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

April in Moscow


Following the November-December 1971 meeting in Moscow, NASA Headquarters has recommended to the White House that a formal agreement on an Apollo/Salyut mission be included on the agenda for the May Summit meeting between President Nixon and Premier Kosygin. After several [183] discussions with the White House during the ensuing months, Henry Kissinger asked NASA to make a firm recommendation by 15 April concerning the feasibility of conducting such a flight. In Glynn Lunney's opinion, the Soviets would have to agree to three basic management documents before NASA could make a positive recommendation to the President. Draft versions of Lunney's documents - a project technical proposal, an organizational plan, and a project schedule - were ready for transmittal to Moscow by the end of March. Fletcher and Low decided that Low, Lunney, and Frutkin should visit Moscow during the week of 2 April to discuss these documents and reach a common position on the most important points. Low remembered that they especially wanted "to determine whether the Soviets really understood what we were talking about."43

Fletcher and Low also decided not to publicize this trip;* insofar as MSC was concerned, Lunney was visiting Washington, and Low was supposedly on leave "to take care of family business." To further assure that no one would know their destination, Low's secretary went to a commercial travel agent to get his tickets instead of buying them through the NASA travel office. Low felt that the semi-clandestine nature of the trip lent some excitement to his normally closely regulated life. On this occasion only Fletcher, Mrs. Low, and Low's secretary would know where he was.44 That is, they thought that was the situation until the Sunday morning newspapers appeared on 2 April.

John Noble Wilford, on page one of the New York Times, reported an interview with Academician Petrov, in which Petrov mentioned an upcoming meeting with NASA officials. He pointed out that the negotiations thus far had "considered only the technical aspects of solving these problems" of a joint mission and that neither government had yet approved the flight. When did he expect such approval? Petrov said, "This would depend much on the meetings that will take place next week and probably on the joint meetings of all the working groups of engineers afterwards." When Wilford asked if the necessary arrangements could be made in time for the Summit discussions, Petrov replied, "I would not like to guess on that. I know that on a government level there are a lot of very important problems to discuss, and whether [a joint mission] is one of them depends on the leaders, not us."#source45``45 Fletcher and Low held their breath and waited to see if anyone would follow up the story. No one did.

Low, Frutkin, and Lunney departed Washington on Easter evening and arrived in Paris early Monday. After a short layover, they continued aboard an Aeroflot jet to Moscow, where they were met by Petrov, Bushuyev, and [184] Vereshchetin. During their ride into the city, Petrov told Low that Keldysh had been hospitalized. Vladimir Alexandrovich Kotelnikov, acting in the capacity of Academy President, would be negotiating on behalf of the Soviets. Because of a schedule conflict, he would not be able to meet with the Americans until Tuesday afternoon. In their free time, the three Americans visited the American Embassy, where they were invited to lunch with Ambassador Jacob D. Beam and his guests later that week. Jack Tech, the science attaché at the Embassy, later asked Low if he knew who the guests for Thursday's luncheon would be, and Low replied that Ambassador Kaiser and his son would be joining them. Tech responded by asking if he knew who Ambassador Kaiser's son was. When Low confessed that he did not, Tech dropped the bombshell - Robert Kaiser was the Washington Post's Moscow correspondent. Low went immediately back to Ambassador Beam and said that in light of the desire of the White House and the State Department to keep their visit quiet, he questioned the wisdom of dining with the press. The Ambassador assured Low that the luncheon would be a social affair and that there would be no need to discuss his mission. Furthermore, Beam said that he would take personal responsibility if there were any leaks. Although he was extremely skeptical about this whole idea, Low saw no way to avoid the invitation.46

For about two hours on Tuesday afternoon, the American trio met with Kotelnikov, Petrov, Bushuyev, Vereschetin, and I. P. Rumyantsev. After a typical Moscow lunch at the Club of the Scientists, they continued their discussions with Petrov until 7:00 that evening. The two groups reconvened the next morning and continued their negotiations until early afternoon. When the Americans adjourned, they ate a quick lunch at the American Embassy snack bar while they rewrote their version of the Summary of Results. The afternoon session with the Soviets lasted only 2 hours, and based upon the revised American draft and the basic understanding reached that morning, the two sides were able to conclude the substance of the talks. Frutkin and Vereshchetin completed the final editing of the agreement Thursday morning.

Low, Frutkin, and Lunney attended their obligatory noon meal on Thursday, which proved to be uneventful, while waiting for the English version of the Summary to be typed at the Embassy. The three returned to the Presidium of the Soviet Academy of Sciences (where all the discussions had been held) for the signing of the documents. The usual ceremony, in which both sides signed two English and two Russian copies, took place in Kotelnikov's office. The Acting President told Low that according to legend Napoleon had slept in this room during his last night in Moscow 160 years earlier. There was a farewell dinner on the night of the 6th, and Low and his colleagues departed for home the next morning.

