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

Questions About Soyuz


Concurrent with their training exercises in 1974, the astronauts became involved in a renewed controversy over the flightworthiness of the Soviet spacecraft. The first phase of this debate opened with the publication of two articles in Aviation Week that argued that Soyuz was a very marginal design when compared to Apollo, especially in the area of guidance and control. These stories, which came from conversations with some NASA astronauts, made several strong judgments about the quality of Soviet hardware, stating: "In some areas, Soyuz capability is below that available in the Mercury spacecraft flown by American astronauts almost 13 years ago."41 At the time these items were written, the NASA team still did not fully understand the operation of the Soviet spacecraft control systems. In fact, when the astronauts returned to Star City in June, they were given at their request a [265] briefing on these systems by V. P. Legostayev to clear up several points of confusion resulting from data presented to them the preceding November.

Legostayev and his colleagues had created control systems for Soyuz that were sufficient for the earth orbital missions that the craft was expected to fulfill. From the start, Soyuz was basically a vehicle designed to be controlled automatically from the ground. As various unmanned Cosmos flights had indicated, Soyuz-type ships could be directed to rendezvous and dock from the ground. When manning Soyuz, the cosmonauts acted more as systems monitors than as pilots. This approach to manned space flight and the limited activities demanded in earth orbit meant that the Soviet designers did not need to develop the more complex guidance and navigation equipment that had been required for Apollo's trips to the moon. They relied instead on sun sensors and earth horizon observation, plus limited use of gyroscopes for navigation and guidance.

In this area, Soyuz and Apollo represented completely different approaches to a problem. For American astronauts who were used to having their hands on the controls and flying by the seats of their pants, Soyuz was not the kind of ship with which they would feel comfortable. Being a passenger was not their cup of tea; thus, it was not unreasonable for them to make negative comparisons of Soyuz to Apollo. But such value judgments were at best subjective. The Soviet approach was not worse than the American way of flying it was simply different. When Aviation Week took the facts of the difference in design and coupled them with astronaut opinions, it sounded as if the Soviets had an inferior spacecraft. Not surprisingly, the Soviets were offended by these comparisons, and Glynn Lunney cautioned his people to take care how they evaluated Soviet hardware when talking to the press. He advised them to stick to the facts and to beware of editorializing. He suggested that only a "damn fool" would mix fact with opinion.42

Phase two of the argument over the reliability of Soyuz started with the apparent failure of Soyuz 15 to complete its mission. Successful flights of Soyuz 12 (September 1973), Soyuz 13 (December 1973), and Soyuz 14 (launched for a 14-day mission during the June-July 1974 visit of the astronauts to Star City) had helped to reassure many of those public figures who were still worried about the Soyuz 11 tragedy. When Soyuz 15 failed to dock with Salyut 3 and returned to earth after just two days and made a night landing, cries arose from Capitol Hill and in the news media, questioning once again the wisdom of the joint flight.43 Most vocal among the congressional critics was Senator William Proxmire, who wrote to Administrator Fletcher asking for a complete safety review of Soyuz prior to the ASTP mission. "In particular," he recommended "that the National [266] Aeronautics and Space Administration go slow and proceed with all due caution." And he felt that "present plans for a joint space mission should be seriously re-examined in light of the continuing difficulty in the Soviet program." Proxmire said that he did not want the space agency to take chances with the lives "of our astronauts for the sake of some untangible diplomatic benefits of detente."44

While the Senator's concern was understandable, he was ill informed if he believed that anyone within NASA was about to gamble with the safety of either the American or Soviet crew. The whole purpose of exercises such as the safety assessment reports was to identify problem areas and establish that such potential trouble spots would not affect the execution of the mission. Lunney, in a regularly scheduled telephone conversation, had discussed the Soyuz 15 mission with Bushuyev on 27 August, the day after it was launched, and the Professor had told him that it was in no way related to ASTP, contrary to some media speculations. Bushuyev said it was a test of automatic docking systems.45

