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

Welcome to Houston

A 19-man delegation arrived at Houston's Intercontinental Airport at 8:30 on Sunday evening, the 20th, in very good spirits, basking in the [140] reflected glory of their space station, which the Soyuz 11 crew had manned on 7 June. A NASA party led by Gilruth met the Soviets and accompanied them on their hour-long ride south to the Kings Inn near MSC. Leroy Roberts, who was representing the Office of Manned Space Flight, recorded at the time that it was evident from the beginning that the Soviets had come with the intention of "getting down to business and getting as much accomplished as possible." They were particularly eager to get NASA's comments on the technical materials that they had transmitted to the U.S. in March.38

Soviets visit Houston, 21-25 June 1971

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Touring the Manned Spacecraft Center, Astronaut J. W. Young (right) and Soviet docking specialist V. S. Syromyatnikov discuss the inside of the Apollo docking tunnel (above), assisted by Yu. P. Khomanko, Soviet interpreter.

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Don Wade (left) answers questions from V. S. Syromyatnikov and V. Zhivoglotov inspecting the Apollo docking probe.

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Boris Petrov, head of the Soviet delegation, gets a close look inside the Apollo command module simulator, while Robert Gilruth, MSC Director, explains.

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At left, from his ninth floor office, Robert Gilruth points out features of the Manned Spacecraft Center to B. N. Petrov (right). Partially obscured behind Petrov is Christopher C. Kraft, MSC Deputy Director.

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The Americans (left) and the Soviets discuss agendas for the joint Working Group meetings.

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Working Group 2 takes time out for sightseeing in Houston.

Monday morning was set aside for general introductory remarks by Gilruth and Petrov and for planning the week's activities. The MSC team had prepared a booklet in English and Russian that outlined the tentative schedule both business and social for the five-day visit. The Soviets requested only one minor change, to switch the summary presentations from Tuesday morning to that afternoon. That change would give them the morning to review the comments on their technical materials and to read the additional papers given them by the Americans.39

Monday afternoon was spent touring the center, with the press in tow taking pictures and watching the Soviets. Astronauts Fred W. Haise, Jr., Thomas K. Mattingly, and John W. Young assisted with the tour, which included the Visitor Orientation Center, the Mission Simulation and Training Facility, the Space Environment Simulation Laboratory, Mission Control, and the Flight Acceleration Facility. The Soviet visitors spent much of the afternoon at the Apollo simulator facility asking questions and taking turns performing simulated docking operations. They were also very interested in the display of Apollo docking hardware, and the Americans gave their guests an explanation of the equipment and its operation. Likewise, at Mission Control all of the Soviet questions concerning the staffing and operation of the center during missions were answered. A full day of activities was topped by a seafood dinner at Jimmie Walker's Restaurant on the Galveston Bay waterfront.

Since private consultations were scheduled for Tuesday morning, the U.S.S.R. delegation stayed at the Inn, studying the documentation NASA had prepared for its members. Meanwhile, the American Working Group members met with Gilruth to discuss for one final time the summary presentation that they were going to deliver to the entire Soviet delegation. Gilruth urged his chairmen to be flexible in their negotiating stance without yielding unnecessarily on essential points. The Americans and Soviets gathered in Room 966 of the Project Management Building shortly after lunch.40

Caldwell Johnson spoke for the American side and outlined the minimum requirements necessary for rendezvousing and docking U.S. space [142] vehicles for example, the ability of one spacecraft to locate another in orbit, the status of control systems at the time of docking, and internal and external crew transfer. These requirements were, in other words, the ground rules for conducting manned rendezvous and docking, and the ever-present key element was crew safety. After talking about the design features of the American docking system and environmental control systems, Johnson listed a number of features that would have to be standardized before a joint mission could be undertaken.41

