July 26, 2005

Historic Apollo-Soyuz Flight Recalled

MOSCOW -- Veteran U.S. and Russian space pilots recalled the historic 1975 Apollo-Soyuz space mission Tuesday, sharing memories about the landmark docking that helped ease tensions between the two superpowers in the midst of the Cold War.

Speaking at a news conference in Moscow, the cosmonauts and astronauts also sent along their best wishes for the space shuttle Discovery, which was successfully launched later in the day.

"As we say in America, 'Break a leg,'" Vance Brand said before trying to pronounce the Russian equivalent. Sitting next to him, Alexei Leonov, who captained the Soyuz capsule during the 1975 rendezvous, knocked on the wooden table for luck.

The July 17-19, 1975, docking of the Apollo and Soyuz spacecraft - the first international space mission - was intended to test a new docking system that would allow U.S. and Soviet space vehicles to link up to provide rescue in case of emergency.

Brand, who manned the Apollo capsule along with Thomas Stafford and the late Donald K. "Deke" Slayton, said that along with the technical goals, their flight had a sizable political task: "To open the door a little bit between East and West, to draw two space programs together."

He said the International Space Station was a good example of the cooperation since the 1975 mission.

Asked to remember lighter moments of the mission, Leonov said that after the docking, they welcomed their American counterparts with canned borscht that bore Stolichnaya vodka labels.

"When we sat at the table, they said, 'Why, that's not possible,'" Leonov said. "We insisted, saying that according to our tradition we must drink before work. That worked, they opened it, and drank (the borscht) and were caught by surprise."

Since the grounding of the space shuttle fleet following the February 2003 Columbia disaster, Russian spacecraft have been the only way to ferry crew and supplies to the station.

"During these 2 1/2 years that the shuttle has been on the ground ... the Russian space agency has done a wonderful job providing the Soyuzes and Progresses to keep the station going," Stafford said.


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Apollo-Soyuz Project