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

 Soyuz - Development of the Space Station;

Apollo - Voyage to the Moon


Less than two weeks after the splashdown of Gemini XII, on 28 November 1966, the Soviets launched Cosmos 133, an unmanned test of their new manned spacecraft - Soyuz. In the 18 months between the last flight of Voskhod and the first unmanned test of Soyuz, the Soviet space program had lost three important advocates. Premier Khrushchev had stepped down from his post on 14 October 1964, the day following the return of Voskhod I; L. A. Voskresensky, Korolev's top assistant, had died on 15 December 1965 after preparing Voskhod II for flight; and a month later the Chief Designer himself was dead.49 While the new Soviet leaders reviewed the competitive space program they had inherited from Khrushchev, the space design group continued the development of Soyuz.

Two elements appear to have slowed the initial pace of the Soyuz project. Soviet engineers needed time to perfect a new upper stage for their basic launch vehicle to provide sufficient power to boost the heavier Soyuz into orbit, and the political requirements to launch a multi-manned Voskhod after Vostok had diverted them. By the end of 1966, the Soviets resolved their various design questions and launched a series of four Cosmos precursor flights that led to the 23 April 1967 launch of Soyuz 1.* That new spacecraft was designed to exploit knowledge gained in earlier flights, permitting extended missions that would allow Soviet specialists to gather additional...



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Artist's conception of Soyuz interior as prepared in 1969 by W. M. Taub at the Manned Spacecraft Center.


...data on man in space and to investigate the problems of rendezvous and docking. According to the Soviets, the basic purpose of these Soyuz missions was the development of an earth-orbiting space station; others speculated that Soyuz was their entry into the competition to reach the moon.50

Work on Soyuz combined elements both old and new. The spacecraft consisted of three major components - the cosmonauts' cabin (descent vehicle), occupied during the launch and reentry phases of the flight; an orbital module, partitioned from the descent vehicle by an airtight hatch; and an instrument assembly module. The descent vehicle had evolved from the earlier Vostok and Voskhod spheres but was fitted with a new heatshield which gave the cabin a bell-shaped external appearance. Unlike its predecessors, Soyuz was designed to have stabilized and controlled reentry.

Various equipment and apparatus for spacecraft control, communication and life support systems are installed in the cosmonauts' cabin. The main and reserve parachute systems are located in special containers. The spacecraft control console, on which are mounted the instruments for monitoring the operation of systems and assemblies, navigation equipment, a television screen and switches for controlling the onboard systems are installed directly in front of him. Lateral auxiliary consoles, for example, the console for [89] medical monitoring of the state of the cosmonauts . . . are arranged alongside the center console. An optical sighting device - a navigation device - is installed in a special porthole.51

The Soviet design team retained the form-fitting couches and equipped the descent vehicle with landing rockets located beneath the heatshield, which was jettisoned shortly before touchdown.

Nearly spherical in shape, the orbital module was designed to house equipment for scientific experiments and serve as an airlock for extravehicular activity. The crew would eat, rest, and sleep here. Television, movie, and still photography cameras, along with food, medicine, and personal hygiene gear were stowed in the orbital compartment, which also had an oxygen generation system typical of those used in earlier Soviet spacecraft.52

The cylindrical instrument module housed the two 3.9-kilonewton (880-pound-of-thrust) spacecraft engines, the attitude control thrusters, and onboard equipment that otherwise would have cluttered the interior of the spacecraft. In the pressurized portion of this compartment were the temperature controls for the cabins, the radio and telemetry transmitters, and the attitude control system. A set of solar panels attached to the instrument equipment section provided electrical power during the mission. Protected by a shroud at launch, these panels unfolded once the craft reached orbit. The radio and radar antennas, also folded at launch, deployed subsequently.53

Soyuz 1, a test mission, was flown with a crew of one, Vladimir Komarov. This initial mission was fraught with trouble and ended in disaster. The first indication of problems came on the second day of flight, 24 April...

Yuri Gargarin and Vladimir Komarov

Soviet space pioneers Yuri Gagarin and Vladimir Komarov, on the eve of the latter's ill-fated flight aboard Soyuz 1 (Soviet Academy of Sciences photo).