Petrov then spoke for the Soviets. He said that his specialists had read the documents given to them upon their arrival, and while they had some specific questions, he felt that both sides were in basic agreement on how to approach a joint mission. He then turned to his Working Group leaders, who discussed the topics related to their specialty. Valentin Nikolayevich Bobkov of Working Group 1 (responsible for rendezvous methods and overall compatibility) saw only two major topics that would require further discussion the size of the hatch opening and the question of pre-breathing. Of these two, he expected that the hatch question was the one that would take some lengthy negotiation.42

The issue over the diameter of the transfer tunnel and hatch was indicative of the minor problems that could develop when the two sides failed to understand each other's thinking fully. NASA, in discussing future systems, had proposed the adoption of a 1.5-meter diameter for hatches and tunnels, which would permit easier transfer between spacecraft than had been experienced with the 0.8-meter tunnel used in Apollo. The Soviets, for reasons unknown to the MSC group, wanted to retain the 0.8-meter size. Only with the passage of time and many conversations would the question be resolved. For the June meeting, this would remain an unclear and unanswered problem.

Speaking for the Soviet guidance specialists assigned to the second Working Group, Viktor Pavlovich Legostayev said that there were virtually no differences in the two groups' approaches. Indeed, they expected to reach an early agreement in writing. The only difficulties came from the different terminology the two countries used, and they hoped to resolve that with relative ease. Legostayev suggested that this Working Group be divided into three subgroups to work on radio, optical, and target systems.

Syromyatnikov, the Soviet leader for Working Group 3, was equally optimistic in his predictions. Docking hardware terminology seemed to pose few problems, and Syromyatnikov and Caldwell Johnson seemed to agree on the approach to be taken in studying the technical considerations posed by mating two spacecraft.

These comments were followed by another statement by Academician Petrov, who said that considerable thought had been given to the [143] Apollo-Soyuz test flight that the United States had proposed. However, the Soviet Academy thought that the simple drogue-in-cone approach was not very productive. Clarke Covington remembered Petrov's reasoning - it was a dead end, with no application to future spacecraft. Petrov felt that such a flight would be considered a "space stunt"; instead, he suggested a test mission with a universal docking mechanism. The alternatives were Apollo docking with Salyut/Soyuz or Soyuz with Skylab/Apollo. Caldwell Johnson was surprised that the Soviets wanted to go ahead immediately and study the development of a universal docking mechanism. But he was pleased by the Soviets' apparent desire to attempt in the near future a joint mission that would create hardware with long-term utility.43

With opening remarks out of the way and agreement reached on Working Group agendas, the three teams assembled in their respective conference rooms to begin their deliberations. Leroy Roberts jotted down his impressions of the Tuesday afternoon sessions: ". . . got off to fast start - more agreements - good working relationship - no language problem - eagerness to find solutions. . . ."44

After the working sessions that day, the Soviets were given an opportunity to visit a suburban shopping mall, where they could make purchases and fill the requests of friends and family. In addition to space and Texas souvenirs, the Soviets made a number of specific purchases. High on their lists were children's clothes. To everyone's pleasant surprise, Penney's was having a sale, in which large quantities of children's garments were priced at two dollars each. Of the 19-member delegation, 15 bought something at this bargain table. A number of requests intrigued the Americans who accompanied the Soviets on their shopping trip. One man said that he had a little house in the country and wanted to change some things. Therefore, he needed something that would drill into concrete; the solution to his problem was a five-dollar star drill. One fellow purchased several pairs of tennis shoes with steel arch supports. And yet another shopper who needed a saw was quite pleased with his purchase of one with five interchangeable blades. Thus it went for several hours. Many things about the American consumer scene amazed, amused, or perplexed the Soviets. Free shopping bags were a surprise, as was being able to open packages to examine goods before paying for them. The use of credit cards by Americans disturbed the visitors, who reported that credit sales of major items - cars and appliances - were increasing in the U.S.S.R. but that credit purchasing often led to financial troubles. Finally, sales tax perplexed the Soviets and was never fully understood.

