The Partnership: A History of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project|
Mission to Moscow
 Between the spring
of 1969 and the fall of 1970, the Paine-Keldysh correspondence had
set the stage for serious discussions on developing compatible
equipment and flight procedures. Tom Paine thought that cooperation
in space was an important and timely idea and pushed for talks in
furtherance of that goal - and he got them. Paine's success with the
Soviet officials was vastly different from the experiences that had
spanned the preceding twelve years. In this instance, the spirit of
the past was definitely not the prologue.
Knowledge of the letters between the NASA
Administrator and the Soviet Academician had been shared by a limited
number of NASA people. As long as the communications were general and
exploratory, action was concentrated in the offices of the
Administrator and his Assistant for International Affairs. On 10 July
1970, however, President Nixon publicly confirmed his interest in
pursuing discussions of space cooperation, stating that negotiations
should be conducted at the technical agency level.1
Thus, when talks with the Soviets appeared likely, NASA Headquarters
geared up in preparation. Philip E. Culbertson's Advanced Manned
Missions Planning Group in the Office of Manned Space Flight (OMSF)
was one of the first to be drawn into the widening discussions,
having been assigned to consider the development of compatible
rendezvous and docking systems.
In mid-August, OMSF began to "work the
problem,"* an exercise in defining the technical considerations
that would be involved in any American-Soviet negotiations. Dale D.
Myers, Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight, sent a note
on 19 August to Culbertson, who in turn assigned Eldon W. Hall and
James Leroy Roberts of the Advanced Developments Office the primary
responsibility for coordinating this effort among Headquarters and
 After a 12-day
"quick look," Roberts submitted a draft report entitled
"International Cooperation in Space," which presented his initial
thoughts on developing joint systems. Roberts felt that the interest
expressed "by the Soviets for discussion leading to the possibility
of a common docking mechanism at space stations" came at an
appropriate time since NASA was getting into detailed hardware
discussions relating to the Space Shuttle (a reusable spacecraft) and
Space Station concepts.** While Roberts and others believed that the Soviets
might greatly benefit from an "open discussion of our system," they
argued that "regardless of the Soviet intentions for the proposed
discussions they should be pursued in depth."3
The Advanced Developments staff explored two
possible types of missions employing compatible docking equipment - a
rescue mission using either an Apollo or a Soyuz spacecraft to assist
a disabled vehicle of the opposite type, or a mission to test out
rendezvous and docking procedures. For several reasons, rescue
possibilities appeared to be limited to an Apollo retrieving the crew
of a crippled Soyuz. It would have been very difficult for the
Soviets to accommodate all three Americans aboard their spacecraft
unless they attempted an unmanned rendezvous with Apollo, and Soyuz
was essentially an earth orbital craft, while Apollo was designed for
lunar missions. Also, the opportunities during which Soyuz could
provide assistance were limited since the two spacecraft normally
flew in different orbital paths.*** Roberts concluded that "while a mission of this type
is not impossible it is highly improbable."
"With Apollo orbital and maneuvering
capabilities we could provide assistance" to Soyuz, assuming an
extravehicular transfer. Roberts went on to say that for NASA to
seriously consider an actual rescue backup to a Soyuz mission, the
Soviets would have to make their flight schedules and launch
parameters available well in advance so the American agency could
divert the necessary Apollo spacecraft and launch facilities in time
for the Soviet missions. Roberts pointed out that such an equipment
set-aside could also be used for an Apollo rescue, "thus negating
consideration of a Soyuz mission as a back up for
Space rescue was a far more complex and costly enterprise than it
first appeared. Once the two countries shifted from
 one-mission spacecraft to reusable craft such as the
Space Shuttle, space rescue would become a more feasible and
realistic topic for discussion.
While Roberts could see little justification
for developing a compatible docking capability simply to provide a
space rescue system, he did see some promise in applying a universal
docking system to Skylab or Space Station. With the creation of
standardized international hardware, it would be relatively easy for
the Soviets to conduct joint missions with American space
laboratories or vice versa. Roberts suggested further:
It is essential for any fruitful
discussion of common hardware to have a clear understanding of the
Soviet system of rendezvous and docking. There is a possibility that
our hardware may have to be modified to assist the Soviet spacecraft
in rendezvous operations. The system can be made to work but an
exchange of information by representatives as proposed is a necessary
step in that direction.
