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

 Chapter 1

The Years Before


[15] The predominant theme underlying the joint flight of Apollo and Soyuz was international cooperation in space exploration. After conducting separate and competitive programs for several years, the two major spacefaring nations embarked upon a collaborative effort to rendezvous and dock manned spacecraft in earth orbit. To understand why cooperation came slowly, the point and counterpoint of Soviet-American relations in the space age must be considered, because international relations and foreign policy decidedly influenced space programs.

For the study of geophysical questions of common international interest, man-made satellites had initially been promoted as valuable scientific instruments. But it soon became apparent that scientific endeavors could not easily cross national boundaries nor could science policy be separated from the realities of international politics. The technology that launched satellites could also deliver warheads. Thus, early proposals made in the name of scientific knowledge were frustrated by national interests and the demands for military security. From the beginning, the barriers to truly cooperative space projects seemed insurmountable. Before Apollo and Soyuz could fly together, the Americans and the Soviets had to seek out a rationale for cooperation.

Initial efforts to explore the new ocean of space developed as a result of the International Geophysical Year (IGY), a cooperative international program established to study a broad spectrum of scientific questions. The idea for an IGY, first suggested by a group of scientists gathered at the Silver Spring, Maryland, home of James Van Allen in the spring of 1950, grew rapidly in scope. Early discussions on the best way to obtain simultaneous measurements and observations of the earth and the upper atmosphere from a point above the earth had prompted Lloyd V. Berkner, head of the Brookhaven National Laboratory, to propose a re-creation of the International Polar Years (1882 and 1932), in which the scientists of many nations had studied a common topic - the nature of the polar regions. Berkner proposed shortening the interval between such programs to 25 years, to coincide with a period of maximum solar activity. [16] The European scientific community endorsed the concept through the International Council of Scientific Unions, but expanded the project to study the whole planet and renamed it the International Geophysical Year, which embodied an 18-month period of study from 1 July 1957 through 1958. Ultimately, scientists from 67 nations took part.1

Several participants believed that the IGY would be enhanced by using artificial satellites to gather geophysical and astrophysical data from above the atmosphere. In September 1954, Berkner, as President of the International Scientific Union and Vice President of the Comité speciale de l'année géophysique internationale (CSAGI), set up two informal committees to study the utility of a scientific program. These committees were chaired respectively by S. Fred Singer of the University of Maryland and Homer E. Newell, Jr., of the Naval Research Laboratory. From these deliberations came resolutions favoring the use of such satellites. Berkner then sought endorsement by CSAGI.

The Comité speciale included members of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. At first, the Soviets had not responded to the invitations, and when the May 1954 deadline for submitting proposals passed without a word from the Academy, there was concern that the Cold War climate would prevent any significant cooperation. Then on the eve of the IGY meetings in Rome, the Soviet embassy there announced that U.S.S.R. scientists would attend. But during the meetings that followed, the Soviet representatives were remarkably silent. They sat without comment through the discussion and approval of an American proposal for orbiting an artificial satellite.2

The resolution drafted by the Americans at the IGY meeting presented a bold challenge:

In view of the great importance of observations during extended periods of time of extra-terrestrial radiations and geophysical phenomena in the upper atmosphere, and in view of the advanced state of present rocket techniques, CSAGI recommends that thought be given to the launching of small satellite vehicles, to their scientific instrumentation, and to the new problems associated with satellite experiments, such as power supply, telemetering, and orientation of the vehicle.3

Two nations had the wealth and the technology to respond to this challenge, the United States and the Soviet Union. Berkner and his colleagues knew that more than scientific riches would result from the first successful flight of a man-made moon. Political and psychological prestige would also proceed from such an accomplishment.

The competition between the United States and the Soviet Union for international prestige was part of the Cold War between those countries. Their alliance to defeat the Axis powers in World War II had been in many ways an uneasy one. [17] With victory over the common enemy, they began to view each other with increasing apprehension and mistrust. Many in both countries decided that their respective ideologies were fundamentally incompatible and that, sooner or later, their countries would clash. This attitude fueled the flames of mistrust, as each side perceived hostility and threat in the other's behavior and responded in such a way as to reinforce the initial suspicions.4

In the resultant rivalry, technology, as translated into both industrial capacity and military hardware, became a major indicator of national prestige and power. Both the United States and the Soviet Union had emerged as victors from World War II because the industrial sector of their societies could provide troops in the field with the machines of war in quantities that German industry proved incapable of sustaining. Among the new weapons devised during that war, two would become critical in the postwar world. One was the atomic bomb developed by the United States; the other was the V-2 rocket created by Germany. The significance of the first atomic weapons was immediately apparent after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The implications of ballistic rockets were less clearly seen immediately following the war, since the V-2s had been less than perfect as military weapons. Nevertheless, both the United States and the Soviet Union developed rockets and nuclear weapons.