At their 26 August-20 September 1974 meetings in Moscow, Lunney and Bushuyev talked at considerable length about Soyuz 15 and the Cosmos 638 and 672 flights. The latter, flown in April and August, were unmanned tests of Soyuz as modified for ASTP, and they were unqualified successes. As recorded in the joint minutes, the objective of Soyuz 15 was:

the testing of a system of automatic approach and docking. This system is not used in the Apollo-Soyuz program. All Soyuz 15 systems that are analogous to those used in the ASTP flight worked in a satisfactory manner. During the final phase of approach not all of the monitored parameters for approach and docking were within the prescribed range. The crew, therefore, in accordance with previous instructions, switched off the automatic approach and docking system. Following completion of the planned flight program, the preplanned night landing was achieved for the purpose of verifying the feasibility of . . . a night landing.46

In addition to the discussions between the Technical Directors, the American crews were briefed by the cosmonauts.

On 11 September 1974, Tom Stafford raised the Soyuz 15 issue in a Houston press conference. He said that he had been given the full story by General Shatalov at the beginning of their current training session. Since there was still some concern about the flight, however, Stafford gave the floor to Shatalov who had agreed to answer queries from the press. Shatalov told the reporters that Soyuz 15 had been a test of a system to permit automatic docking with Salyut, since one of the long range goals of the Soviet space program was the use of unmanned resupply craft that could dock with the space station and automatically transfer fuel and supplies. Cosmonauts G. V. Sarafanov and L. V. Demin had flown the mission to [267] observe the functioning of the new system, and the Soviet spokesman reminded the press that this was the traditional role of the test pilot. Further, he pointed out that while NASA might rely more heavily on ground- based simulations, the Soviet space engineers had traditionally flight tested their spacecraft. In the case of Soyuz 15, when it became apparent that the systems were not working properly, the flight was terminated. Again, these experiences were not unusual in the business of flight testing hardware.47 Phase three of the Soyuz reliability debate came with the successful flight of Soyuz 16. Manned by the number two ASTP prime crew, Filipchenko and Rukavishnikov, this flight was a full dress rehearsal of the Soviet half of the joint mission. From the afternoon lift-off at 12:40 Moscow time on 2 December to the morning landing at 11:04 on the 8th, the flight of Soyuz was nearly perfect, and the results of the test of life support, docking, antenna deployment, and ground control systems were excellent. Shortly after launch, the Soviets had notified the Johnson Space Center, so the Spaceflight Tracking Data Network could begin tracking the spaceship.48

Lunney's team in Houston had known that the Soviets were planning a manned flight for the end of 1974. In fact, the Soviets had been prepared to give the Americans advance notice of the launch.

It was agreed that during the upcoming manned Soyuz flight which is a precursor test flight for the ASTP mission, the American side will perform Soyuz spacecraft tracking with their own ground tracking stations and the two sides will subsequently compare tracking data. The American side will be informed about the launch date and planned orbital parameters 5 days prior to launch. State vectors of the spacecraft will also be provided after insertion into orbit.49

Subsequently, the Soviets added the restriction that this information would be given to NASA only if the agency agreed to withhold it from the press until the flight had actually begun. After lengthy discussions, which involved George Low, Glynn Lunney, Chet Lee, Arnold Frutkin, and John Donnelly, it was concluded that NASA's tracking Soyuz 16 could be considered a joint activity.50 To withhold details from the public concerning such an exercise would not be consistent with the agency's traditional practice of providing information. On 11 October, Lunney telexed Bushuyev:

We appreciate Soviet desire to make own announcement of launch notice and launch. However, because of our own involvement in this activity, we would find ourselves in a difficult position if we could not report this information to our press. Therefore, we prefer to receive no information in this case until you have released it or we can release it. When we learn of the launch under these conditions we will initiate tracking activities. . . .51

[268] At 6:35 Houston time on the morning of 2 December, V. A. Timchenko called JSC. The security guard who took the early morning call said that Mr. Lunney was not yet in his office. At the Soviets' request, the guard notified the U.S. Technical Director that Moscow would be contacting him by telephone at 8:15. Less than two hours later, Timchenko and Lunney were talking about the mission manned by Filipchenko and Rukavishnikov. Lunney in turn advised the tracking team, giving them the data provided by Timchenko. These mathematical statements of the spacecraft's location and velocity at a given time would permit the tracking stations to follow its path, an exercise that was essential for the rendezvous part of the joint mission.52

