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

The Nixon-Kosygin Summit


Upon his return to Washington from Moscow in April, George Low had informed Henry Kissinger that from NASA's point of view a joint mission in [191] 1975 was a realistic goal and that no additional meetings between the Soviet Academy of Sciences and NASA would be required before placing the topic on the agenda of the May Summit meeting. Low felt that the agreement between the two governments could be relatively short and straightforward. While Low was communicating with the White House, NASA's public position on the topic was one of silence.

Low recalled that from mid-April to mid-May reporters had exhibited keen interest in the possibility of a joint docking mission proposal being part of the Nixon-Kosygin talks.59 In the many interviews between NASA officials and the press, "there was never any hint about the 4-6 April meeting, nor was there ever any hint that during the meeting the Soyuz spacecraft was substituted for the Salyut," Low said. He believed that the agency had been able to keep discussions about its work leading up to the Summit to a minimum "only because a very small number of NASA people had been involved in the activities. . . ." While their participation in the business of summitry had been successful, Fletcher and Low were puzzled over how slowly work on the Summit-level space agreement was going at the State Department.60

It was not until the week before the Summit meeting that the State Department and the White House began to coordinate with the Soviets the draft language of the document of space. On 20 May, the Soviets responded to the American proposed text with a much lengthier document which, among other things, included the text of the Low-Keldysh agreement of 21 January 1971 and the agreement hammered out in April 1972. When the Soviet response was received in Washington, Secretary of State Rogers and Kissinger were immediately contacted aboard their airplane over the Atlantic en route to Salzburg, Austria. Kissinger asked the State Department staff to contact Low and have him help them work out a suitable alternative to the Soviet proposal without significantly revising the text.

Low went over to the State Department at about 2:30 Saturday afternoon and worked with the staff there until the middle of the night. In the process of that lengthy session, they were able to revise the preamble of the agreement, while retaining the sense and meaning of the Soviet draft. In only one area, communications satellites, did they make any major change. This had not been part of the Low-Keldysh agreement because Low had told the Soviets that this was an area of commercial enterprise in the United States. Since NASA was not empowered to negotiate for these private companies, Low had this section eliminated from the draft sent to Kissinger that night.

After Low's Saturday session with the State Department, NASA had no additional information about the status of the space agreement, except for [192] "persistent signals" that it was scheduled to be signed on Wednesday, the 24th. On Tuesday, Low left Washington for San Diego where he was scheduled to give a speech - "NASA Looks Ahead in the 70s." During the course of the evening after dinner, Low received a trans-Atlantic telephone call patched through the State Department operations center that involved himself, Frutkin, and a State staff member. There were still some questions about the wording of the text, and the three men worked out a final version just in time for Low to make his way back into the ballroom where he was being introduced as the evening's main speaker.62


Signing of a five year agreement between U.S. and Soviet Union

President Richard Nixon and Premier Aleksey Kosygin sign a five-year agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union on cooperation in the fields of science and technology, 24 May 1972.


President Nixon and Premier Kosygin signed the "Agreement Concerning Cooperation in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space for Peaceful Purposes" at 6:00 p.m. Moscow time on the 24th. Later that afternoon (Washington time), Vice President Agnew introduced NASA Administrator James C. Fletcher to the press at a briefing held in the Executive Office Building. The reporters were given the text of the space agreement while Fletcher made the following statement: "We . . .are extremely pleased that President Nixon's meeting with officials of the Soviet Union in Moscow has brought to fruition the most meaningful cooperation in space yet achieved by our two nations." He noted that they had been discussing the possibilities for such cooperation for some time and that this agreement molded these technical discussions into a "definitized program." Of the various planned enterprises, "the most dramatic . . . will involve the rendezvous and docking of a U.S. spacecraft with a Russian Soyuz spacecraft in 1975."62

The space agreement was only one of a host of important issues discussed at the Summit. The Soviet and American leaders agreed on ways of working together to protect the natural environment, to advance health, to cooperate in science and technology, to prevent incidents at sea, and to expand trade between the two nations. President Nixon spoke over radio and television to the people of the Soviet Union on the evening of 28 May. He noted that one of his principal aims as President had been "to establish a better [193] relationship between the Soviet Union and the United States." Our two great nations, which have never faced one another on the battle field, "shall sometimes be competitors, but . . . need never be enemies."63 Nixon felt that it was "most important" that the two countries had "taken an historic first Step in the limitation Of nuclear strategic arms."64 This agreement was signed on the 26th of May, the product of the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks (SALT) begun in 1969. However, it lacked one important element that did exist in the Apollo-Soyuz test flight agreement - the Apollo-Soyuz accord was tied to a specific timetable. The engineers of the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. would have to work hard and without discord if they were to meet it. The concrete goal of flying together by a given date promised to guarantee success, whereas the general agreement to limit strategic arms carried no such inherent assurances. The task ahead of Glynn Lunney and Professor Bushuyev was a challenging one - the forging of a partnership.

59. "U.S.-Soviet Space Feat Likely by 75," Baltimore Sun, 5 Apr. 1972; Thomas O'Toole, "U.S.-Soviet Joint Efforts in Space Seen," Washington Post, 6 Apr. 1972; Jim Maloney, "Joint U.S., Soviet Space Trip Likely," Houston Post, 5 Apr. 1972; Al Marsh, "Deke Learning Cosmonaut Talk," Today, 17 Apr. 1972; "Deke Slayton Studies Russian and Dreams of Space," New York Times, 27 Apr. 1972; "Team Up with the Soviets? The Chances Are Quite Good," U.S. News and World Report, 8 May 1972; Thomas O'Toole, "Summit in Space: June 15, 1975," Washington Post, 7 May 1972; Nicholas C. Chriss, "Joint Mission; NASA, Soviet Togetherness: Its Far Out," Los Angeles Times, 5 May 1972; and Jonathan Spivak, "Ivan and John? The U.S. and Russia Seem Ready To Join Hands in Outer Space; Soviets Need the Technology, NASA Needs the Money: Going to Mars Together? Hooking Up Apollo to Salyut," Wall Street Journal, 16 May 1972.

60. Interview, Low-Ezell, 30 Apr. 1975; and [Low], "Visit to Moscow," 4-6 Apr. 1972.

61. Ibid.

62. A press package released by NASA on 24 May 1972 included Richard T. Mittauer, "Note to Editors" [n.d.]; NASA News Release, HQ [unnumbered], "Text of US/USSR Space Agreement," 24 May 1972; "Statement by Dr. Fletcher," 24 May 1972; NASA News Release, HQ, 72-109, "US/USSR Rendezvous and Docking Agreement," 24 May 1972; NASA News Release, HQ [unnumbered], "Background on Rendezvous Results," 4-6 Apr. 1972; and "Summary of Results of the Low-Keldysh Agreements," 18-21 Jan. 1971. See also NASA press conference, HQ, "News Conference on US/USSR Rendezvous and Docking Agreement," 24 May 1972; and "White House Press Conference of the Vice President; Dr. James C. Fletcher, Administrator of NASA; Glynn S. Lunney, Assistant to the Manager for Operational, Experiment and Government Furnished Equipment, NASA; and Dr. Edward E. David, Jr., Science Adviser to the President," 24 May 1972.

63. Congressional Quarterly, Inc. (comp.), Historic Documents 1972 (Washington, 1973), p. 440.

64. "Salt and the Moscow Summit, May 22-30, 1972," in Congressional Quarterly, Inc., comp., Historic Documents, 1972 (Washington, 1973), pp. 431-463.