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



[vii] In the early days of the space age, when costs for exploration were projected, members of government and the scientific community often suggested that those nations with the greatest experience in space flight band together in joint programs. The United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, both heavily committed to space travel, were usually identified as the countries that should cooperate rather than compete. But, as long as the machines to accomplish such feats were little past the concept and drawing board stages, cooperative efforts would have been possible only with great difficulty, if at all.

By the end of the 1960s, some form of cooperation in manned space flight made more sense from a technical standpoint. Both nations had achieved some space goals and both had mission-proven spacecraft. Joint development of a new spacecraft would have been no easier at this stage than in the early years. But if each nation furnished a craft and together the nations figured out how to use them in a cooperative orbital flight, a useful step toward learning to work together in other fields would be taken. Even this, however, was a monumental task.

Communication was a bigger problem than technology in developing the joint program - and it was not necessarily a language problem. The philosophies of spacecraft design, development, and operations were so widely separated that a great chasm of differences had to be bridged before the technical work could begin. Several Soviet and American Working Groups, as this book relates, spent long hours, over many months, negotiating and reconciling the differences to produce a successful Apollo-Soyuz Test Project mission.

I had some concerns at the beginning of the cooperative program. We in NASA rely on redundant components - if an instrument fails during flight, our crews switch to another in an attempt to continue the mission. Each Soyuz component, however, is designed for a specific function; if one fails, the cosmonauts land as soon as possible. The Apollo vehicle also relied on astronaut piloting to a much greater extent than did the Soyuz machine. Moreover, both of these spacecraft, in their earlier histories, suffered tragic failures. By the time of the mission, all aspects of the two programs (hardware as well as procedures) that would be needed in the joint venture had been discussed frankly.

[viii] The exchange of people was perhaps a more significant gain than coming to some mutual understanding on how programs are conducted in the two countries and working out a joint flight project. Only about a hundred American and no more than two hundred Soviet managers, engineers, pilots, and technicians ever came into direct contact with each other, but millions of their countrymen watched with interest and discussed the activities, the families, and the ways of life (their similarities as well as their differences).

During the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, and even afterwards, there were charges that the program was an American technological giveaway. These charges were unfounded. NASA's conduct of its space programs has been covered by the media in great detail and descriptions of its systems can be found in many technical journals in libraries and bookstores. However, no one can build an Apollo or a Soyuz merely by reading a book or visiting a factory. These craft are the products of many, many incremental steps, lasting for years, and of the development of a personnel reservoir capable of managing a space program from concept through operations. Both sides did gain some new knowledge, but the benefits accrued by working together probably outweigh any potential threat. Apollo-Soyuz was the product of an evolutionary process of nearly 20 years. This book traces the events that led to this cooperative flight and then introduces the reader to five men, from two nations, as they worked together in the vastness of space.

Christopher C. Kraft, Jr.

Director, Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center

November 1977