[269] Bushuyev gave Lunney brief reports on this ASTP precursor flight during telecons on 3 and 8 December. Subsequently during the winter meetings in Houston, he provided full details of the Soyuz 16 mission to the American members of Working Group 4. On 31 January through his interpreter, Yu. S. Zonov, the Professor told Lunney that the flight had been a complete dress rehearsal for the Soviet portion of ASTP. The Soyuz spacecraft was identical to the one that would be flown in July, and the Soviets had designed the December flight plan to check out key parts of the ASTP plan. Of particular interest to the Americans were the reports provided by Bushuyev on the functional tests of the modified life support system. (See box below.53)

Life Support System Operation Timeline: Checkout of ASTP Modifications to Spacecraft During Soyuz 16 Flight

Ground elapsed time (hr:min)


Pre-launch preparations


Descent vehicle gas analyzer, orbital module gas analyzer, and pressure integrity check unit activation.


Crew in pressure suits ingresses vehicle: SC connects his PG to OM fan assembly, activates OM panel and PG fan assembly , and begins pre-launch OM examination. FE ingresses DV, connects his PG to DV fan assembly, activates CSD and PG fan assembly, and begins pre-launch DV examination. Following examination, SC deactivates PG fan assembly and OM panel, disconnects PG from fan, transfers to DV , connects PG to the DV fan assembly and activates it. DV RA activation.


Begin status and operations check of DV systems. Close hatch 5. Close OM ingress hatch. Pressurize OM with 125 mm Hg of oxygen. OM pressure integrity by launch team.


Begin PG pressure integrity check.


End PG pressure integrity check.


Lower PG visors.


Launch: December 2, 1974, 12:40 Moscow time.

Orbital flight


Raise PG visors.


Switch PICU to pressure leak monitor mode.


Remove PG gloves.


End pressure integrity monitoring of modules. Activate GMSS automatic controls. Close "TANK" valves.


Activate OM RA. Equalize DV-OM pressure and open hatch 5. DV RA "OFF." Transfer to OM. Set OM PVV to "CLOSED" position. DV-OM pressure vent test. Remove PGs and begin drying.


End PG drying.

6:43 to 8:28

DV-OM pressure vent to 540 mm Hg.

10:40 to 18:50


28:37 to 28:53

Corrective pressure vent from 540 to 510 mm Hg.

34:30 to 42:20



Open bypass valve (initiation TCS LML coolant flow through Apollo radio station transceiver mounting assembly).


Close bypass valve.


OM RA CO2 absorber on.


Don PGS.


Switch OM RA to minimum flow mode from OM panel. Transfer to DV and close hatch 5.


Open hatch 5.


Switch OM RA to automatic control mode and activate CO2 absorber.


Remove PGs, begin drying.


Stow PGs.

58:20 to 66:00


82:00 to 89:40



DV OM pressurization to 830 mm Hg.


Disconnect removable condensation collector, transfer it to OM, and connect DV collector.

105:50 to 113:25



Transfer to DV and close hatch 5. Jettison APDS mock-up ring.


Open hatch 5.


DV-OM test pressure vent from 805 to 760 mm Hg.


Switch TCS ERL external line coolant temperature setting from 7°C to 5°C.

130:00 to 137:00



Switch gas temperature setting at heat exchanger-condenser output from 20°C to 15°C.

Descent preparations and descent


Set OM PVV handle to "ELECT CONTROL" position.


Don PGS.


Transfer to DV ; close hatch 5. Connect PG to GMMS; activate PG fan. Activate DV RA. OM pressure vent by 125 mm Hg. Monitor hatch 5 pressure integrity.


Monitor PG pressure integrity.


OM pressure vent.


Lower visors.


DV-OM separation.


Landing: December 8, 1974, 11:04 Moscow time.

