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

Years of Intense Activity


At the end of 1972, 26 months since NASA's first visit to Moscow to discuss cooperation and six months since the Summit officially created ASTP, Lunney could reflect upon the project's accomplishments with a positive frame of mind. A mission had been defined. Hardware design and development were well along. And Working Group activities during the thirty months that remained until launch would follow a pattern established during 1970-1972 and the schedule negotiated by Bushuyev and Lunney. More than anyone else, Lunney was responsible for maintaining the pace of [217] the joint effort. From his office on the seventh floor of the Program Management Building at MSC, he had to exercise considerable diplomatic and managerial skill to keep his NASA, contractor, and Soviet teammates moving along to the July 1975 deadline. After the Apollo 17 flight, Lunney was given a more direct line of authority for reaching that goal.

The sixth and final lunar landing, successfully completed by the Apollo crew on 19 December 1972, closed out another chapter in NASA manned space flight operations. With the return of 17's Eugene A. Cernan, Ronald E. Evans, and Harrison H. Schmitt, OMSF reorganized in preparation for Skylab and ASTP. Dale Myers announced in January 1973 that Rocco Petrone would be leaving the Apollo Program Office to become the Director of the Marshall Space Flight Center. Petrone was replaced by Chester M. Lee, who moved up from Apollo Mission Director. At Houston, Lunney succeeded Owen Morris as Manager of the Apollo Spacecraft Program Office, which in addition to ASTP had the responsibility for managing the command and service module aspects of Skylab, scheduled to be visited for the first time on 25 May 1973. Chet Lee and Glynn Lunney now directed the team that would carry the Apollo half of ASTP to completion.56

Lee and Lunney worked well together. While Lunney was concerned mainly with the technical aspects of ASTP, Lee had to worry about technical, political, economic, and public relations considerations. A 1941 Naval Academy graduate with 24 years of service, Lee spent the latter part of his naval career working on the Polaris ballistic missile weapon system. Captain Lee, as he was called by this NASA colleagues, joined the space agency in 1965 as Chief of Plans in OMSF's Mission Operations Directorate. Lee and Lunney shared more than the same managerial problems - both men liked good cigars and had a reliable sense of humor. But the two men shared another more important trait - an honest, straightforward manner of dealing with other people. This characteristic was a very valuable one for NASA when Captain Lee talked to members of the press and Congress.

On 2 October 1973, Chet Lee gave a typically candid briefing to members of the Manned Space Flight Subcommittee of the House of Representatives Committee on Science and Astronautics. George Low, Gene Cernan, and Lee had traveled to Capitol Hill that morning to provide the congressmen in closed session with detailed background on ASTP and to relieve one particularly nagging concern. Chairman Olin Teague and Representative Don Fuqua had corresponded with NASA about the scientific experiments planned for ASTP. As Fuqua stated their worry, "Our concern has been in the event of any reason it were not possible to conduct a joint mission with the Soviets NASA should be prepared to justify the mission on its merits."57 Clearly, confidence in the Soviets' ability - politically [218] and technically - to perform the joint mission was not universal. The Manned Space Flight Subcommittee wanted some assurance that the scientific program planned for the Apollo part of the flight would help justify the $250 million total cost.

The timing of Chet Lee's presentation was significant. On the day before, NASA had celebrated its 15th anniversary, and Lunney had arrived in Moscow with a 47-member delegation for a meeting that would culminate in a Mid-Term Review of ASTP; and on the day of the briefing, tests of the full-scale Soviet and American docking systems began in Houston. Lee and Cernan were scheduled to leave for Moscow on 3 October, and Low would follow them in about ten days' time. Although the congressmen were primarily interested in the experiments program, Lee gave them a complete status review so they would have a better context within which to judge ASTP and the scientific experiments.

