Apollo-Soyuz: When Two Rival Nations Became One Group Of Spacemen
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Today marks the anniversary of when two rival nations erased a line, and met in space for the first time.
On July 17, 1975, American astronauts and Soviet Union cosmonauts rendezvoused and docked in space, starting a new era of international cooperation and partnership.
In the modern space world, having astronauts from different countries meet-up in space is not an unusual idea, because for over a decade they have been doing so on the International Space Station (ISS) each year.
However, with tensions being high with the Cold War, and a space race title claimed by NASA with its trip to the moon, the partnership seemed unlikely.
Both nations had also launched separate space stations by 1975, including the Russian Salyut and American Skylab.
The Apollo-Soyuz Test Project sent NASA astronauts Tom Stafford, Donald K. “Deke” Slayton and Vance Brand in an Apollo Command and Service Module to meet up with Russian cosmonauts Aleksey Leonov and Valerly Kubasov in a Soyuz capsule.
The jointly designed, U.S.-built docking module fulfilled the technical goal of the mission by demonstrating that two dissimilar craft could dock in orbit, setting up the stepping stones for the ISS.
Not only did the astronauts have to deal with learning how to dock a spacecraft while in orbit, but they also had to learn how to speak each other’s languages.
At 3:17 p.m., and after many orbits around the planet and careful moves towards docking, the hatch opened and Apollo commander Stafford and Soyuz commander Leonov shook hands.
“Glad to see you,” Stafford told Leonov in Russian. “Glad to see you. Very, very happy to see you,” Leonov responded in English.
Soviet Communist Party General Secretary Leonid I. Brezhnev and President Ford congratulated the crew on a successful docking, and Stafford presented Leonov with flags to wish that “our joint work in space serves for the benefit of all countries and peoples on the earth.”
Leonov presented the U.S. crew with Soviet flags and plaques, and the men signed international certificates and exchanged other commemorative items in space.
The spacecraft stayed docked together for four hours, even allowing the astronauts to eat a meal together aboard the Soyuz, until all spacemen returned to their craft and the hatch closed off at 6:51 p.m.
The next day, the astronauts and cosmonauts began again, swapping places in each other’s spacecraft and performing a day of joint activity. The men ate lunch in mixed company, while demonstrating scientific experiments in zero gravity.
On the third day, they continued to mix-it-up by switching spots aboard each other’s spacecraft, until further speeches were given and goodbyes were made.
It was a result of the line blurring 37 years ago that has led to the lines being erased aboard the International Space Station. Two rival nations became one group of scientists and spacemen in 1975, and now countries from across the globe send up their astronauts to the ISS, with no lines to cross.