By the early months of 1955, the CSAGI proposal for IGY satellites was a topic of serious consideration by scientific and military leaders in America. Alan T. Waterman, director of the National Science Foundation, spearheaded the effort to convince President Dwight D. Eisenhower that the IGY satellite project should be pursued. The military services hesitated to engage in purely scientific investigations because of the expense; however, enthusiasm over the opportunity to participate did exist. A Department of Defense study supported the scientific satellite proposal as long as it did not hinder the development of military satellites or impede other military programs. Further, a Defense spokesman said, "the satellite itself and much of the information as to its orbit would be public information; the means of launching would be classified."5

While the discussion of an American satellite developed, the Soviets announced on 15 April 1955 that they had created a "permanent high-level, interdepartmental commission" within the U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences "for interplanetary communications." Moscow Radio announced on 26 April that the Soviet Academy of Sciences planned not only to launch a satellite but also to explore the moon by means of a remote-controlled vehicle. These statements fueled a growing belief within the Eisenhower administration that the Soviet Union was about to announce plans for an IGY satellite. At least one man in the administration, Nelson A. Rockefeller, [18] was concerned over the propaganda potential of such an announcement. Rockefeller, the President's special assistant, had reviewed the military comments on the proposed scientific satellite. He concluded that the project should be approved and announced before the Soviets made their statement:

I am impressed by the costly consequences of allowing the Russian initiative to outrun ours through an achievement that will symbolize scientific and technological advancement to people everywhere. The stake of prestige that is involved makes this a race we cannot afford to lose.6

The military comments, somewhat more cautious, noted that the "unmistakable relationship" of the IGY satellite "to intercontinental ballistic missile technology might have important repercussions on the political determination of free world countries to resist Communist threats." The Central Intelligence Agency reportedly was convinced in the spring of 1955 that the Soviet Union intended to be the first nation to orbit an IGY satellite. Implicit in these attitudes and statements is acceptance of competition between the United States and the Soviet Union in Space.7 On 29 July 1955, Presidential News Secretary James C. Hagerty officially announced that the United States would launch "small earth- circling satellites" as part of its participation in the IGY.

The announcement elicited an interesting response from the Soviets observing the sessions of the International Astronautical Congress in Copenhagen. Leonid Ivanovich Sedov, who headed the Commission on Interplanetary Communications, in a press conference held at the Soviet Legation in Copenhagen made the following comments on 2 August:

Recently in the U.S.S.R. much consideration has been given to research problems connected with the realization of interplanetary communications, particularly the problems of creating an artificial earth satellite. The practicability of technological artificial satellite projects is already well known to engineers, designers, and scientific workers engaged in or interested in rocket technology. In my opinion, it will be possible to launch an artificial earth satellite within the next two years, and there is a technological possibility of creating artificial satellites of various sizes and weights.

From a technical point of view, it is possible to create a satellite of larger dimensions than that reported in the newspapers which we had the opportunity of scanning today. The realization of the Soviet project can be expected in the comparatively near future. I won't take it upon myself to name the date more precisely.8

While this statement was reported in various ways in the American press, there was general agreement that this was an official announcement that the Soviets would indeed launch a satellite. The edited official version of Sedov's statement that appeared in Pravda was certainly more circumspect [19] than the reports in the Western press. Reaction among American scientists was mixed. Some were alarmed, others were disdainful, but the majority were more curious about Soviet plans than they were concerned that the first satellite would not be launched by the United States.9


Against this backdrop of ideological differences and technological competition, the orbiting of Sputnik 1 by Soviet technicians on 4 October 1957, followed a month later by Sputnik II with its canine passenger Laika - and its implications for manned space flight - assumed great significance. The Soviets had obtained a visible and indisputable technological first and had apparently developed a rocket technology that also could be used for military purposes. Americans not only perceived the technological challenge of this accomplishment but also saw the obvious meaning of this first earth satellite for prestige and military power. As their Soviet counterparts reaped political, military, and scientific returns from their new star, American leaders embarked upon a period of deep, worried self-examination. The obvious response to the Soviet feat was an intensification of the American program to launch a satellite and an increase in the tempo of military rocket research. Declared or not, a bilateral technological competition had begun in space exploration and military rocketry.10

At the beginning it was impossible to separate the military and civilian aspects of the new competition - a circumstance that would complicate later attempts to cooperate in space. Soviet satellites were launched on military rockets, as was the first American satellite. Before it was transformed into NASA and entrusted with the civilian portion of the American space...