List of abbreviations


Androgynous-peripheral docking system


Command signal device


Descent vehicle


External radiator loop


Flight engineer


Gas mixture supply system


Living module loop


Orbital module


Pressure garment (space suit)


Pressure integrity check unit


Pressure vent valve


Regenerated assembly (oxygen generator)


Soyuz commander


Thermal control system

[270] Bushuyev also called to Lunney's attention the fact that Soyuz 16 had been placed into an initial orbit different from the ASTP rendezvous orbit so that the Soviets could test the spacecraft's maneuverability. The Professor went on to provide the Americans with details regarding the docking system evaluation:

As I said before, for the imitation of the operation of docking assembly of the Apollo spacecraft, we made a special technological ring which corresponded to the docking ring of the American assembly. During the flight, we tested the following items: the opening and the closing of the [capture] latches. The retraction of the ring with the guides. The alignment of the ring. The opening of the [structural] latches. The closing of the latches. The undocking. The reserve opening of the active hooks. . . . During the process of opening the hooks and undocking, the movement of the hooks was done not to the end but to the position of intermediate. This was done specially so we could do the final separation of the ring with the help of the pyrotechnics [i.e., to test the emergency release system].54

All the tests of the docking were carried out successfully with no problems.

Bushuyev was very confident that Soyuz was ready for the joint mission. After a nearly perfect flight by Soyuz 16, he had good reason to be optimistic. In fact, he commented that both Filipchenko and Rukavishnikov, veterans of earlier Soyuz flights, had indicated that all the changes incorporated into the spacecraft had made it a more flexible ship to fly.55 Filipchenko and Rukavishnikov spoke with the press on 13 December when the Soviets conducted a post-flight news conference, a check out of their public affairs procedures for ASTP. The two crewmen, plus Petrov, Beregovoy, Flight Director Shatalov, and Bushuyev, met with several hundred correspondents. Bob White, American Working Group 3 chairman in Moscow for the pre-flight tests of the docking systems, also attended. He noted that this was the first time the press had been able to directly ask questions of a Soviet crew after a mission and the first time most of them had been permitted to visit Star City where the press conference was held.56 The Soviets' optimism over Soyuz 16 was soon shared by Lunney, his Working Group chairmen, and the crews. Soyuz was ready; the Soviet reports, joint test data, and safety assessment reports proved it. This evaluation was presented to the U.S. Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP).

41. "Soyuz Gives Cosmonauts Little Control," Aviation Week & Space Technology, 21 Jan. 1974, p. 38; Theodore Shabad, "Soviet Puts Soyuz 12 with 2 Aboard, into Earth Orbit," New York Times, 28 Sept. 1973; James Oberg,"U.S.Soviet Space Flight," Los Angeles Times, 30 Sept. 1973; "Nas planetoi sovetskii kosmicheskii korabl v polete Soyuz-13" [Above the planet, Soviet space ship, in the flight of "Soyuz-13"] Izvestiya, 19 Dec. 1973; "V polete-Soyuz-13 [In flight-"Soyuz-13"], Pravda, 19 Dec. 1973; A. Pokrovskii, "Soyuz-13: Lydi i sudbi" ["Soyuz-13": people and fates], Pravda, 19 Dec. 1973; "Soyuz-13: Den Vtoroy" ["Soyuz-13": the second day], Pravda, 20 Dec. 1973; "Smooth Sailing for Companions in Orbit," Time, 31 Dec. 1973, p. 41; B. Komovalov, "Zdravstvei, zemlya!" [Hello, earth!], Izvestiya, 27 Dec. 1973; "Soviet Cosmonauts Link Up to Salyut 3," Newport Times Herald, 4 July 1974; "Cosmonauts Star on Moscow TV, Washington Star-News, 14 July 1974; Malcolm Browne, "Russian Crew Ready to Return to Earth," New York Times, 19 July 1974; and Kenneth W. Gatland, "Salyut 3: Soviets Still Catching Up," Christian Science Monitor, 22 July 1974.