[90] ...1967, when the spacecraft began to tumble during the 15th and 16th revolutions. Komarov experienced difficulty in bringing his ship under control and found that he was expending far more control fuel than was desirable. As with Voskhod II, the automatic orientation system did not function properly, and after communicating with ground control, a process that was impaired by the tumbling, Komarov decided to attempt a manual landing during the 17th orbit. He was unable to obtain the proper orientation for retrofire and went into the next orbit, where he succeeded in bringing his craft under control. He jettisoned the orbital and instrument assembly modules and fired the retroengines at the proper moment, but the Soyuz reentry vehicle continued to revolve about its axis. This motion caused the shroud lines to become entangled when he attempted to deploy the parachute at 70,000 meters. With no parachute, the descent vehicle crashed to earth at a velocity of 450 kilometers per hour. At 6:15 a.m. Vladimir Mikhailovich Komarov was dead.54

The loss of a cosmonaut on his return from space struck sorrow in hearts around the globe. President Johnson and Vice President Humphrey expressed their sadness at the loss of "this distinguished space pioneer." Just three months earlier on 27 January 1967, American astronauts Gus Grissom, Edward White, and Roger B. Chaffee had perished when fire swept through their Apollo spacecraft (Apollo 204) as it underwent tests at KSC. NASA Administrator Webb, in voicing his regret at the Soviet loss, suggested that Komarov's death and those of the Apollo astronauts indicated the need for closer cooperation between the two space programs. "Could the lives already lost have been saved if we had known each other's hopes, aspirations and plans? Or could they have been saved if full cooperation had been the order of the day?"55 But the competitive motivation behind manned space flight still outweighed the desire to cooperate. While a Special State Commission investigated the Soyuz mishap, NASA and American aerospace industries were implementing the recommendations and changes contained in the report of the Apollo 204 Review Board.56

Apollo design and development had progressed with reasonable speed since the first consideration of that project in 1959. After 16 months of preliminary study and work, Robert Gilruth on 1 September 1960 called for the creation of an Apollo Projects Office which would have the responsibility of defining the spacecraft configuration. This office became a subordinate part of Max Faget's Flight Systems Division and was headed by Robert O. Piland. Building upon earlier discussions, the initial work began. The command-center module became the crew quarters for all phases of the mission, and the propulsion module held all redundant and orbital maneuvering systems. Willard M. Taub, working for Caldwell Johnson, took all these ground rules [91] and prepared a set of rough sketches of the command module, and by the end of October he had evolved a fairly detailed layout of the crew quarters.57 All of this work preceded the first manned flights of Project Mercury and the conception of Project Gemini.

Concurrent with in-house design efforts, NASA awarded contracts to three aerospace companies to conduct independent feasibility studies for an advanced manned spacecraft, but it was the work conducted by Taub for Johnson which survived. The General Electric D-2 reentry vehicle proposal bears remarkable external similarity to the Soyuz descent module.

As NASA and industry specialists worked to define the Apollo spacecraft, President Kennedy on 25 May 1961 established manned lunar landing as the primary American goal in space. NASA had not yet issued spacecraft specifications, selected a spacecraft contractor, chosen a family of launch vehicles, or settled the question of direct ascent versus a form of orbital rendezvous for the moon voyage. During the next 18 months, several key decisions gave Apollo more form and direction. On 9 August 1961, NASA selected the Instrument Laboratory of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to develop the guidance and navigation equipment. At the end of November, following formal presentations by potential spacecraft contractors, North American Aviation, Inc., was selected as prime contractor for the command and service modules. In January 1962, the Saturn C-5 was chosen as the Apollo launch vehicle. Then on 11 July 1962, NASA announced at a press conference in Washington that lunar orbit rendezvous had been approved as the mission mode.** Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation had already begun development of the third Apollo craft - the lunar excursion module.58

As it evolved through the processes of conceptualization, design, and development, the Apollo spacecraft was composed of two parts, the command and service modules. Called CM for short, the command module was a multipurpose space cabin internally organized to function as a combined cockpit, office, laboratory, communications center, galley, sleeping quarters, and personal hygiene center. It was constructed with an inner pressure shell to provide structural and environmental integrity and an outer wrap-around heatshield for thermal and radiation protection during flight and reentry. This form of construction yielded maximum strength for minimum weight (5,450 kilograms). Conical in shape, the CM was 3.23 meters high and 3.91 meters at the base. The service module (SM), which had an overall length of 7.54 meters and a launch weight of 23,950 kilograms, contained the main...



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Early conceptual drawing of Apollo cabin interior sketched by C C. Johnson.

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Couch suspension system inside the Apollo command module.


...spacecraft propulsion system, reaction control system, and most of the spacecraft consumables (oxygen, water, propellants, and hydrogen). Work on both the spacecraft and the launch vehicle during the years 1962-1966 progressed at a pace that permitted the first manned Apollo flight to be scheduled for 21 February 1967. These plans were altered, however, when the flash fire occurred that year.



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Diagrammatic views of the internal construction of the Apollo command module.


* The unmanned Cosmos flights are summarized in appendix B.