Soviet Legation

At the Soviet Legation in Copenhagen, August 1955, interpreter Sannikov relays news from Professor K. F. Ogorodnikov and Academician L. I. Sedov who are seated next to him that the Soviet Union intends to launch an artificial earth satellite during the IGY (Associated Press photo).


[20] ....program, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) showed a tendency to lump the scientific and military aspects of space into the single package of Cold War competition. NACA's Special Committee on Space Technology surveyed the problem in the spring of 1958 and recommended an integrated program of development for long-range missiles and space vehicles, saying:

One of the prime objectives established in preparing this report was that of accomplishing a manned lunar landing in advance of the Soviets. Such an accomplishment would firmly establish Western technological supremacy and be of great psychological value. Due to the strategic location of the moon for space travel and warfare, an even greater and more permanent value would be derived by such a landing - that of claiming the moon for the United Nations of the Western World.

Clearly, the dominant theme was "to catch up with and ultimately surpass the Soviets in the race for leadership on this planet and for scientific and military supremacy in space."11

Ironically, the cooperative spirit of the IGY that had spawned projects to orbit satellites became overshadowed by the urge to either maintain the lead or surpass the leader in this new technological arena. Two conflicting goals thus emerged. First was the desire to establish national pre-eminence in science and technology, as an adjunct to the broader Cold War rivalry. Second was the wish to develop international ties through cooperative studies of the cosmos, as reflected by the aims of the IGY. To meet the Soviet challenge, the American government created a separate space agency, and the conflicting themes of competition and cooperation were present in the discussions that led to the creation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. While the establishment of a space agency was in large measure a response to the Soviet achievement in launching the first satellite, the fact that the new organization was under civilian leadership testified to the desire of President Eisenhower to avoid, if at all possible, an extension of the military aspects of Cold War into outer space. From the very beginnings of the American satellite project, Eisenhower had supported the position that space exploration should be undertaken for peaceful purposes only.12

Through the months of work by various executive and congressional groups, the drafting and redrafting of bills, and the inevitable compromising on and off the floor of Congress, the two potentially conflicting themes survived.13 The National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 opens with a declaration of policy that includes two specific purposes:

Sec. 102.
(c) (5) The preservation of the role of the United States as a leader in aeronautical and space science and technology . . . ;

(7) Cooperation by the United States with other nations and groups of nations. . . . 14

[21] Arnold Frutkin, who was given the responsibility of directing the International Programs office of NASA* in 1959, later commented on the dual challenge placed before the new agency:

While facing up to the grim reality of competition between the great powers, the Congress nevertheless elected to place some hope, if not faith, in the simultaneous practice of cooperation. . . . both courses of action - the competitive and the cooperative - were pursued simultaneously in the early years of the space age.

This parallel approach was entirely conscious. NASA's second Administrator, James E. Webb, said on more than one occasion that "space, like Janus, looks in two directions." As Frutkin perceived this complex process, "This was only part and parcel of the age old strategy of pursuing the battle vigorously while seeking and preparing for an armistice."15 NASA's Office of International Programs faced a unique and difficult task.

* See appendix A for the 29 Jan. 1959 NASA organization chart.

1. Constance McLaughlin Green and Milton Lomask, Vanguard: A History, NASA SP-4202 (Washington, 1970), pp. 19-20; interview, Lloyd V. Berkner-Jay Holmes, 4 June 1959, pp. 22-24 and 26; and Berkner obituary, New York Times, 5 June 1967. For a summary of the IGY, see Walter Sullivan, Assault on the Unknown: I.G.Y. (New York,1961); Hugh L. Dryden, "The International Geophysical Year: Man's Most Ambitious Study of His Environment," National Geographic Magazine 109 (Feb. 1956): 285-298; and Richard W. Porter, "International Cooperation in Space," in Astronautical Engineering and Science from Peenemunde to Planetary Space, Ernst Stuhlinger et al., ed. (New York, 1963), pp. 350-359.

2. Green and Lomask, Vanguard, pp. 22-23.

3. Ibid., p. 23.

4. Adam B. Ulam, The Rivals: America and Russia since World War II (New York, 1971), p. 382. Background on the differing interpretations of the Cold War and its origins can be found in Norman A. Graebner, ed., The Cold War: Ideological Conflict or Power Struggle? (Boston, 1963); Thomas G. Patterson, ed., The Origins of the Cold War (Lexington, Mass. [1970]); and Thomas G. Patterson, Soviet-American Confrontation: Post War Reconstruction and the Origins of the Cold War (Baltimore, 1974).

