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

First Efforts to Establish a Basis for Cooperation


By the fall of 1959, NASA had the mandate to cooperate, and it had set up the administrative machinery to formulate policy concerning international programs; but what did cooperation and international programs mean? How and with whom would NASA cooperate? What would be the subject matter for international agreements? There were, of course, those areas in which NASA needed the assistance of other nations, notably to establish tracking stations for both manned and unmanned spacecraft. Also, NASA hoped to encourage other nations to join in scientific experiments involving American spacecraft. And there was a third category of possible cooperation - the Soviet Union. Skillful negotiation would be required in this pursuit, as the Soviet Union was a coequal, perhaps the technological leader, in space flight. Thus, while it was difficult enough to deal with nations nominally friendly, negotiations with the Soviets were always to be a special case. How and for what reasons would cooperative programs be developed between the Americans and the Soviets?22

Before Frutkin arrived at NASA, Deputy Administrator Hugh Dryden had made several important contacts with other nations. Homer E. Newell, Jr., Assistant Director for Space Sciences, had taken the lead to organize the international community interested in space flight by convening the first organizational meeting of the International Committee for Space Research (COSPAR) in November 1958. COSPAR had been created to perpetuate the cooperative aspects of space investigation that had been part of the IGY,* but the international body quickly became a victim of Cold War politics.23

A debating society environment plagued the United Nations discussions of cooperation on the new frontier; nuclear disarmament was the stumbling block. Following Sputnik I, much had been said about preventing the introduction of weapons into space. Indicative of the divergence of opinion between the Americans and the Soviets on this subject were the letters exchanged during the spring of 1958 between Eisenhower and Soviet Premier Nikolai Bulganin. Eisenhower asserted that the peaceful use of [24] space - prohibiting the use of space for military gain - was "the most important problem which faces the world today. . . . We face a decisive moment in history. . . ." Addressing the problem of developing rockets for military applications, Eisenhower raised the question of learning from past failures:

. . . a decade ago, when the United States had a monopoly of atomic weapons and of atomic experience, we offered to renounce the making of atomic weapons and to make the use of atomic energy an international asset for peaceful purposes only. . . . The nations of the world face today another choice perhaps even more momentous than that of 1948. That relates to the use of outer space. Let us this time, and in time, make the right choice, the peaceful choice.

There are about to be perfected and produced powerful new weapons which, availing of outer space, will greatly increase the capacity of the human race to destroy itself. . . . can we not stop the production of such weapons which would use or, more accurately, misuse, outer space, now for the first time opening up as a field for man's exploration? Should not outer space be dedicated to the peaceful uses of mankind and denied to the purposes of war?

That is my proposal.24

Premier Bulganin responded that reserving space for peaceful purposes depended on prior solution of the problem of disarmament in general:

We, of course, do not deny the importance of the question of using outer space for peaceful purposes exclusively, i.e., first of all, of the question of the prohibition of intercontinental ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads. I hope, however, Mr. President, that you will agree that this question can be considered only as a part of the general problem of the prohibition of nuclear and rocket weapons. It is for that very reason that the Soviet Union, in the interest of strengthening peace and reaching agreement on questions of disarmament, is also prepared to discuss the question of intercontinental missiles, provided the Western powers are prepared to agree on the prohibition of nuclear and hydrogen weapons, the cessation of tests of such weapons and the liquidation of foreign military bases in the territories of other states. . . 25

In the succeeding exchange of letters between the two states and in the debates in the U.N., the discussions bogged down over the relation of space to questions of national security and disarmament. The two space powers, who also were the two nuclear powers, defined differently the problem at hand. American leaders sought to ban the militarization of outer space; this seemed a logical step and an opportunity that should not be lost. The Soviets, however, saw sinister motives behind the American proposals. The Russians saw themselves surrounded by American and allied military power. [25] In addition to their bases in the continental United States, the Americans had installations in the U.K., Western Europe, the Middle East, and the Far East. With such facilities, outer space was not needed to launch an attack. The Soviets, lacking such advanced bases, relied upon the development of the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) - a strategic weapon whose parabolic trajectory arced into space. America's proposal to neutralize space was thus seen as an attempt to deprive the Soviet Union of her only defense against the nuclear strike capabilities being developed by the Americans. Both nations sought to neutralize outer space, but only on terms that would be advantageous to themselves.26

Debate in the U.N. divided along ideological lines, and NASA's desire to use that body as the foundation for developing a program of space cooperation foundered.** Glennan and his colleagues came to believe that negotiations with the Soviets would have to be direct, bilateral, and more private than the open forum of either COSPAR or the U.N. As a consequence, the NASA leadership sought to engage the Soviets in less formal talks. Typical of these early contacts were the discussions between representatives of the Soviet Academy of Sciences and NASA during the annual meetings of the American Rocket Society. At the mid-November 1959 meeting of the Society in Washington, for example, Soviet space scientists Sedov, Blagonravov, and V. I. Krassovsky presented papers on the nature of Soviet space research.27 Dryden met privately with the Soviets to exchange views. They agreed that their countries should cooperate more closely in space science, and Dryden made it clear that NASA was ready to talk about issues of mutual interest. The Soviets warned that such an undertaking should proceed "step by step." However, Frutkin reported that "when pressed, they were not prepared to identify the first possible step."28

In an effort to demonstrate American willingness for closer relations, George Low gave the Soviet guests a tour of the Langley Research Center in Virginia, where among other things he showed them a model of a Mercury spacecraft. The Soviets were polite but noncommittal, and the hoped-for invitation to see Soviet space-flight facilities never materialized.29

The Soviets continued to insist that the proper forum for discussing space cooperation was the United Nations; and the Americans remained acutely aware that discussions in that arena, as long as the Soviets enjoyed the technological lead, could only result in a Soviet propaganda advantage.


* Over the years, COSPAR has grown in stature, but it still remains a non-governmental body, hence an unofficial point of contact at which scientists can exchange views. While delegates from the Soviet Academy of Sciences are official spokesmen for their country, representatives of the National Academy of Sciences do not speak for the U.S. government.


** In Jan. 1960, NASA created an ad hoc Office for the U.N. Conference that was to address the issues raised by the General Assembly call for an international conference on the peaceful uses of outer space. This office was headed by John Hagen. When the conference failed to materialize, the office was disbanded in Sept. 1961. Rosholt, Administrative History of NASA, pp. 127-128.

22. Ibid., pp. 28-84 describes U.S. efforts to create a basis for cooperation within the framework of NASA's programs.

23. Ibid., pp. 85-88.

24. Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1958 (Washington, 1959), p. 82.

25. Quoted in Dodd L. Harvey and Linda C. Ciccoritti, U.S.-Soviet Cooperation in Space (Coral Gables, Fla., 1974), p. 16.

26. Frutkin, International Cooperation in Space, p. 142. For the subsequent exchange of letters between Eisenhower and the Soviet leaders see Harvey and Ciccoritti, U.S.-Soviet Cooperation in Space, pp. 17-22.

27. William Hines, "Soviet Space Scientists Tell Little of Ventures," Washington Star, 18 Nov. 1959.

28. George M. Low to Ezell, "Comments on December 1975 Draft of ASTP History," 29 Dec. 1975; Frutkin, International Cooperation in Space, p. 89; and U.S. Congress, Senate, Committee on Aeronautical and Space Sciences, Soviet Space Programs: Organization, Plans, Goals, and International Implications, 87th Cong., 2nd sess., 1962, p. 179.

29. "Russians Unimpressed by Space Man Project," Washington Star, 23 Nov. 1959.