42. Ezell, "Notes on 0745 Directors Tag-up Meeting," 17 Apr. 1974.

43. Robert G. Kaiser, "Cosmonauts in Orbit; First in Two Years," Washington Post, 28 Sept. 1973.

44. William Proxmire to James C. Fletcher, 3 Sept. 1974. Harold M. Schmeck, Jr., "Proxmire, Citing Failures, Asks Study of U.S.-Soviet Space Plan," New York Times, 6 Sept. 1974; Richard D. Lyons, "Failures Mark Russian Space Program," New York Times, 26 Sept. 1974; "Cosmonauts Down Early but at Least Safely," i, 1 Sept. 1974; "Soyuz Ends Flight; Salyut Linkup Fails," Aviation Week & Space Technology, 2 Sept. 1974, p. 23; Christopher S. Wren, "Soviet Astronauts Land Safely; Space Docking Apparently Fails," New York Times, 29 Aug. 1974; "Soyuz Ends Space Trip Early," Washington Post, 29 Aug. 1974; and Wren, "Two Soviet Astronauts in Good Health; First Night Landing Hailed in Moscow," New York Times, 30 Aug. 1974.

45. Lunney to Bushuyev, 3 Sept. 1974, enclosing "Minutes of the ASTP Telephone Conversation of August 27, 1974 [US Minutes]"; [Response to Query, HQ], "NASA's Reply to Proxmire Letter," 5 Sept. 1974; and Fletcher to Proxmire, 10 Sept. 1974.

46. "Summary of Results of the August-September 1974 Meeting of Specialists of the USA NASA and USSR Academy of Sciences on the Preparations for Conduct of the Test Flight of Apollo and Soyuz," 20 Sept. 1974, in "Apollo Soyuz Test Project Minutes of Joint Meeting, USSR Academy of Sciences and US National Aeronautics and Space Administration," 26 Aug.-20 Sept. 1974.

47. NASA Press Conference, JSC, "ASTP News Conference," 11 Sept. 1974.

48. NASA News Release, JSC, 74-272, "U.S. Tracking Soyuz 16," 3 Dec. 1974; "Minutes of the ASTP Telephone Conversation," 3 Dec. 1974; "Soyuz 16 Life Support Systems Operation," USSR WGS-035, 27 Jan. 1975; Elizabeth Pond, "Soviet Dress Rehearsal for U.S. Space Linkup," Christian Science Monitor, 3 Dec. 1974; Wren, "Soviet Orbits 2 in a Test for Joint Space Link-up," New York Times, 3 Dec. 1974; Soviets Orbit 2 Cosmonauts," Washington Post, 3 Dec. 1974; Wren, "Space Flight Test Pleases Soviet," New York Times, 8 Dec. 1974; A. Bessonov, "Provereno v kosmicheskom polete," Novoe Vremya, 13 Dec. 1974, pp. 6-7 (for translation, see the English version, "Tested in Space," New Times, Dec. 1974, pp. 6-7); and V. Lesnikov, "Polet Soyuz A-16, po sovmestnomu vapiantu" ["Soyuz-16," the joint version], Aviatsiya i Kosmonovtika (Jan. 1975), pp. 4-5.

49. "Minutes of Joint Meeting, USSR Academy of Sciences and US National Aeronautics and Space Administration," 26 Aug.-20 Sept. 1974.

50. Robert J. Shafer to John P. Donnelly, memo, "Advance Notification for Soyuz Launch," 7 Oct. 1974; and Shafer to Donnelly, memo, "Advance Notification for Soyuz Launch," 9 Oct. 1974.

51. TWX, Lunney to Bushuyev, 11 Oct. 1974; Gerald M. Truszynski to John F. Yardley, memo, "Procedure for Authorizing Tracking of Any ASTP Precursor Mission," 8 Nov. 1974; TWX, Lunney to Lee, "Tracking of Soyuz Flight," 8 Nov. 1974; and Yardley to Truszynski, memo, "Tracking of Soyuz Flight," 15 Nov. 1974.

52. Bushuyev to Lunney, 16 Dec. 1974, transmitting "Report on Telephone Exchanges during the Soyuz 16 Joint Tracking Experiment."

53. TWX, Lunney to Bushuyev, 11 Oct. 1974; "Minutes of Joint Meeting, USSR Academy of Sciences and US National Aeronautics and Space Administration," 20 Jan.-13 Feb. 1975; and "Soyuz 16 Life Support Systems Operation," USSR WGS-035, 27 Jan. 1975.

54. Transcription, report on Soyuz 16 by Bushuyev, 31 Jan. 1975.

55. Ibid.

56. White to Grimwood, memo, "Comments on E. C. Ezell's Draft Manuscript," 6 Jan. 1976.