[185] The Americans' basic purpose for these meetings had been to obtain assurance from the Soviets that there could be agreement on the organizational structure to conduct a joint mission and that the mission could be carried out according to a specified timetable. Low in his opening remarks on Tuesday had told the Soviets that NASA was sure that a joint mission was technically feasible, but the agency was not sure that in managerial terms it was possible. Thus, Low's goal for the Moscow meeting was to gain this assurance. Before the two sides pursued this point further, Kotelnikov said that he had an important statement that he would like to make.

Kotelnikov told the NASA people that in re-evaluating the proposed test mission the Soviets had come to the conclusion that it would not be technically and economically feasible to fly the mission using Salyut. Salyut had only one docking port and the addition of a second port would be very difficult technically and very costly in both time and money. Therefore, the Soviets proposed to conduct the test flight using Soyuz, which could accept all the modifications necessary for such a mission. They were quite forceful in stating that there would be no changes in any of the agreements made thus far.

Surprise was perhaps the mildest word for the Americans' reaction. Nevertheless, Low quickly responded and told Kotelnikov that barring any technical difficulties, the switch from Salyut to Soyuz would be acceptable.47 He turned to Lunney and asked him if he saw any technical reason for opposing such a change, and Lunney could think of none. Operationally, this would present a simpler mission since it would involve only two coordinated launches - Apollo and Soyuz and not three - Apollo, Salyut, and Soyuz. Low and Frutkin tried to think through any "political" implications and found none. It would still be possible to exchange crews, which would be the major public impact of the mission, and such a mission would give the Americans an added advantage - not calling attention to the fact that the Soviets already had a space station flying and NASA did not.

After Low agreed to this change, he took the opportunity to raise an issue that was of concern to NASA the lack of Soviet responsiveness to the proposals concerning regular, direct voice communications between the two sides.48 Low mentioned that he was interested in more than just the basic issue of communication; he said that if this unresponsiveness was indicative of their attitude for the future, it would be very difficult to conduct a joint mission. Kotelnikov quickly understood why Low placed such importance on this issue and said it would be settled immediately. After considerable debate and discussion, the NASA position on regular communication between Lunney and Bushuyev prevailed.

On Tuesday afternoon, the discussion turned to the "Apollo/Salyut Test Mission Consideration," which was essentially a summary of the [186] organization plan. The Americans had hoped to agree on this plan in detail. As Lunney was presenting the document, the discussion fell apart and became quite confusing, with an inordinate amount of time being spent quibbling over the exact wording of each sentence. "We quickly saw," Low reported, "that we would be in Moscow for weeks rather than days were we to proceed this way." Low called for a short recess, so the Americans could discuss their strategy.

Before the Americans went off to themselves, they showed the Soviets a draft version of the Summary of Results that they hoped would be the basis for their mutual agreement. Low told the Soviets that it was essential to reach an accommodation and full understanding of the "12 principles governing mission conduct" that were a part of the "Apollo/Salyut Test Mission Consideration" document, which Low now suggested might be included in the Summary. The Soviets said they would look at these materials while the Americans held their private discussion.49

After the recess, the Americans and Soviets resumed the negotiations, reviewing the 12 principles and the Summary of Results until Wednesday. The negotiations were long and difficult, and sometimes when it appeared that agreement had been reached in English on a specific point, the material when read back in English after being translated into Russian sounded like the text of a completely different agreement. Low continually had to emphasize the necessity of having complete concurrence on the substance of the text. At one point in the negotiations, he told the Soviets that unless he could come away from this meeting with a firm agreement on the basic principles of organization, documentation, and scheduling, he would be in no position to recommend the test mission to President Nixon. He stated further that he would even go so far as to make a negative report. On the other hand, he expressed a willingness to stay in Moscow until they were able to hammer out the necessary words.

On Wednesday when the three Americans returned from lunch with a freshly typed copy of the Summary of Results, Yu. V. Zonov translated the English draft and then called a recess so that the Soviets could discuss the document in private. The Soviets seemed amazed that anyone could have completely recast an entire document in such a short time. When they came back, the Soviets told the visitors that the revised paper, with some minor editorial exceptions, was completely acceptable to them. The alterations were performed by Vereschetin and Frutkin.50

The Summary of Results that emerged from these efforts was the keystone in the negotiations for a joint test mission.51 Without the basic understandings that were forged at that time, the subsequent work would have been difficult, to say the least. In all, seventeen points (see box below.) illustrated the level of trust and understanding that would have to...



17 Points of Agreement Negotiation in Moscow, 4-6 Apr. 1972

A. For the preparatory (pre-launch) period -

  1. Regular and direct contact will be provided through communication links and visits as required.
  2. A complete project schedule will be developed and commitments will be made on both sides to meet this schedule in order to avoid costly delays to either party.
  3. Arrangements will be made for necessary contact and understanding between specialists engaged in developing and conducting the project.
  4. A comprehensive test, qualification, and simulation program will be developed.
  5. A sufficient level of familiarization and training, where applicable, with the other country's vehicle and/or normal training equipment must be defined and provided for safety-of-flight assurance. The necessary training exercises will be conducted in each country for the other country's flight crew and ground operations personnel.
  6. The parties recognize in particular that they must jointly make a concerted effort to arrive at a full agreement on the engineering aspects of the mission during the meeting of the work groups in July 1972.
  7. Two years prior to the flight, responsible persons who will directly participate in the flight operations should be included in the Working groups in order to assure a proper level of mutual understanding and continuity of personnel into the real-time operation.

