on Tue Jan 28, 2014 at 02:49:21 PM PST

  •  I recall reading American officials complaining (0+ / 0-)

    that the Russians were "soaking up" valuable US technology from this project and we weren't getting much back.

    •  bah. the Russians already had a thriving space (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Farugia, Major Kong, linkage

      program for 20 years at that point, and had already scored far more "firsts" than we did.

      They didn't need our technology. Theirs was beating the pants off us quite nicely.

      It reminds me of the buffoons who were screeching that the Russians "stole the design for the Space Shuttle".  Um, no they didn't. The Soviet Buran was entirely different than the US Space Shuttle. It looked the same on the outside for the same reason Fords look like Fiats--because they all deal with the same aerodynamic forces. The Russians were perfectly capable of designing their own space shuttle.  They had no need to steal ours.

      It's all part of that "Great White Plantation Owner" mentality that the US had (and still does). Apparently we simply can't grock the fact that other people can design things too.  We're not the only smart people on the planet.

      In the end, reality always wins.

      by Lenny Flank on Tue Jan 28, 2014 at 04:30:59 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Say what you will about the Soyuz (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    terrypinder, Tinfoil Hat

    The thing may be old-school, but it works.

    When the Russians find something that works they stick with it.

    If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

    by Major Kong on Tue Jan 28, 2014 at 06:38:02 PM PST

    •  yep, it's basic, reliable, and gets the job done (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      and that's all it needs to do.

      Meanwhile, the US has to rent Russian spaceships to get anyone into orbit.

      In the end, reality always wins.

      by Lenny Flank on Tue Jan 28, 2014 at 07:16:09 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  A couple of points (0+ / 0-)

        You may be suffering from a bit of selective memory syndrome per the Soyuz - it's had 2 crew losses in its career, though it has since performed admirably.  More recently they were having problems with some of the components not working quite right for re-entry which led to a landing some distance away from where it was targeted. The Russians are good, but they're not perfect.

        The book "Packing for Mars" has some fascinating material about the several space programs that has not been generally known. The author interviewed some cosmonauts as part of it, and some of their stories are hair-raising. There's also a claim that researchers used to give the cosmonauts an extra incentive to operate their experiment packages by concealing a bottle or two of vodka inside… ;-)

        In any case, the Dragon capsule seems to be moving along well, and 2016 should be interesting.

        The newest players in the game are off to an ambitious start and getting experience, while this 90 Day Wonder is still operating ten years later.

        "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

        by xaxnar on Tue Jan 28, 2014 at 08:13:51 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Shameless plug: US/USSR space adventure report .. (0+ / 0-)

    (Sorry, always late to the party..)

    If this topic interests you, I would highly recommend:

    Off the Planet: Surviving Five Perilous Months Aboard the Space Station Mir

    Jerry Linenger, a NASA physician, gives an incredibly informative, first-person account of his experiences at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, additional preparations in Russia, and his roller-coaster-worthy, harrowing mission aboard the decaying Mir space station.

    His descriptions of the cosmonauts' repeated efforts to regain control of the failing engineering systems - seemingly mere moments before they all become the contents of an orbiting sarcophagus - makes for nail-biting reading. His growing admiration of their skills as the mission progresses is truly palpable.

    And thanks, Lenny! Almost forgot the first of the intl. efforts., where did I leave my torches and villagers?

    by FrankSpoke on Wed Jan 29, 2014 at 09:43:46 PM PST

    •  when talking about the technical adventures on the (0+ / 0-)

      Mir, it should always be pointed out that the Mir was in use for a very long time after its originally-planned design life . . . .

      The Russians made almost superhuman efforts to keep living and working on a spacecraft that was years beyond its expiration date.

      In the end, reality always wins.

      by Lenny Flank on Thu Jan 30, 2014 at 04:04:13 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

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