He began with a report on the new hardware designed for the mission. The joint design work on the docking system was complete, as was the design effort on the docking module. Modifications to the CSM, which Lee pointed out was left over from the Apollo program, had been made with the exception of those that would be required by the experiments hardware and the modified high gain antenna needed for communicating with the Applications Technology Satellite (ATS) for improved television, radio, and scientific telemetry transmissions to the ground. Lee indicated that ATS-F was very important to the success of the scientific experiments. Apollo had been able to broadcast picture, voice, and data from the moon on an almost uninterrupted basis. Skylab was able to communicate from its 438.2-kilometer orbit for an average of 28 minutes per 93-minute revolution. But ASTP at an altitude of 225 kilometers would have ground station coverage for only about 15 minutes per 88-minute revolution. This limited ability to transmit to receiving stations would severely hamper the amount of data that could be gained from some of the experiments. With ATS-F, which was scheduled for launch in 1974 (at which time it would be called ATS-6), the communications coverage would be extended to about 49 minutes per orbit.

Reporting on the status of other hardware elements, Lee told the congressmen that the first of five docking systems had been completed by Rockwell International* for use in the development tests. While the joint dynamic tests were scheduled for mid-November, the first round of docking seal tests had been completed and the results reviewed in Moscow at the end of June. Though some minor design changes were being made as a result, confidence in the seal used in the docking system had increased considerably.



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Apollo communications links.


Fabrication of the docking module was also on schedule. He pointed out that this was largely because of the decision to build the life support system and electrical control equipment into a panel that could be constructed separately and then installed into the spacecraft. Lee could give a very favorable hardware status report.

Lee was equally optimistic when he talked about operational planning. The "Joint Crew Activities Plan," which presented the details of the crew actions during the flight, had reached the point where for a first launch opportunity it could be used that very day. The experiments would have to be worked into it, but basically the activities plan was ready to go, Lee said.

An early completion date for the Crew Activities Plan had been set because "we recognized that with the language difficulties and numerous joint activities planned we needed an early start. . . ."58

Representative Bill Gunter questioned Lee's optimism. Lee responded by saying, "we are on schedule and . . . we are satisfied with [our] progress, but we do have some qualms." When asked how one could be on schedule and still be experiencing delays, George Low explained:

The hardware is on schedule. The paper work is flowing a little more slowly than we like to see. This has not yet hurt us; the project [director's] concern is that as we get closer to the launch, there won't be this kind of luxury of time. We have to work things out now. The paper, too, will flow faster.59

[220] The Soviets had been slow in providing some essential documents the two sides had agreed to prepare and exchange. They had never refused to provide information; they were just slow. For example, at Moscow in June at the very last minute, the Soviets presented a Working Group 4 report that was to have been delivered 13 months earlier, expecting the Americans to sign it.** They would not.60 To Low, Lee, and Lunney, it appeared to be partly a problem generated by Professor Bushuyev's lack of freedom to make decisions on the spot. Whether in Moscow or Houston, the Professor had to refer to his superiors before he could provide many kinds of information. Lee had reported to Fletcher and Low:

Professor Bushuyev frankly admits that because of the Soviet internal system he does have a problem in meeting commitments on documentation and providing replies to specific questions and requests for amplifying information, but that he does not have this problem to the same degree with hardware.61

At other times, the Soviets just did not provide in their documents the detail necessary to satisfy NASA. When the specialists from Houston explained why they needed specific points of information, the Soviets provided the additional data, but seldom did they give all the information the first time. Many Americans were frustrated by this tooth-pulling contest.

The Soyuz 11 was a good example of this problem. To get a better understanding of the failure that led to the tragedy, Glynn Lunney had asked Bushuyev about the technical details of the accident several times, and still he had not received a clear explanation. He had pressed the point in Houston during the March 1973 talks, and Dave Scott had raised the issue again for Lunney at the June meetings in Moscow.62 When Lee and Lunney raised the topic a third time in Houston during July, the Professor told them that he had already explained in March the nature of the failure and the corrective actions taken to assure that it would not be repeated. Lunney firmly explained to Bushuyev that more details were required to satisfy safety and reliability requirements for the joint mission and to assure both supporters and critics of ASTP that the American crew would not be in danger when Apollo docked with Soyuz.