B. For the mission operation -

  1. Control of the flight of the Apollo type spacecraft will be accomplished by the American Control Center and that of the Soyuz by the Soviet Control Center, with sufficient communications channels between centers for proper coordination.
  2. In the course of control, decisions concerning questions affecting joint elements of the flight program, including countdown coordination, will be made after consultation with the control center of the other country.
  3. Joint elements of the flight will be conducted according to coordinated and approved mission documentation, including contingency plans.
  4. In the conduct of the flight, pre-planned exchanges of technical information and status will be performed on a scheduled basis.
  5. The host country control center or host country spacecraft commander will have primary responsibility for deciding the appropriate pre-planned contingency course of action for a given situation in the host vehicle. Each country will prepare detailed rules for various equipment failures requiring any of the pre- planned contingency courses of action.
  6. In situations requiring immediate response, or when out of contact with ground personnel, decision will be taken by the commander of the host ship according to the pre-planned, contingency courses of action.
  7. Any television downlink will be immediately transmitted to the other country's control center. The capability to listen to the voice communications between the vehicles and the ground will be available to the other country's control center on a pre-planned basis and, upon joint consent, as further required or deemed desirable.
  8. Both sides will continue to consider techniques for providing additional information and background to the other country's control center personnel to assist in mutual understanding (including the placement of representatives in each other's control centers).
  9. As a minimum, flight crews should be trained in the other country's language well enough to understand it and act in response as appropriate to establish voice communications regarding normal and contingency courses of action.
  10. A public information plan will be developed which takes into account the obligations and practices of both sides.


[188] ...be established before a joint mission could be carried out. Of these points, the most difficult to negotiate were ones relating to crew training and the public release of information about the flight. After much dialogue, it was decided that the candidate crews would have to be identified one to two years before the flight so that they would have adequate time to train on the other nation's hardware. On the point of releasing information about a joint mission, the Soviets agreed that everything during a normal flight should be released immediately. In case of a major disaster, they would be willing to release information just as they had done in the case of Soyuz 11. Their main concern seemed to lie with the minor abnormalities during a flight that might be blown out of proportion or misunderstood. In his turn, Low had stressed an absolute need for NASA to continue its policy of disclosing all information available at the control center and tracking stations. At the conclusion of the discussions, the two sides agreed that they would develop a public information plan that would take into account the "obligations and practices" of both sides.

Looking back on that experience in Moscow, Low was optimistic when he returned to Washington. He had reached the conclusion that the two sides were ready now to undertake a test mission. As for hardware matters, they had reached an understanding on all issues that had been identified so far and did not foresee any new problems that they would be unable to handle. On the management side, the Soviets and the Americans had decided on such matters as regular and direct contact through frequent telephone and telex exchanges, the requirements for and control of formal documentation, joint reviews of design and hardware of various stages of development, the requirement for joint tests of interconnecting systems, early participation by flight operations specialists, and the like. Based upon all these agreements, it was George Low's recommendation that the United States government execute an agreement for a test mission.52

* At the request of the White House, this trip was not publicized because NASA planned to discuss a possible agenda item for the forthcoming Summit meeting.

43. Interview, Low-Ezell, 30 Apr. 1975; [Low], "Visit to Moscow, April 1972, to Discuss Compatible Docking Systems for US and USSR Manned Spacecraft," 4-6 Apr. 1972; Lunney to Bushuyev [n.d.], with enclosure, "Apollo/Salyut Test Mission Considerations," 23 Mar. 1972; and Kraft to Frutkin, 4 Apr. 1972, asking transmittal of letter, Lunney to Bushuyev [n.d.], enclosing, NASA, MSC, "Project Technical Proposal for an Apollo/Salyut Test Mission" [n.d.] and NASA, MSC, "Proposed Project Schedule Document," ASTM 30 000, 3 Mar. 1972.

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

45. John Noble Wilford, "U.S.-Soviet Accord in Sight on a Joint Space Mission," New York Times, 2 Apr. 1972.

46. Interview, Low-Ezell, 30 Apr. 1975; and [Low], "Visit to Moscow," 4-6 Apr. 1972. Kaiser had written articles on the docking talks in the past, a fact that brought little comfort to Low. Robert G. Kaiser, "U.S., Soviet Space Link-up Seen Near," Washington Post, 4 Dec. 1971.

47. Interview, Lunney-Ezell, 23 July 1974.

48. Ibid.; [Low], "Visit to Moscow," 4-6 Apr. 1972; and TWX, Secretary of State to Science Attaché, American Embassy, Moscow, "US/USSR Rendezvous and Docking Summary of Results," 25 Feb. 1972.

49. "Apollo/Salyut Test Mission Considerations," 23 Mar. 1972.

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

51. "Summary of Results," 4-6 Apr. 1972.

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