Looking to the immediate future and the
possibility of Soviet participation in Skylab, Roberts felt that it
was "not likely that arrangements can be made and hardware
requirements incorporated in time to meet the Skylab A mission." But
he was of the opinion that "there should be sufficient time . . . to
match the systems for later flights of Skylab and Space Station if
there is a genuine interest in doing so."5
Implicit in Roberts' comments were several
important "ifs." NASA could develop the necessary rendezvous and
docking systems if the Soviets were genuinely interested in
cooperation and if such participation could be integrated into NASA's
schedule for manned missions. OMSF was not likely to recommend
proposals that would seriously delay programs or adversely affect its
budget. Clearly, those responsible for planning would have preferred
to incorporate joint projects into future missions, thus giving them
the opportunity to plan more leisurely and still not lose the
opportunity to cooperate. Perhaps the Americans' biggest "if"
concerning cooperation lay in the uncertain future of manned space
flight in the post-Skylab era.
Culbertson responded to the Roberts memo with
some suggested changes. He thought it might be a good idea to break
the problem into three major areas - rendezvous, docking, and
transfer. "In each case a brief description of the difference in
technique and hardware (U.S.S.R. vs U.S.A.) could be given as
available from open literature." Then it would be possible, he wrote,
to describe solutions to these differences "in very brief fashion."
Culbertson also cautioned against making the topics under discussion
too complex. "I wouldn't use this memo as a mechanism for explaining
the further opportunities for international cooperation. Let's keep
it on one topic." He believed that one subject "should say something
about early (Apollo) implications and follow on possibilities."
Culbertson  added one final
caveat: "Let's also, in this memo, not question the U.S.S.R. motive.
Leave that for other discussion."6
Following Culbertson's suggested format,
Roberts sent memos to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC), the Manned
Spacecraft Center (MSC), and the Skylab, Space Station, and Shuttle
Offices at Headquarters. From Raymond J. Cerrato at KSC, he sought
information concerning the technical feasibility of a standby rescue
vehicle that could support Soviet space missions. Roberts especially
wanted information about the problems associated with making a Saturn
IB or Saturn V launch vehicle available for such an operation; for
example, the lead time required for launch once the Soviets advised
NASA of their intentions to conduct a manned flight.7
Queries to MSC were much broader in scope. Jack C. Heberlig and
Willard M. Taub were asked to provide answers to a number of
questions in Culbertson's three categories. Specifically, they were
requested to describe the known differences between American and
Soviet hardware and techniques and to suggest possible steps toward
eliminating those differences. The Office of Manned Space Flight that
first week in September was doing its homework.8
One of the first responses to OMSF came from
Skylab Program Director William C. Schneider. After taking "a fast
look at the proposition of entertaining distinguished visitors in
orbit," his Skylab office had concluded that "there doesn't seem to
be anything that says it can't be done," but "there sure is a potful
of things that would take a lot of joint planning. . . ." Schneider
felt that an on-time launch, rendezvous, docking, and EVA transfer
were all capabilities that had been proven within the Soviet and
American programs. On the other hand, he did see areas in which
considerable joint development would be necessary. We would need to
interconnect the ground systems for tracking, mission control, and
launch control, and develop a spacecraft-to-spacecraft voice
communications link. After listing ten other topics that would have
to be considered, Schneider said that his personnel would be glad to
go into the subject of a joint mission at greater depth when
While there was limited enthusiasm for a joint
flight in the Skylab Program Office, Paine on 4 September wrote a
letter to Keldysh in which he proposed a Soyuz rendezvous with
Skylab.10 NASA was still awaiting Keldysh's response to the
Administrator's earlier letter of 31 July, in which he had suggested
joint talks on compatible docking systems. Meanwhile, Leroy Roberts
was coordinating the collection of technical data, which no one was
certain would ever be used.
On 10 September, Roberts circulated a new
draft memorandum to Hall, Culbertson, and Charles W. "Chuck"
Mathews,**** which Roberts had prepared for Dale Myers' signature.
 Concentrating on the desirability of the Soviets
providing information on docking mechanisms that might be used in
future space stations, Roberts reported, "Soviet docking arrangements
as we know them have been reviewed . . . and fruitful discussions at
this time will be very helpful in defining design requirements for
hardware still to be built for the space station."11 Besides the work being conducted at MSC, North
American Rockwell and McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Corporation were
engaged in preliminary design studies of possible future docking
mechanisms. Since these concepts were still in the drawing stage, it
appeared to be an excellent time to obtain Soviet comments.