Chet Lee had reported that "from his information it was difficult to reconstruct the failure and [the Soviet explanation] provided little on the corrective action." Therefore, Lunney requested a fuller and more comprehensible explanation. Bushuyev was very hesitant to promise this, and according to Lee he "appeared to stall by stating the Soviets should then get copies of the Apollo failure reports." After Lunney and Lee showed [221] Bushuyev a copy of a message from Keldysh acknowledging receipt of the Apollo 13 accident report, the Professor promised to work on this request. Significantly, he would not agree to put this matter into the formal minutes of the meeting, but he did assent to its being included in a letter Lunney planned to write to him.63

Captain Lee, with Lunney's support, had recommended to the Administrator that a Mid-Term Review might be useful for working out some of these problems:

Glynn Lunney and I have discussed this at some length. We agree that perhaps a meeting between Mr. Myers and Academician Petrov or Dr. Low and Academician Keldysh under the category of a "Review of the Status and Report on ASTP" might be most helpful in avoiding future problems and delays in the Working Groups' progress, particularly as we move into the more specific plans for the mission. 64

Lee was convinced of the genuine desire on the Soviets' part to make the mission a success. He was also impressed by the rapport that had developed between the Americans and their Soviet colleagues and "in particular, the frankness, confidence and personal working relationships between" Lunney and Bushuyev. Still, he believed that NASA should continue

to carefully, but frankly, pursue answers, information and agreements on issues that may be touchy but are related to the mission. In this manner, we will not only provide greater confidence of ASTP success, but we can also gradually eliminate some of the time consuming barriers to smooth and expeditious working relationships with the Soviets in space cooperative efforts.65

In his testimony before the Manned Space Flight Subcommittee, Low said that NASA's desire to build a solid basis for present and future cooperation was "one of the reasons for my going over there in two weeks for this Mid Term Review." He also stressed to his audience on 2 October that while Lee and Lunney were probably getting less cooperation than they would have liked, "from the management point of view we are getting far more than we expected to." Despite the delays, the Soviets had met every obligation they had agreed to in April 1972.66 Still, the concern over the Soviets' possibly defaulting or failing to fly was the reason Low, Lee, and Cernan were giving their briefing to Representative Teague and his associates. Chet Lee turned to a discussion of the proposed package of ASTP experiments.

Lee's presentation and the committee members' comments that followed it dealt less with the actual experiments themselves than with the merits of spending $250 million to fly $10 million worth of experiments in the event of the Soviets' failure to rendezvous with Apollo. [222] Once Lee had stated that there had been 146 responses to the request for experiment proposals and that a large number of excellent candidate topics had been selected for further evaluation, the conversation turned to possible means of adding to Apollo's scientific payload. Captain Lee saw three possible ways of increasing the scientific examinations of a unilateral mission - load the backup docking module with additional experiments, create a scientific instrument module bay in the prime CSM, or revisit Skylab, which would have been in unmanned orbit for nearly a year and a half. In addition to the unfavorable impact on the launch timetable, all of these alternative plans would have been expensive and probably caused the project to run over its $250 million budget. Each alternative would involve extra engineering and careful balancing of payload weight and launch vehicle capacity.

George Low looked at the entire project from a political perspective. NASA had sought authorization to conduct a rendezvous and docking mission with a Soviet spacecraft for the purpose of developing a common system for working together in space. At the same time, NASA had pointed out that whatever flies in space should get maximum return for the investment. That is why the agency set aside $10 million for scientific studies. Low continued:

We have discussed it with the Congress since then on the basis that . . . for any less we could not do a decent experiment package. . . . That is how the $10 million were arrived at. You asked the question, what would we do if the Russians for some reason would not fly with us, political, technical or otherwise, and would the mission in itself with the $10 million worth of experiments . . . be worth flying without that rendezvous. I think that answer would depend very much as to when this would happen. Were it to happen now when we have spent a substantial sum of money, which is still a small fraction of the $250 million, we might well decide and discuss with the committee the possibility of cancelling it altogether. Because I am not sure whether it is worth remaining funds to be expended to go up there in 1975 for the $10 million worth of experiments alone without the rendezvous and docking.67

On the other hand, if the spacecraft were on the launch pad and ready to go and for some reason the Soviet portion of the mission were canceled, then NASA would likely want to go ahead with the flight but only after consulting with and obtaining the approval of the Congress and the executive branch.

Representative Teague wanted to know if the American public should be advised ahead of time that NASA had alternative plans for the mission. Representative John W. Wydler saw some dangers in such a course of action. "What would our national reaction be . . . if the Soviet Union were to [223] announce their alternative plans for the project if it doesn't come off?" He thought the American public would assume that the Soviets did not expect the U.S. to fly. "I think that would be something that could be very easily misunderstood from the point of view of the other side if you started to plan what you are going to do if this mission doesn't happen."68 In George Low's position, the most logical course to follow was to develop contingency plans but to assume that the Soviets did indeed plan to fly in 1975. None of the alternatives seemed as desirable as the basic idea of a joint mission. Essentially, NASA had faith that the Soviets would meet their commitment. It was a gamble, but the risk seemed to be a reasonable one.

* North American Rockwell Corporation had been renamed in Feb. 1973.

** The results of this meeting are summarized in appendix D.

56. NASA Special Announcement, "Appointment of Program Director for the Apollo Soyuz Test Project Office of Manned Space Flight," 16 Jan. 1973; Keith Wible to James R. Elliott, memo, "Redesignation of Manned Space Flight Organizations," 15 Mar. 1973; and interview, Lunney-Ezell, 23 July 1974.

57. U.S. Congress, House of Representatives, Committee on Science and Astronautics, Subcommittee on Manned Space Flight, transcript, "Executive Session Briefing on Apollo/Soyuz Test Project," 2 Oct. 1973, p. 7; and Myers to Ezell, 3 Sept. 1975. NASA had been keeping the Manned Space Flight Committee abreast of ASTP developments to reduce their mistrust of the Soviets. See H. Dale Grubb to Fletcher, memo, "ASTP Informal Meeting," 8 Mar. 1973; Chester M. Lee to Bernard L. Johnson, memo, "Draft Responses to Congressman Fuqua," 7 May 1973; Willis H. Shapley to Myers, memo, 31 July 1973; and Myers to Olin E. Teague, 16 Aug. 1973.

58. Subcommittee on Manned Space Flight, transcript, "Executive Session Briefing on Apollo/Soyuz Test Project," 2 Oct. 1973, p. 7.

59. Ibid., p. 12.

60. David R. Scott to Lunney, memo, "ASTP Mission to Moscow, June-July 1973," 31 July 1973.

61. Lee to Fletcher and Low, memo, "US/ USSR July Working Group Meeting," 25 July 1973. Lunney had discussed the documentation issue with Bushuyev in several letters; e.g., Lunney to Lee, memo, "Transmittal of Letter to Moscow," 7 June 1973, asking transmittal of letter, Lunney to Bushuyev, 19 June 1973; and memo, Lunney to Lee, "Transmittal of Letter to Moscow," 24 Aug. 1973, asking transmittal of letter, Lunney to Bushuyev [n.d.].

62. Interview, Scott-Ezell, 21 Aug. 1974.

63. Lee to Fletcher and Low, memo, "US/USSR July Working Group Meeting," 25 July 1973.

64. Ibid.

65. Ibid.

66. Subcommittee on Manned Space Flight, transcript, "Executive Session Briefing on Apollo/Soyuz Test Project," 2 Oct. 1973, pp. 17-18.

67. Ibid., pp. 33-34.

68. Ibid., pp. 37-38.