SP-4209 The Partnership: A History of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project

Chapter 5

Proposal for a Test Flight


[125] In October 1970, Academician Keldysh responded to a September 1969 letter from Administrator Paine, agreeing that the "limited character" of Soviet-American cooperation in space science and applications could be broadened.1 After the two sides had decided on a January 1971 meeting in Moscow to discuss this subject, NASA Acting Administrator Low set about choosing a delegation and determining the agency's position on those topics proposed for the agenda.2 Acting on the advice of Arnold Frutkin, Low opted for a small delegation composed of individuals able to discuss a broad range of subjects rather than specialists.* Low and Frutkin thought it best to draft beforehand the agreements as they would like to see them signed, so that the Acting Administrator would always have in front of him the goals they wished to achieve. When he left Washington, he had a complete set of proposed agreements and a draft press release, as well.3

Before departing, Low was briefed by Under Secretary of State Alexis Johnson on the heightening diplomatic tension between the Soviet Union and the United States. The Soviets had just concluded a trial viewed in the U.S. as having anti-Semitic overtones, involving a group of accused airplane hijackers. Even as two of the Soviet Jews charged with the crime appealed their death sentences, the first ever levied for hijacking in the U.S.S.R., the Jewish Defense League had undertaken a campaign of bombing Soviet installations and intimidating Soviet personnel in New York and Washington. On 4 January, Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin delivered a note to the State Department accusing the American Government of "connivance" in these hostile acts and warned that the Soviet Government could not guarantee the safety of American officials and businessmen in Moscow.4 Although Johnson told Low that he did not anticipate any difficulties for an official delegation, he did voice his concern about public statements that Low might [126] make at the end of the negotiations and cautioned him to check with the Embassy in Moscow before making a favorable release to the press if the diplomatic situation were to worsen.5

As preparations in Washington progressed for George Low's visit to the U.S.S.R., the manned spacecraft team in Houston was working on a set of alternative proposals for a flight using Apollo and Soyuz hardware. Shortly after returning from the Soviet capital in October, Bob Gilruth had suggested to Low that subsequent discussions with the Soviet Academy would be more productive if the two sides began talking about specific missions using existing spacecraft.6 Gilruth and Caldwell Johnson had conducted an intensive feasibility study at the Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC) and presented their findings to Low on 5 January.

Based upon the rapid exchange of technical data and the tone of his recent correspondence with Keldysh, Low decided that it might be worthwhile to raise the possibility of a joint flight.7 He was willing to increase the tempo of the compatibility talks with the Soviets, for both he and Frutkin believed that the whole approach of the U.S.S.R. toward cooperation had changed. Reflecting on the October 1970 meeting, Frutkin later said "that meeting was clearly different from anything we had ever had before with them." In the Dryden-Blagonravov era, meetings involved only the very senior personalities in the Academy of Sciences; "you didn't feel that you were dealing with people who got grease on their hands." October had been different. "The protocol was minimal, and business was clearly foremost," Frutkin added. He had been impressed by Suslennikov, Syromyatnikov, and especially Feoktistov, whom Frutkin had found "extremely able and very efficient . . . with no nonsense."8 NASA's interest in obtaining more immediate results with the Soviets was boosted by this new working relationship.9

On 12 January 1971, a week before leaving for Moscow, Low and Frutkin flew to San Clemente, California, to discuss NASA's negotiating plans with the President's Foreign Policy Adviser, Henry Kissinger. Low briefly outlined the events leading to Keldysh's invitation and summarized his strategy for the meeting on space science and applications. In response to Low's request for the Administration's position on an actual test mission using Apollo and Soyuz spacecraft, Kissinger replied that as far as the White House was concerned Low had a completely free hand to negotiate in any area that was within NASA's overall responsibility. The President, Kissinger said, was in full support of these meetings and personally wanted Low to express to the Soviets his desire for cooperative efforts in space research and technology. Kissinger had only one request of the Acting Administrator; he would prefer that NASA personnel not contribute to the false notion that if [127] they could reach technical agreements they could also solve political problems if given the opportunity. Kissinger felt that in the past some of the astronauts had tried to suggest that since it was easy to negotiate with the Soviets on space topics it should be equally simple in other areas. Such naivete on the part of highly publicized individuals only hampered the work of diplomats on both sides. In parting, Kissinger told Low: "As long as you stick to space, do anything you want to do. You are free to commit - in fact, I want you to tell your counterparts in Moscow that the President has sent you on this mission."10