In addition to looking at future systems,
Roberts appended to his memo the MSC materials comparing existing
spacecraft. Will Taub,# one of the few NASA employees known to have followed
closely the evolution of Soviet spacecraft, had prepared a series of
sketches which compared the Soyuz and Apollo. These illustrations and
MSC-prepared briefing charts permitted Headquarters personnel to
develop a better understanding of the differences that existed
between the American and Soviet approaches to space flight. These
materials indicated that Soyuz was capable of either automatic or
manual rendezvous and docking using radar and attitude control system
responses from the target vehicle. The Soviet spacecraft could be
flown unmanned or with crews of one, two, or three. Normal crew
transfer from one Soyuz to another was an extravehicular maneuver, as
demonstrated by the January 1969 flight of Soyuz 4 and
5.12 Direct (internal) transfer would require modification
of the docking end of the orbital module.
By comparison, Apollo rendezvous and docking
maneuvers were conducted manually, not requiring target
participation. While the Apollo command module usually was operated
with a crew of three, that number could be reduced or the cabin
structurally modified to accommodate five astronauts. Transfer
between the command module and the lunar module was made through a
passageway between the two craft, the probe and drogue assembly
having been removed after docking. Although extravehicular transfer
was possible, it had not been a feature of Apollo missions. Another
significant difference between Soyuz and Apollo was the cabin
pressures. The Soviets continued to use a pressure equivalent to one
earth atmosphere, while the Americans still relied on their pure
oxygen environment at a much lower pressure. In the opinion of MSC
Four sketches by W. M. Taub
outlining Soviet and American spacecraft characteristics and possible
joint missions with existing spacecraft. Prepared in 1969 for G. M.
....none of the differences between the
spacecraft posed a significant barrier to a joint
Chuck Mathews passed Roberts' material along
to Dale Myers on 15 September. Since there still had been no response
from Keldysh, Mathews commented, "I hear that this item has cooled a
bit but I think it is still good to send this . . .
along."14 Myers signed the memo on the 17th and sent it to the
Administrator's office.15 OMSF and the Centers had investigated three possible
types of cooperative missions - Apollo-Soyuz, Soyuz-Skylab, or future
American-future Soviet spacecraft. Now the question remained as to
the value of the exercise. When would the Soviets respond? What would
Acting Administrator George Low received a
letter from Academician Keldysh on 23 September that brought an end
to the suspense. Keldysh...
Artist's conception of
extravehicular transfer as prepared in 1969 by W. M. Taub at the
Manned Spacecraft Center.
....suggested that either October or late
November would be a suitable time for the first talks, and he
proposed that they be held in Moscow.16 Since President Nixon had given NASA the go-ahead to
develop discussion with the Soviet Union, Low responded to Keldysh on
the 25th, accepting the invitation and Suggesting a meeting a month
During the next several weeks, OMSF
concentrated on preparing an agenda for the upcoming talks. On 23
September, Mathews, Hall, and Roberts met with Oscar E. Anderson,
Jr., of the International Affairs Office to discuss the agenda and
delegation for the Moscow trip. As the plans for the meeting went
through several drafts, Low and Myers met to decide upon a suitable
chief for the American group.18 Since Low felt it was premature for the head of NASA
to go to the Soviet Union, he selected Robert Gilruth, Director of
MSC, because of his technical background and common-sense approach to
Low and Myers asked Gilruth to select the
necessary technical specialists to complete the delegation. From MSC,
Gilruth chose Caldwell Johnson and Glynn Lunney. Gilruth took only
two men from Houston, because he felt that a small delegation would
have a better chance for success. Since he wanted men with a breadth
of knowledge, Johnson and Lunney were the obvious choices. Johnson,
"a very, very talented  mechanical
designer," could discuss the mechanical and electrical questions
associated with developing a compatible docking system. Lunney, "an
expert flight controller," had the necessary background in orbital
mechanics and mathematics to discuss the mission planning aspects of
a joint flight. In an effort to include the Marshall Space Flight
Center in the talks, Gilruth called Director Eberhard Rees at
Huntsville, Alabama, and asked him to nominate one person who could
talk about Skylab. Rees recommended George B. Hardy, Chief of Program
Engineering and Integration for Skylab, who by virtue of his position
had a broad understanding of the program. Arnold Frutkin, Assistant
Administrator for International Affairs, represented Headquarters.
William Krimer, an interpreter from the State Department, completed
the six-man delegation.20
The news that they were going to Moscow came
as a surprise to Johnson, Lunney, and Hardy. Lunney was presenting a
speech on 7 October to the 1970 National Airport Conference in
Oklahoma when he got the call telling him that he was going to the
Soviet Union. "For me it was out of the clear blue sky. I did not
know anything about [the proposed talks] until that time." These
three specialists met with Gilruth on the 9th to discuss the nature
of their presentations to the Soviets. They would seek to provide
their counterpart specialists with enough information to give them a
common basis for further discussions, but not so much as to overwhelm
the Soviets or to encourage comments at home that they were giving
away too much.21 In Washington, Frutkin's staff was preparing a
briefing to inform the press about the mission to Moscow.
