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

17 July - Rendezvous


Roused at 3:07 a.m. by an alarm and warning signal from the guidance system, the crewmembers decided to stay awake after determining that the [327] warning was a false alarm. That morning Slayton observed a grass fire in Africa, and Stafford saw a forest fire atop a mountain in the U.S.S.R. Slayton commented that things looked just the same as in an airplane at 12,000 meters. At 7:56, 5 minutes after completing another maneuver to bring the craft into better attitude for rendezvous, the Apollo crew attempted radio contact with Soyuz. Brand reported at 8:00 that he had sighted Soyuz in his sextant. "He's just a speck right now."21

Voice contact between the two ships was established 5 minutes later. Speaking in Russian, Slayton called, "Soyuz, Apollo. How do you read me?" Kubasov answered in English, "Very well. Hello everybody."

Hello, Valeriy. How are you. Good day, Valeriy.
How are you? Good day.
Excellent. . . . I'm very happy. Good morning.
Apollo, Soyuz. How do you read me?
Alexey, I hear you excellently. How do you read me?
I read you loud and clear.

Thirty-two minutes later at Slayton's signal, Kubasov turned on the range tone transfer assembly to establish ranging between the ships. The gap had been reduced to 222 kilometers. At 9:12, Apollo had changed its path again when the crew executed a coelliptic maneuver that sent the craft into a 210- by 209-kilometer orbit. Apollo was spiraling outward relative to the earth to overtake the Soviet ship.

A 0.9-second terminal phase engine burn at 10:17 brought Apollo within 35 kilometers, and the crew began to slow the spacecraft as it continued on the circular orbit that would intersect that of the Soyuz. CapCom Truly advised Stafford at 10:46, "I've got two messages for you: Moscow is go for docking; Houston is go for docking, it's up to you guys. Have fun." Immediately, Stafford called out to Leonov, "Half a mile, Alexey." Leonov replied. "Roger, 800 meters."23 In accordance with the flight plan, the Soyuz crew had moved back into the descent vehicle and closed the hatch between them and the orbital module. Inside Apollo, the men had closed the CSM and DM hatches preparatory to docking. At a command from Stafford, Leonov performed a 60° roll maneuver to give Soyuz the proper orientation relative to Apollo for the final approach. On the television monitors in Houston and Moscow, Soyuz was seen as a brilliant green against the deep black of space as the onboard camera recorded the final approach.

Visitors had begun to gather in the MOCR viewing room about 2 hours before the docking. Among the early arrivals were General Samuel C. Phillips, former Apollo Program Director; Astronauts Scott, Allen, Garriott, McCandless, Musgrave, and Schweickart; and Captain Jacques Cousteau. [328] Just before 10:00, Dr. and Mrs. Fletcher, accompanied by John Young, escorted Ambassador Anatoliy Fedorovich Dobrynin and his wife into the viewing room. Other guests included Elmer S. Groo, Associate Administrator for Center Operations, and his wife; the Gilruths; D. C. Cheatham; D. C. Wade; and C. C. Johnson. As Apollo silently closed the remaining gap, the MOCR and viewing area grew quiet. Only the air-to-air and air-to-ground transmissions broke the spell.

Leonov called out as the two ships came together. "Tom, please don't forget about your engine." This reference to the -X thrusters made Stafford and many of those on the ground who knew the story chuckle (see chap. IX). Stafford called out the range, "less than five meters distance. Three meters. One meter. Contact." The hydraulic attenuators absorbed the force of the impact, and Leonov called out, "We have capture, . . . okay, Soyuz and Apollo are shaking hands now." It was 11:10 in Houston. Stafford retracted the guide ring, actuated the structural latches, and compressed the seals. In Russian he said, "Tell Professor Bushuyev it was a soft docking." "Well done, Tom," congratulated Leonov, "It was a good show. We're looking forward now to shaking hands with you on . . . board Soyuz."24

The chase of Soyuz by Apollo had ended in a flawless docking. Stafford later recalled, "Later that night, we checked the alignment and noticed that the center of the COAS was sitting right on the center of a bolt that held the center of the target in for Soyuz." That is dead center. A feeling of relief and exultation swept the control center in Houston. Lunney with a cigar in hand called Professor Bushuyev. Watching each other on their television monitors, the Technical Directors smiled as they exchanged congratulations, while both crews went through pressure integrity checks on their craft. When Slayton opened the hatch into the docking module, he caught the strong scent of burned glue. This news dampened spirits on the ground for a short time. As a precaution, Vance Brand donned his oxygen mask, and Stafford advised Leonov: "Soyuz, this is Apollo. Now we have . . . a little problem. I think we have somewhat of a bad atmosphere here. I think soon that we will no longer have any problems."25 While his Russian might not have won any prizes, the Soviet commander got Stafford's message. Once the odor dissipated and the ground crews decided that they could not discover any danger in this unexpected development, the crews continued the procedures leading to the opening of the hatches between the spacecraft.

