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

The End of the Space Race?


[94] Both the Soviet and American space programs went through a period of appraisal and re-examination before they next sent a man into space. After the Apollo fire, manned flight was delayed for 21 months while NASA and North American Rockwell* completely reworked the command module. Unmanned flights were flown on 9 November 1967 (Apollo 4), 22 January 1968 (Apollo 5), and 4 April 1968 (Apollo 6) to check out the modified spacecraft. The Soviets carried out five unmanned launches prior to the joint Soyuz 2 and 3 mission. On 27 October 1967, the U.S.S.R. sent Cosmos 186 into a low circular orbit, and three days later it performed an automatic rendezvous and docking mission with Cosmos 188. Once 188, launched for a direct, one-revolution rendezvous, came within 24 kilometers of 186, the two spacecraft began an automated, preprogrammed closure and docking on the far side of the earth from the U.S.S.R. so that they would passover Soviet territory in a docked configuration. The two spacecraft remained docked for 3.5 hours, after which they returned to earth, reentry commands having been given to each one day apart. A second automatic rendezvous and docking mission was conducted with Cosmos 212 and 213, launched on 14 and 15 April 1968. The five-day missions were successful, and the rigid docking was televised to ground control by onboard cameras. After an apparent final check-flight with Cosmos 238 on 28 August, the Soviets launched Soyuz 2, which was to act as an unmanned target for Georgiy Timofeyevich Beregovoy, the pilot of Soyuz 3, who rode into orbit the following day, 26 October.59

Beregovoy's mission remains unclear. After making an automatically controlled rendezvous, the cosmonaut took control of his craft and guided it from a distance of 200 meters to within only a few meters of Soyuz 2, but he did not dock. While Western observers speculated over this non-event, the Soviets were preparing for a second flight in which rendezvous, docking, and crew exchange would take place.60 Meanwhile, in the wake of the successful ten-day manned flight of Apollo 7, NASA was planning to launch the first circumlunar mission.

The December 1968 launch from Florida was a major step to realizing man's dream of traveling to the moon. Apollo 8 demonstrated that the distance between the earth and the moon could be safely traversed. On Christmas Eve as they orbited the moon, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William A. Anders shared their impressions of the stark lunar landscape, read a few...



Stark lunar landscape

Stark lunar landscape described by Apollo 8 crew on Christmas Eve 1968.


....verses from the first chapter of Genesis, and wished their earth-bound viewers a Merry Christmas. A New York Times article suggested that the space frontier was so vast that "there is no need here for wasteful rivalry deriving from earthbound nationalistic and political ambitions." But the Washington Post viewed the Christmas mission with a cynical eye; NASA was still racing to get to the moon before the Soviets preempted the feat. Columnist Joseph Kraft suggested a reappraisal of America's space goals now that the country was clearly ahead of the U.S.S.R. "There is no need for the United States to race Russia to every new milestone in space." He felt that the country needed a "program closely connected to explicit American requirements - a program of exploration for its own sake, not for the sake of beating the Russians."61

In Houston, Apollo 8 was viewed as the pivotal flight in the Apollo Program. Christopher C. Kraft, Jr., Director of Flight Operations, later stated:

It proved so many things that had a bearing on the progress of the program - things that might have been disproved. The navigation to and from the moon, the ability of the spacecraft systems to survive the deep space environment, all hinged on the Apollo 8 mission.

He also believed that the flight changed the competitive position of the United States and the Soviet Union in space. He had thought that "the Russians planned to fly a circumlunar mission, sending a manned spacecraft looping around and returning without orbiting the moon. That way they could say they sent the first man to the vicinity of the moon." Once Apollo 8 made her voyage, "there was nothing left for them to do."62

But from the Soviet Union came another perspective. Boris Nikolaevich Petrov, Chairman of the Council for International Cooperation in Investigation and [96] Utilization of Outer Space (Intercosmos) of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, called the Apollo 8 flight an "outstanding achievement of American space sciences and technology" and praised the "courage of its three astronauts." Academician Petrov also indicated that the Soviet Union would continue to explore the moon, but with unmanned automatic spacecraft. "The major tasks still ahead in the study of the moon will . . . be carried out by automatic means, although that does not exclude the possibility of manned flight."63 Petrov's words would remain a puzzle. Had Apollo 8 won the space race? Had the Soviets ever really been in the race to send a man to the moon? Surely Administrator Paine still had these questions in mind seven months later when he sought to renew NASA's search for a cooperative route to negotiations with the Soviets.

By 1969 Thomas Paine hoped that a change in Soviet-American space relations might be possible. Since the U.S. was clearly ahead in any race to the moon, an offer to cooperate would not jeopardize the lunar prize. And now the Soviet Union had more to gain from cooperation. By working with the nation that had led the way to the moon, the Soviets could create the image of technological parity. Paine perceived this period as an opportunity for new beginnings and began again the effort to discuss cooperation with Soviet space officials. Twelve years of bitter rivalry, during which each side had cooperated only in limited ways, could give way to closer relations if the Soviets were willing.


* In Mar. 1967, North American Aviation, Inc., and Rockwell-Standard Corporation merged to form the North American Rockwell Corporation.

59. Viktor P. Legostayev and B. V. Raushenbakh, "Avtomaticheskaya sborka v kosmose," paper, 19th Congress of the IAF, New York, Dec. 1968 (available in translation as "Automatic Assembly in Space," NASA Technical Translation F-12, 113). Legostayev and Raushenbakh presented an analysis of an automatic rendezvous system of the type used on Cosmos 186, 188, 212, and 213. Committee on Aeronautical and Space Sciences, Soviet Space Programs, 1966-70, pp. 230-234; Smolders, Soviets in Space, pp. 162-168; and Georigy Ivanovich Petrov, ed., Osvoenie kosmieheskogo prostranstva v SSSR; ofitsiannye soobsh cheniya TASS i materialy tsentrolnoi pechati oktyabr, 1967-1970 gg (Moscow 1971) (available in translation as Conquest of Outer Space in the USSR; Official Announcements by Tass and Material Published in the National Press from October 1967 to 1970, NASA Technical Translation F-725 [New Delhi, 1973], pp. 15-70).

60. The difference in views as to the goals of the Beregovoy mission is illustrated by Smolders, Soviets in Space, pp. 163-164; and Committee on Aeronautical and Space Sciences, Soviet Space Programs, 1966-1970, p. 233.

61. "Columbuses of Space," New York Times, 22 Dec. 1968; "The Christmas Journey," Washington Post, 22 Dec. 1968; NASA Astronautics and Aeronautics, 1968, NASA SP-4010 (Washington, 1969), p. 325.

62. "Apollo 8 Called Key Flight Space Program," Baltimore Sun, 24 Nov. 1972.

63. "Soviet Scientist Hails Apollo Courage and Skill," New York Times, 31 Dec. 1968; "Soviet Cautious on Moon Flights," Baltimore Sun, 31 Dec. 1968; and Boris Nikolaevich Petrov, "O polete Apollona-8" [On the flight of Apollo-8], Pravda, 30 Dec. 1968.