Low and his party arrived in Moscow late Saturday afternoon, the 16th of January. Their reception at the airport was warm, and Keldysh was there to greet them. While the Americans waited for customs formalities to be completed, Low chatted with Keldysh and the Vice President of the Academy, Aleksandr Pavlovich Vinogradov, who had just returned to Moscow from Houston. They talked about the upcoming Apollo 14 mission, Luna 16 - the topic of Vinogradov's presentation at MSC** - and Lunokhod, the unmanned moon rover that was still ranging widely over the lunar surface. There was no sign of any coolness or hostility, and once again it appeared that the desire to cooperate in space exploration outweighed any extraneous political events.11


Although Low asked for a reprieve from extensive sightseeing that night, he and his colleagues had a pleasant dinner with Keldysh, Blagonravov, and several other Soviets. Low and Keldysh talked about manned versus unmanned flights and the importance of space programs to the support of science and technology. Manned flights, they agreed, were essential "to lift the human spirit." They both felt that the United States and the Soviet Union must compete and cooperate in space compete because they needed the contest to spur the nations on and cooperate because of the vastness of the universe and the number of problems that needed to be solved.12


Examining a lunar rock

Academician Aleksandr Pavlovich Vinogradov, left, examines a lunar rock collected on the Apollo 12 mission. Assisting the visitor to the Manned Spacecraft Center is Dr. Michael B. Duke, center, curator in the Lunar and Earth Sciences Division. MSC Director Robert R. Gilruth looks on.


Soviet and American negotiators

At the Presidium of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, the Soviet and American negotiators face one another at the conference table in January 1971. Dr. Low and Academician Keldysh (below) headed the delegations and signed the agreements Soviet Academy of Sciences photos).


Keldysh and Low initialing an agreement


After four days of detailed and physically exhausting negotiations,*** Keldysh and Low initialed an agreement calling for fuller cooperation in five Specific areas:

  1. to improve the current exchange of data from meteorological satellites and consider alternative possibilities for coordinating systems;
  2. [129] to formulate cooperative provisions for a program of meteorological rocket soundings;
  3. to study the possibility of conducting natural environment research by coordinated surface, air, and space measurements over international waters and specific ground sites;
  4. to define and exchange information on the objectives of space, lunar and planetary exploration, to consider the possibility of coordinated lunar exploration, and to exchange lunar surface samples already obtained; and
  5. to develop procedures whereby detailed space biology and space medicine data could be more regularly exchanged.13

Although the Soviets would have preferred to sign a more general set of statements, Low and the other Americans stressed the need for specific agreements. The U.S. delegation felt that the Soviets were surprisingly cooperative and open in their approach, aside from some routine haggling over wording. From the start, Keldysh had understood Low's concern for specificity and practicality in the agreements and had seen to it that a compromise was reached.14 While the news media reported favorably on the proposal to exchange lunar samples, Low and Keldysh met privately to discuss an even bolder plan.15


* Low was accompanied by Frutkin; John D. Naugle, Associate Administrator for Space Science and Applications; Arthur W. Johnson, Deputy Director, National Environmental Satellite Service; William Anders, Executive Secretary, National Aeronautics and Space Council; and Robert F. Packard, Director, Office of Space-Atmospheric and Marine Science Affairs, Department of State.

** Vinogradov presented a paper, "Preliminary Data on Lunar Ground Brought to Earth by Automatic Probe 'Luna-l6'," at the Second Lunar Science Conference sponsored by the Lunar Science Institute, held in Houston, 11-14 Jan. 1971.

*** The Soviet delegation consisted of M. V. Keldysh; A. P. Vinogradov; B. N. Petrov; G. I. Petrov, Director, Institute for Space Research; I. P. Rumyantsev, V. S. Vereshchetin, I. V. Meshcheryakov, and A. I. Tsarev, Intercosmos; M. Ya. Marov, Institute of Applied Mathematics; Ye. K. Federov, Chief, and L. A. Aleksandrov, Deputy Chief, Main Administration Hydrometeorological Service; N. N. Gurovskiy, Chief, Directorate, Ministry of Health; O. G. Gazenko, Director, Institute of Medical-Biological Problems, Ministry of Health; Yu. A. Mozzhorin, Professor, Moscow Physics-Technical Institute; V. P. Minashin, Chief, Main Administration of Space Communication, and I. Ya. Petrov, Deputy Chief, Main Administration of Space Communication, Ministry of Communications; and K. G. Fedoseyev, Deputy Chairman of the USA Section, Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