Prior to that first handshake in space, Viktor Balashov, a noted Soviet television announcer, read a message from Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev over the air-to-ground link:

To the cosmonauts Alexey Leonov, Valeriy Kubasov, Thomas Stafford, Vance Brand, Donald Slayton. Speaking on behalf of the Soviet people, and [329] for myself, I congratulate you on this memorable event. . . . The whole world is watching with rapt attention and admiration your joint activities in fulfillment of the complicated program of scientific experiments. The successful docking had confirmed the correctness of the technical decisions developed and realized by means of cooperative friendship between the Soviet and American scientists, designers and cosmonauts. One can say that the Soyuz Apollo is a forerunner of future international orbital stations.

Brezhnev's remarks continued, noting that "the detente and positive changes in the Soviet-American relations have made possible the first international spaceflight." He saw new possibilities for cooperation in the future and gave his best wishes to the crews.26

Stafford and Slayton meanwhile had entered the docking module and closed behind them the hatch (no. 2) leading to the CSM. They raised the pressure from 255 to 490 millimeters by adding nitrogen to the previously 78 percent oxygen atmosphere. In Soyuz, the crew had reduced the cabin pressure to 500 millimeters before the docking. The pressure in the tunnel between the docking module hatch (no. 3) and the Soyuz hatch (no. 4) had been raised from zero to equal that of the docking module. Leonov and Kubasov were the first to open the hatch leading to the international greeting. During the transfer that was to follow, the pressure in the DM and Soyuz would be the same - 510 millimeters.

Then at 2:17:26 p.m. on the 17th of July, Stafford opened hatch number no. 3, which led into the Soyuz orbital module. With applause from the control centers in the background, Stafford looked into the Soviet craft and, seeing all their umbilicals and communications cables floating about, said, "Looks like they['ve] got a few snakes in there, too." Then he called out, "Alexey. Our viewers are here. Come over here, please." High above the French city of Metz, the two commanders shook hands.* Their dialogue was broken - part personal, part technical. They appeared to accept their amazing technical accomplishment with the same nonchalance that had characterized their practice sessions in the ground simulators. There were no grand speeches, just a friendly greeting from men who seemed to have done this every day of their lives. In the background was a handlettered sign in English - "Welcome aboard Soyuz."27

When they talked later with President Ford, however, the crews appeared somewhat less at ease. Ford had watched the Soyuz launch two days earlier in the State Department auditorium with Ambassador Dobrynin and Administrator Fletcher, while Mrs. Dobrynin interpreted for them. Keenly interested in the ASTP flight, Ford had wanted an opportunity to [330] speak with the crews. Dennis Williams, the information officer attached to the International Affairs Office at NASA, had drafted a series of possible questions for the White House that could be asked of each crewman. Neither Williams nor the mission control team in Houston expected Ford to use all the questions, but that is exactly what he did. The crew, who had been advised the night before of the conversation, were taken by surprise when the President, watching the men on a television monitor in the Oval Office, talked for 9 minutes instead of the scheduled 5. He asked a barrage of questions that sent the crews scrambling to trade off their three flight helmets to they could respond to him. But despite the confusion, Ford and the five space men seemed to enjoy the chat. Ford began:

Gentlemen, let me call you to express my very great admiration for your hard work, your total dedication in preparing for this first joint flight. All of us here in . . . the United States send to you our very warmest congratulations for your successful rendezvous and for your docking and we wish you the very best for a successful completion of the remainder of your mission.

Stressing the same themes of cooperation as had Brezhnev, Ford pointed out that it had "taken us many years to open this door to useful cooperation in space between our two countries." When he asked Stafford whether he thought the new docking system would be suitable for use in future international manned space flights, the Apollo commander responded, "Yes, sir, Mr. President, I sure do. Out of the three docking systems I've used, this was the smoothest one so far. It worked beautifully." Ford spoke in turn to Leonov, Slayton, Brand, and Kubasov. The President asked Slayton, "as the world's oldest space rookie, do you have any advice for young people who hope to fly on future space missions?" Slayton responded that the best advice he could give was "decide what you want to do and then . . . never give up until you've done it." To Ford's question about space food, Kubasov noted that the meals were different than the one the crews had shared with the President, especially since there was neither seafood nor beer available during the flight. In signing off, the President wished the men a "soft landing."28