The head of the International Office met the
press at NASA Headquarters in mid-October and summarized the
background to the talks. He explained that the emphasis on compatible
docking systems just happened to be the specific American proposal to
which the Soviets had responded affirmatively.22
It is simply that the Soviets have
chosen out of this long list of initiatives from the U.S. side this
one case to explore in some depth at this time. It could have been
something else. This one seems to be more meaningful to them.
So just as I say we regard it as important,
presumably also they regard it as important.
Frutkin took care to point out the very
preliminary nature of the talks and to make certain that his
questioners did not make too much of the space rescue capabilities
inherent in the development of compatible docking systems. But
reporters were especially interested in that aspect of the story
because of announcements at the 21st IAF Congress in Konstanz,
Germany, that the United States and Soviet Union had agreed to
sponsor a space-rescue symposium.23  Frutkin cautioned
that the IAF proposal was purely coincidental:
When you see a release out of
Konstanz that says the Soviet Union and the United States have agreed
to a symposium of that sort, this is simply a shorthand way of saying
that some individuals from the United States who are interested in
space rescue on a professional basis are going to meet with some
individuals from the Soviet Union who are interested in the same
subject, and talk about this matter, just as they talk about a lot of
other things. But there is no correspondence between their private
professional discussions and our governmental official discussions,
there is no relationship whatever.24
Despite Frutkin's statements about the nature
of the discussions, the reporters still pressed him for a prediction
on the earliest date that a joint mission might occur. The NASA
representative responded that it was just too early to make such
statements, but that Skylab was likely to be the first occasion. "We
don't know how long - we don't know what the pace of our discussions
is going to be." Reflecting on his experiences in negotiating with
the Soviets, Frutkin said that such talks tended to progress slowly.
He conceded that the question of timing was "very difficult to
answer. . . ."25 While the reporters went off to file their
speculations about the future, Frutkin and his colleagues conducted a
dress rehearsal of their presentations.26
Gilruth, Lunney, Johnson, and Hardy flew to
Washington for the "dry-run" on 16 October. Johnson recalled that the
Headquarters staff, especially George Low, seemed to be interested in
the type of presentation that each man planned to make. Low appeared
to be particularly curious about the extent to which each man could
vary his approach and think on his feet. Since so little was known
about what the Soviets wanted to discuss, it was very likely that
each man would have to sense out his audience as he spoke. The key to
success might lie with a flexibility of mind and ability to react
quickly to whatever direction the discussions might take. During the
two-hour meeting, the five men were also briefed by representatives
from the State Department, the Department of Defense, and the
* Working the problem, a
commonly used phrase in NASA, has descriptive significance beyond the
convenience of jargon; it means the analysis of systems and the
manner in which they impinge or "interface" with one another. By
laying out all possible factors on paper, the NASA managers and
engineers can begin to see more clearly the nature of a given task.
"Working the problem" is shorthand for the NASA approach to
understanding technological relationships.
** Space Shuttle and
Space Station were advanced programs in 1970. By the time of ASTP,
Shuttle had advanced into the mockup stage. Space Station was
terminated in 1972 because of cuts in NASA's budget.
*** The problems of the
Apollo 13 flight in April 1970 were still fresh in the minds of
NASA planners. At 56 hours into the mission, a service module oxygen
tank had burst, forcing the cancellation of the lunar landing and
emergency planning for the return trip. The spacecraft had to
continue on, swing around the moon, and travel back to earth. A
rescue capability limited to an earth orbit would have been of little
assistance in this kind of emergency. Later, in the Skylab era, Soyuz
might be capable of rendering aid in the event of trouble.
**** Mathews was Deputy
Associate Administrator of OMSF and acting Space Station Task Force
# While many persons
within NASA had followed the Soviet space program over the years,
they had not concentrated sufficiently on technical details to
develop an in-depth knowledge of the hardware. Taub had made an
avocation of this subject and became especially useful in this early
1. Donald R. Morris to
George M. Low, memo, 21 Sept. 1970.
2. Dale D. Myers to
Philip E. Culbertson, note, 19 Aug. 1970.
3. Leroy Roberts to
Eldon W. Hall, memo, "US/USSR Space Cooperation," 31 Aug. 1970; and
Roberts, "International Cooperation in Space," 31 Aug. 1970.