** This decision climaxed one of the most extensive and intensive studies ever conducted by NASA. The final decision was based on the conclusion that lunar orbit rendezvous was more desirable from the standpoint of meeting the proposed schedule, budget, and mission goals.

49. Vladimirov, The Russian Space Bluff, pp. 136-137, 140-141, and 145.

50. The "moon" or "space race" has been a topic of continuing debate and a subject of considerable speculation. A sample of views are included here in the absence of a definitive Soviet statement. The Novosti Press book by Riabchikov, Russians in Space (1971), does not address the space race question but indicates that the Soviets were concentrating on earth-orbital missions that would lead to the development of a space station. This thesis is reemphasized in the 1973 edition of Smolders, Soviets in Space. The Soviet emigre Vladimirov wrote The Russian Space Bluff to argue that the limited technical capability of the Soviet space program could not have possibly sent men to the moon and that the whole program was inspired by Khrushchev's desire to gain a propaganda advantage over the U.S. Nicholas Danilov in The Kremlin and the Cosmos (New York, 1972) suggests that after Khrushchev's ouster there was a retreat from the competitive posture and that the Soviet leadership opted instead for a two-part space program - automatic spacecraft for lunar and planetary exploration (Luna and Venera probes) and manned earth orbital missions (Soyuz and Salyut).

51. A. Yu. Dmitriyev et al., Ot komieheskikh korabley-k orbitalnymn stantsiyam, 2nd ed. (Moscow, 1961), pp. 24-25, (available in translation as From Spaceships to Orbiting Stations, NASA Technical Translation F-812); and interview, Faget-Ertel and Grimwood, 15 Dec. 1969. Faget commented that:

One of the things we kind of set as a policy in all our design studies was adequate amount of volume inside the command module. About this time one of the other things that was being studied was the possibility of a two compartment vehicle. . . . Now in order to have enough volume, of course, they had to make the thing bigger which meant we had to carry along a lot of extra heat protection systems, so it seemed a very attractive thing to do to divide that volume in two pieces and we had for a long while a command module and a mission module, the mission module being where everybody was supposed to do their business. This started off to be a very attractive idea but as we went through their studies it became clear that less and less things were going on in that mission module, and every thing that was vital for one reason or another . . . also was vital during entry so you either did it twice, once in the mission module and again in the command module, or you did it once in the command module. So it seems that the mission module was turning out to provide nothing but extra room. There were no systems and no particular activity that anyone really wanted to carry out in the mission module other than to stretch out and perhaps get a little sleep. The consequence of this was that it didn't look like it was worthwhile to have a mission module. So in the final analysis we ended up with a single cabin version. You might have noticed that the Russians ended up going into something very close to our two-compartment vehicle that we were considering at that time. I don't know where they got their ideas, but it might have been from us because we made no secret of these considerations.

52. Dmitriyev et al., Ot komicheskikh, p. 26.

53. Ibid., pp. 26-28; and Smolders, Soviets in Space, pp. 151 and 154-155.

54. Smolders, Soviets in Space, pp. 157-159.

55. Memo, Julian Scheer to HQ Program and Staff Offices, 24 Apr. 1967; and NASA News Release, HQ [unnumbered], "Russian Accident Statement," 24 Apr. 1967.

56. Smolders, Soviets in Space, p. 160: and NASA, Apollo 204 Review Board, "Report of Apollo 204 Review Board to the Administrator, National Aeronautics and Space Administration," 5 Apr. 1967. Uri Marinin, "Where Does Danger Lurk?" Space World D-5-41 (May 1967): 43-44, presents a Soviet commentary on the Apollo 204 fire and the dangers inherent in a 100-percent oxygen system.

57. The details of the Apollo spacecraft story will be documented in Courtney G. Brooks, Grimwood, and Swenson, "Chariots for Apollo: A History of Manned Lunar Spacecraft" in process. Until that official history is available, there are four very useful chronologies: Ertel and Mary Louise Morse, The Apollo Spacecraft: A Chronology, Volume I, through November 7, 1962, NASA SP-4009 (Washington, 1969); Morse and Jean Kernahan Bays, The Apollo Spacecraft: A Chronology, Volume II, November 8, 1962-September 30, 1964, NASA SP-4009 (Washington, 1973); Ertel and Brooks, The Apollo Spacecraft: A Chronology, Volume III, October 1, 1964-January 20, 1966, NASA SP-4009; and Ertel and Roland W. Newkirk, with Brooks, The Apollo Spacecraft: A Chronology, Volume IV, January 21, 1966-March 4, 1974, NASA SP-4009.

58. Ertel and Morse, Apollo Chronology, Vol. I, pp. 106, 128, 135, and 168; and Morse and Bays, Apollo Chronology, Vol. II, p. 5.