If the Soviets had a good time partaking of the Texas consumer economy, the Americans who waited on them and met them appeared to enjoy themselves equally. At one point during the evening, Academician [144] Petrov was shopping by himself in Woolworth's when three grade school children, a girl and two boys, approached him and asked him if he were from the Soviet Union. In English, Petrov replied that he was. The girl then gave an impromptu speech of welcome, saying that she was happy that they had come to the U.S. and hoped that their work would be successful. Petrov was moved to tears by this spontaneous greeting.45

The remainder of the June meeting followed this pattern of working during the day but sightseeing and socializing during the evening. The Working Groups began to concentrate on technical detail. Documentation of the technical agreements that the groups reached took a large part of the members' time, but it was very necessary to ensure the compatibility of hardware and systems. Not only did the two sides speak different languages, but also they had evolved different engineering styles and terminology. Once the negotiators reached agreement on a topic of discussion, a document had to be prepared in both English and Russian, verified as to meaning and technical content, and then signed by the engineers and interpreters. This could be a slow and tedious process, but it was an integral aspect of creating compatibility.

Working Group 1 members reached early agreement on the coordinate systems that govern a joint mission. A coordinate system is the mathematical method for exactly defining the position of a craft in space relative to a particular celestial body, and of the several possible alternatives, the Working Group chose an earth-centered system. The American representatives agreed to prepare a single document reflecting their negotiated understanding and mail a draft to the Soviets within two months. After review and assurance that the document was acceptable, it would be signed off by both sides and thereby become the standard reference document for the subject.

In turn, the Soviets were to prepare a single technical requirements document treating the combined subject of spacecraft atmospheres, hatches, and crew transfer. That paper, based upon exchanges in February and the deliberations in June, would be reviewed, exchanged, and verified after the fashion of the coordinate systems paper.46 Other life support considerations that would have to be documented included cabin pressure limits, trace gas concentrations, carbon dioxide pressure limits, portable pre-breathing systems, drinking water quality, and color coding of equipment. In addition, after Working Group 1 members talked about communications between ground centers and locations for various types of equipment, they agreed that these topics also required further discussion. Next, they turned to consider real test missions.

After agreeing that they should jointly prepare models for different missions that might be flown, the delegates decided to base their planning on [145] an experimental flight in which Apollo would dock with "a manned orbital scientific station of the Salyut-type." They also suggested that a subsequent experimental flight might be conducted with Soyuz and Skylab. Looking at such a test mission, the Working Group 1 signatories stated:

In principle the technical feasibility to do this exists. For the purpose of a concrete study thereof, the parties have agreed to do some additional work on these problems with primary attention given to the following problems: (1) Location and design of docking assemblies (2) Atmospheric parameters (3) The need to provide airlocks (4) Location of equipment, apparatus, and components of the rendezvous and docking system.47
Working Groups 2 and 3 discussed, negotiated, and drew up agreements in their areas of responsibility in a similar fashion. Group 2 members concentrated on such subjects as requirements for light beacons, radio guidance and communications systems, and spacecraft attitude control systems. Working Group 3 reached agreement on the basic functions and design features of a universal docking system, as well as on the design approach to obtain necessary compatibility. They also agreed to discuss details about hatches, docking ring seals, and electrical connectors with Group 1. Likewise, they would hold a joint session with Group 2 to discuss questions associated with the conditions for initial physical contact between spacecraft. As in the case of the first Working Group, the other two divided among the Soviet and American teams the responsibilities for drafting and exchanging the necessary documentation.48