1. Mstislav Vsevolodovich Keldysh to George M. Low, 19 Oct. 1970; and Thomas O. Paine to Keldysh, 15 Sept. 1970.

2. Low to Keldysh, 24 Nov. 1970; Keldysh to Low, 4 Dec. 1970; and TWX, Keldysh to Low, 30 Dec. 1970.

3. Low, "Notes on Trip to the Soviet Union," 15-22 Jan. 1971.

4. Harry Scharwtz, "Threats and Bombs - A Nasty Phase for the Two Nations," New York Times, 10 Jan. 1970; David A. Andelman, "Dangerous Campaign to Harass Russians," New York Times, 17 Jan. 1971; "Soviet Union - Limited Leniency," Time, 11 Jan. 1971, pp. 19-21; "Lapel Diplomacy," Time, 18 Jan. 1971, p. 27; and "The Private Jewish War on Russia," Time, 25 Jan. 1971, pp. 18 and 21.

5. Low, "Notes on Trip to the Soviet Union," 15-22 Jan. 1971.

6. Interview, Low-Edward C. Ezell, 30 Apr. 1975.

7. Robert R. Gilruth to Boris Nikolaevich Petrov, 23 Nov.1970, with enclosures ("Operations and Functions of the Apollo Guidance Computer During Rendezvous"; "A Summary Description of the Apollo Command and Service Module Telecommunications System"; "A Summary Description of the Apollo Docking System"; "The Apollo Radar Systems"; and "A Summary Description of the Apollo Command Module Environmental Control System"); Gilruth to Dale D. Myers, 23 Nov. 1970; Petrov to Gilruth, 16 Dec. 1970, with enclosures ("Kratkoye opisaniye radioapparatury sblizheniya kosmicheskikh korabley tipa Soyuz" [A brief description of the radio equipment used for rendezvous by Soyuz type spacecraft]; "Radiotelefonnaya svaz mezhdu pilotiruyemymi korablyami tipa Soyuz" [Radio-telephone communications between manned spacecraft of the Soyuz type], and "Spravochnyye dannyye po parametram atmosfery zhilykh otsekov korabley tipa Soyuz" [Reference data on the parameters of the atmosphere in the living compartments of Soyuz type spacecraft]); and Keldysh to Low, 4 Dec. 1970.

8. Interview, Arnold W. Frutkin-Ezell, 5 May 1975.

9. Low to Henry A. Kissinger, 29 Oct. 1970; and Low to U. Alexis Johnson, 30 Oct. 1970.

10. Interview, Low-Ezell, 30 Apr. 1975; and Low, "Notes on Trip to the Soviet Union," 15-22 Jan. 1971.

11. Low, "Notes on Trip to the Soviet Union," 15-22 Jan. 1971; Peter Reich, "Lunokhod Revives Debate on Manned vs. Robot Explorers," Chicago Today, 28 Dec. 1970; John Noble Wilford, "Exotic Fragments Found in Apollo Lunar Sample," New York Times, 11 Jan. 1971; Thomas Toole, "Soviet Scientist Details Plans for Lunar Robots," Washington Post, 15 Jan. 1971; and Alexandr Pavlovich Vinogradov, "Preliminary Data on Lunar Ground Brought to Earth by Automatic Probe Luna-16," paper presented at the Second Lunar Science Conference, Houston, Tex., 11-14 Jan. 1971.

12. Low, "Notes on Trip to the Soviet Union," 15-22 Jan. 1971; and Low, "Speech Delivered before the National Space Club," Washington, 26 Jan. 1971.

13. NASA News Release, HQ, 71-57, "U.S.Soviet Agreement," 31 Mar. 1971; and NASA News Release, HQ, 71-9, "U.S.-USSR Space Meeting," 21 Jan. 1971.

14. Low, "Notes on Trip to the Soviet Union," 15-22 Jan. 1971.

15. Don Kirkman, "Soviet Invites Space Talks," Washington Daily News, 6 Jan. 1971; and Bernard Gwertzman, "U.S. and Russians Reach Moon Pact," New York Times, 22 Jan. 197 1.