Next Stafford, Slayton, Leonov, and Kubasov made a symbolic exchange of gifts, while Brand remained in the command module monitoring the American craft and waiting for his turn to visit Soyuz. Stafford speaking first, Said:

Alexey, Valeriy. Permit me, in the name of my government and the American people, to present you with 5 flags for your government and the people of the Soviet Union. May our joint work in space serve for the benefit of all countries and peoples on the Earth.29

[331] Leonov thanked Stafford for "these very valuable presents" and in return gave Soviet flags to the Americans. During succeeding transfers, other symbolic items would be exchanged. Apollo would return a United Nations flag launched in Soyuz, and the two crews would sign the Fédération Aeronautique Internationale certificates for the official record books.30

The four men settled down to their first joint space banquet. On the ground, too, some people went in search of a snack. John Young escorted the Fletchers, the Dobrynins, and the Groos to a third floor snack bar in the Houston control center. Over ice cream bars and coffee, they discussed the events of the day. The Ambassador asked Fletcher why the ships had docked a little early, and the NASA Administrator indicated that they were so well lined up that there was no reason not to complete the docking. Fletcher told Dobrynin that the crews had not known until late the preceding night that they would be speaking directly with Mr. Ford. After a few good-hearted comments about the President's tendency toward long-windedness, the Americans bid farewell to the Dobrynins, who left for Washington.

Glynn Lunney and Chet Lee met with representatives from the press late on the afternoon of the 17th to comment on the status of the meeting in space. Lunney said that those who had seen him in similar "change of shift briefings" in the past had seen a busy flight director with a dozen or so pages of notes. On this particular day, he had not taken many notes; he had mainly sat in the control center "watching the Flight Directors and the rest of the team work." He continued:

I would like to say that I've enjoyed today one hell of a lot. I have talked a number of times to the man on the other side of the ocean, Professor Konstantin Bushuyev, who's my counterpart and Director of the ASTP program for the Soviet Union and I could tell from the sound of his voice that he's enjoying the day as much as I am. . . .31

With his characteristic good humor, Lunney fielded a number of questions from the media representatives - the glue smell had not posed a problem; the crews had not talked much during their meal because "their mothers told them not to"; and there had been a scramble for headsets because no one had anticipated the President's desire to ask questions of all five men. Technically, diplomatically, and socially, the 17th had been a good day.

Stafford and Slayton said good-bye to Leonov and Kubasov at 5:47 and floated back through the tunnel into the docking module. Stafford returned to the command module, while Slayton closed the DM hatch. In Soyuz, the Soviets were securing their hatch, also. During the ensuing pressure integrity check, a possible leak through hatch nos. 3 or 4 was detected by the Soyuz monitoring equipment. This apparent flow of gas between the two hatches, while not serious, caused the crews to get to sleep a little later than planned. [332] Finally, by 7:36, the Apollo crewmen had bid the ground good night and were beginning to settle down.32

* 5°47'37" E and 49°10'12" N.

21. Program Operations Office, "ASTP Technical Air-to-Ground Voice Transcription," pp. 176, 191, and 198.

22. Ibid., pp. 199-200.

23. Ibid., p. 219.

24. Ibid., pp. 222-223.

25. Ibid., p. 231; and Crew Training and Procedures Division Training Office, "ASTP Technical Crew Debriefing," pp. 4-13 and 4-14.

26. ASTP mission commentary transcript, SR 72/1-2, 17 July 1975.

27. Program Operations Office, "ASTP Technical Air-to-Ground Voice Transcription," p. 257.

28. Ibid., pp. 261-264.

29. Ibid., p. 265.

30. Ibid., p. 267; and F. Dennis Williams to Arnold W. Frutkin, memo, "ASTP Symbolic Activities: Items Carried on the First International Flight" [n.d.]. The items included the FAI certificate of docking, U.S. and U.S.S.R. flags, one U.N. flag, commemorative plaques, a commemorative medallion, six copies of the May 1972 Nixon-Kosygin Space Agreement in English and Russian, American and Russian tree seeds, silver medallions for presentation to Leonov and Kubasov, and copies of papers authored by K. E. Tsiolkovsky and Robert H. Goddard.

31. [NASA News Release], Apollo News Center, JSC, "Change-of-Shift Debriefing #7," 17 July 1975.

32. Program Operations Office, "ASTP Technical Air-to-Ground Voice Transcription," pp. 287, 294-301, and 303.