Gilruth and Petrov reported that the deliberations had been successful, and they stressed the possibility of a test mission. Such an experimental flight was technically feasible, and both parties agreed "that the technical and economic aspects of these possibilities should be additionally studied and discussed. . . ." To expedite their work in the months before the next joint meeting, which was tentatively scheduled for the end of November in Moscow, Glynn Lunney and Konstantin Davydovich Bushuyev were appointed Project Directors for their respective sides. They would act as focal points for all communications and technical exchanges. In a joint statement, Petrov and Gilruth reported that the meetings had been conducted in a businesslike atmosphere, and both men expressed their "gratification at the very rapid and substantive progress of their specialist working groups toward a comprehensive set of agreed requirements." While the reporters puzzled over the nature of the progress and fussed about not having an opportunity to grill Gilruth and Petrov, the American and Soviet delegations bid farewell.49

38. Roberts, "Minutes of Working Group Meeting on US/USSR Compatible Docking Mechanisms Conducted at MSC on June 21-25, 1971" [n.d.; handwritten notes].

39. Ibid.; and NASA, MSC, "Orientation Meeting," 21 June 1971.

40. Roberts, "Minutes of Working Group Meeting on US/USSR Compatible Docking Mechanism"; "Russians Fly Moonship Simulators at Texas Center," New York Times, 22 June 1971; and Jim Maloney, "Space Docking Talks Progress," Houston Post, 23 June 1971.

41. NASA, MSC, "United States Summary Presentation," 21 June 1971 (with English and Russian texts); and "Data Provided to Soviet Delegation" [n.d.]. That data included the following: NASA, MSC, Bedford F. Cockrell, "Proposed Coordinate Systems for International Rendezvous and Docking of Spacecraft," 5 May 1971 (MSC-04245 and MSC Internal Note No. 71-FM-157); Jaax, "A Description of Cabin Atmosphere, Environmental Control and Life Support, Crew Transfer and Airlock Systems for Future Space Vehicles," 2 June 1971; "U.S. Proposed Items for Discussion; Working Group #1," June 1971; and MSC comments on the Soviet papers "Specifications for Rendezvous and Docking Systems and Equipment for Spacecraft and Space Stations," "Technical Requirements for Radio Equipment for Communication between Crews of Space Vehicles and Stations," and "Specifications for the Development of a Docking Mechanism for Docking Spacecraft and Space Stations."

42. Roberts, "Notes from Summary Presentation by USSR," 22 June 1971.

43. Ibid.; and Roberts, "Minutes of Working Group Meeting on US/USSR Compatible Docking Mechanism"; and interview, Johnson-Ezell, 27 Mar. 1975.

44. Interview, Covington-Ezell, 3 Apr. 1975; interview, Nicholson-Ezell, 16 July 1974; Roberts, "Minutes of Working Group Meeting on Compatible Docking Mechanism"; and Roberts, "Notes from Summary Presentation by USSR," 22 June 1971.

45. Jack C. Waite to Gilruth, memo, "Comments Regarding Soviet Delegation Visit to MSC," 7 July 1971.

46. MSC environmental control system specialists gave the Soviets a copy of NASA, MSC, Jaax, "A Description of Cabin Atmosphere, Environmental Control and Life Support, Crew Transfer and Airlock Systems for Future Space Vehicles," 2 June 1971, which expanded upon the materials presented by the Soviets earlier that March.

47. "Summary of Results, Attachment A, Working Group No. I, Minutes of Meetings," 22-23 June 1971.

48. "Summary of Results, Attachment B, Minutes of the Meeting of Working Group No. 2," 22-25 June 1971; and "Summary of Results, Attachment C, Minutes of Meeting of Working Group No. 3," 22-25 June 1971.

49. "Summary of Results," 22-25 June 1971, pp. 1-3; NASA News Release, MSC, 71-43, 25 June 1971; Petrov to Gilruth, 29 June 1971; "Russia, U.S. Exchange Space-Tragedy Notes," Baltimore Sun, 20 July 1971; Jim Maloney, "U.S., Russia Pass up Joint Press Talks," Houston Post, 25 June 1971; and Thomas O'Toole, "74 Linkup by Soviets, U.S. Hinted," Washington Post, 26 June 1971.