5. Green and Lomask, Vanguard, p. 33.

6. Ibid., pp. 31-32.

7. Richard S. Lewis, Appointment on the Moon (New York, 1969), p. 39; and Clifford C. Furnas, "Birthpangs of the First Satellite," Research Trends [Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory, Inc.] 18 (spring 1970): 15-18. Furnas, founder of Cornell Aeronautical Laboratories, was a member of the Ad Hoc Advisory Group on Special Capabilities, a euphemism for the satellite study committee established by the Department of Defense in May 1955. Other members of the committee were H. J. Stewart, R. R. McMath, C. Lauritsen, J. B. Rosser, R. W. Porter, G. H. Clement, and J. Kaplan.

8. "Mezhdunarodnii kongress astronavtov" [International congress of astronauts], Pravda, 5 Aug. 1955; a translated version of this Tass dispatch appears in F. J. Krieger, Behind the Sputniks: A Survey of Soviet Space Sciences (Washington, 1958), pp. 330-333.

9. Krieger, Behind the Sputniks, pp. 4-5, addresses the problem of interpreting Sedov's comments: "Although the White House announcement on July 29, 1955 - that the United States intended to launch an earth satellite sometime during the International Geophysical Year (1957-1958) - led to considerable speculation concerning the Soviet position and capability in this field of technology, the imperturbable Russians, as usual, did not commit themselves. . . .

A notable event occurred in the week following the White House announcement. The Sixth International Astronautical Congress sponsored by the International Astronautical Federation convened in Copenhagen, Denmark. It was notable because, unlike previous meetings, it was attended by two Soviet scientists, Academician L. I. Sedov, Chairman of the USSR Academy of Science's Interdepartmental Commission on Interplanetary Communications, and Professor K. F. Ogorodnikov of the department of astronomy at Leningrad State University. . . .

The Russians were observers at the Congress and did not participate in any formal discussion of the papers. Sedov, however, did hold a press conference on August 2 at the Soviet Legation in Copenhagen, but unfortunately some of the statements attributed to him were garbled in the Western press. Three days later, on August 5, Pravda published an official version of the press conference.

For a comparison, see New York Times, 3 Aug. 1955; New York Herald Tribune, 3 Aug. 1955; Green and Lomask, Vanguard, p. 39; Evgeny Riabchikov, Russians in Space (Garden City, N.Y., 1971), p. 142; and Frederick C. Durant, III, "Impressions of the Sixth Astronautics Congress," Jet Propulsion 25 (Dec. 1955): 738-739. Sedov's impressions of the Aeronautical Congress appeared in Pravda on 26 Sept. 1955 and are reprinted in Krieger, Behind the Sputniks, pp. 112-115. See also Leonid Ivanovich Sedov, "O poletakh v mirovoe prostranstvo" [On flights into world space], Pravda, 26 Sept. 1955, a translation of which appears in Krieger, Behind the Sputniks, pp. 112-115.

10. Vernon Van Dyke, Pride and Power: The Rationale of the Space Program (Urbana, Ill. 1963), pp. 5-38 and 267-276; and John M. Logsdon, The Decision to Go to the Moon: Project Apollo and the National Interest (Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1970), pp. 40-62. For an inside view of post-Sputnik Washington, see Oliver M. Gale, "Post-Sputnik Washington from an Inside Office," Cincinnati Historical Society Bulletin 31 (winter 1973): 225-252.

11. National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, Working Group on Vehicular Program, A National Integrated Missile and Space Vehicle Development Program (Washington, 1958), pp. 6-7. The background of the Stever Committee is presented in interview, H. Guyford Stever-Alex Roland and Eugene M. Emme, 4 Feb. 1974.

12. Loyd S. Swenson, Jr., James M. Grimwood, and Charles C. Alexander, This New Ocean: A History of Project Mercury, NASA SP-4201 (Washington, 1966); and interview, Gerald W. Siegel-Jay Holmes, 25 June 1968, which sheds light on the congressional scene. Siegel was counsel to the Preparedness Investigating Subcommittee and became the staff director of the Special Committee on Space and Aeronautics, which held the Senate hearings on the National Aeronautics and Space Act, May 1958. A longtime political adviser to Lyndon B. Johnson, he stresses the role the Senator from Texas played in the creation of a civilian space agency.

13. Robert L. Rosholt, An Administrative History of NASA, 1958-1963, NASA SP-4101 (Washington, 1966), pp. 8-13 and 34-36; Elisabeth A. Griffith, The National Aeronautics and Space Act: A Study in the Development of Public Policy (Washington, 1962); and Mary Stone Ambrose, "The National Space Program; Phase I: The Passage of the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958" (Masters thesis, American University, 1960).

14. Public Law 85-568, 72 Stat. 426.

15. Arnold W. Frutkin, International Cooperation in Space (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1965), p. 8.