4. Roberts to Hall,
memo, 31 Aug. 1970.
6. Culbertson to Hall,
note, Aug. 1970.
7. Roberts to R.
Cerrato, memo, "Cooperative Space Activity," 3 Sept. 1970; and
Roberts to Douglas R. Lord, William D. Green, Jr., and Richard J.
Allen, "Cooperative Space Activity," 4 Sept. 1970.
8. Roberts to Jack C.
Heberlig and Willard M. Taub, memo, "Cooperative Space Activities," 3
Sept. 1970. Background correspondence between Paine and Keldysh had
been transmitted to Heberlig by Roberts on 26 Aug. 1970.
9. William C. Schneider
to Myers, memo, "International Cooperation in the Skylab Program," 4
10. Thomas O. Paine to
Mstislav Vsevolodovich Keldysh, 4 Sept.1970; and Paine to Keldysh, 31
11. Myers to Paine,
memo, draft (prepared by Roberts), "US/USSR Space Cooperation," 10
Sept. 1970; and Lord to Roberts, memo, "Feasibility of Compatible US
and USSR Docking Systems," 14 Sept. 1970.
12. "Station No. 1,"
Newsweek, 27 Jan. 1969, pp. 93-94. This article was passed
around within OMSF, because it described the differences between
Soviet and American spacecraft.
13. Myers to Paine,
memo, draft, 10 Sept. 1970, with enclosures.
14. Charles W. Mathews
to Myers, note, 15 Sept. 1970.
15. Myers to Low, memo,
"US/USSR Space Cooperation," 17 Sept. 1970.
16. Keldysh to Paine, 11
Sept. 1970; Keldysh to Philip Handler, 10 Sept. 1970; and Lord to
Low, memo, 21 Sept. 1970.
17. Low to Keldysh, 25
18. Roberts, note for
record [handwritten chronology of events, n.d.] ; Mathews to Arnold
W. Frutkin, memo, "Suggested Agenda Items," 24 Sept. 1970; and
interview, Low-Edward C. Ezell, 30 Apr. 1975.
19. Myers to Frutkin,
memo, "OMSF Participation in International Meeting," 5 Oct. 1970; and
Mathews to Hall, note, 5 Oct. 1970.
20. Interview, Robert R.
Gilruth-Ezell, 25 Mar. 1975; and Mathews to Frutkin, memo, "US/USSR
Space Cooperation," 9 Oct. 1970.
21. Interview, Glynn S.
Lunney-Ezell, 23 July 1974; interview, Caldwell C. Johnson-Ezell, 27
Mar. 1975; and interview (via telephone), George B. Hardy-Ezell, 4
22. NASA News Release,
HQ [unnumbered] , "Background Press Briefings; U.S. and USSR
Cooperation in Space," 13 Oct. 1970, p. 5; and NASA News Release, HQ,
70-173, "U.S.-Soviet Meeting," 12 Oct. 1970.
23. Walter Sullivan,
"U.S.-Soviet Space Docking Is Said To Be under Study,"
New York Times, 8 Oct. 1970; "Russians to Join Talks on Space Rescue
Plan," Washington Evening
Star, 8 Oct. 1970; and Howard
Benedict, "Joint Space Rescue Symposium Slated," Denver Post, 8 Oct.
1970. Space rescue was a subject of considerable interest in the late
1960s, as exemplified by R. Cargill Hall in "Rescue and Return of
Astronauts on Earth and in Outer Space," American Journal of International Law 63 (Apr. 1969): 197-210. Hall points out the need for
hardware compatibility (p. 208).
24. NASA News Release,
"Background Press Briefings; U.S. and USSR Cooperation in Space," 13
Oct. 1970, p. 6.
25. Ibid., pp.
26. For the press
comment, see Albert Sehlstedt, Jr., "U.S., Soviet to Meet on Space,"
Baltimore Sun, 13 Oct. 1970; John Noble Wilford, "5 NASA Officials
to Visit Moscow," New York
Times, 13 Oct. 1970; "Space Linkup Far
in Future," Washington
Post, 14 Oct. 1970; "NASA to Discuss
Docking with Russians," Washington
Evening Star, 14 Oct. 1970;
"Co-operation in Space," Houston
Post, 14 Oct. 1970; and D. J. R.
Bruckner, "Space Efforts Could Take Giant Leap through International
Cooperation," Los Angeles
Times, 16 Oct. 1970.
Gilruth-Ezell, 25 Mar. 1975; and interview, Johnson-Ezell, 27 Mar.