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

Preparation in Houston


Technical Director Lunney had already prepared an outline to guide his associates as they prepared for their discussions with the Soviets. (See box below.) He thought that "this outline should facilitate a comparison between the near- and far-term activities; it should also form the basis for summarizing our results to NASA personnel, and for our discussions with the Soviets this fall."5 On 6 and 7 October, a detailed technical review was held at MSC, followed two weeks later by a management review for Gilruth and Kraft. Lunney, the Working Group chairmen, Berglund, and Johnson then went to Headquarters on 10 November to brief George Low.6

The Headquarters briefing identified a number of items that would have to be cleared up in the joint negotiations. The long range questions naturally tended to be broader in scope than the Apollo/Salyut issues, which were concrete and specific. But some top level decisions were needed in both areas before the trip to Moscow. For example, the MSC representatives wanted to know Headquarters' position on scheduling a command and service module (CSM)/Salyut mission 1974 or 1975? Caldwell Johnson argued that a mid-1974 target date for launch would depend primarily upon the progress made in defining, developing, building, and testing a docking system. MSC also needed to know how and where Headquarters wished the docking system to be built. The Houston engineers assumed that the American half of the system would be built by a contractor, but would the United States try to build both halves, or would we negotiate a common interface specification and leave each side to fabricate its own part? The same questions arose concerning radio equipment. Would the U.S. lend the Soviets American receivers, or would we give them the technical specifications for the hardware and let them build the radios? Though this issue embraced the sticky subject of technology transfer, NASA knew that the radio and frequency used in Apollo would never be incorporated into Shuttle. So if they should be asked to build receivers for the Apollo frequency, the Soviets would be building a piece of hardware that was obsolescent, but which might contain technological concepts that were not.



Apollo-Salyut Test Mission Planning Activities

- Manned Space Center

A. Objectives

B. Schedules

C. Mission model

  1. Summary (include questions for the Soviets)
  2. Overall mission
    1. Assumptions (include questions for the Soviets)
    2. Ground rules
    3. Profiles (altitude, phasing, etc.)
    4. Timelines e. Consumables
  3. Docked mission
    1. Assumptions (include questions for the Soviets)
    2. Ground rules
    3. Timelines (procedures, equipment transfer, cooperative experiments, restrictions, etc.)

D. Technical subjects* - requirements and solutions

  1. Atmospheres, life support
    1. Composition and characteristics of atmosphere
    2. Crew transfer (nominal and others)
  2. Constraints
    1. During docking
    2. While docked
  3. Coordinate systems
  4. Guidance systems
    1. Optical
    2. Radio
    3. Lights
    4. Docking targets
  5. Control systems
    1. During docking
    2. While docked
  6. Communications
    1. Air to air
    2. Air to ground
  7. Docking mechanism
    1. Functions
    2. Capabilities c. Parameters (geometry, kinematic envelope, etc.)

E. Other subjects

  1. Training
    1. Crew
    2. Mission team
  2. Mission control
  3. Mission rules, contingency procedures, etc.

*Each of these subject areas should be organized with separate paper on at least the following topics: (1) subjects and issues for discussion with U.S.S.R.; (2) recommended position and/or numerical values relative to discussion subjects; (3) expected implication of "recommended position" to the U.S. program; (4) technical analysis, trades, other options; (5) recommended methods to implement solutions (e.g., exchanged hardware); (6) qualification, testing; (7) launch checkout requirements, and (8) questions for the Soviets.


[164] Because MSC specialists wanted to develop an equal-partner relationship with the Soviets, they preferred to develop common specifications for that basic interface, the docking mechanism. Uniformity was absolutely necessary in the docking mechanism; elsewhere, compatibility was all that was required. The actual detailed execution of the design could vary as long as the functioning of the system met agreed specifications. When it came to equipment like the Apollo radio, MSC preferred to loan the Soviets the hardware, if possible, and save everyone time and needless work. Further away from the interface, understanding some systems would likely have to be based upon mutual assurances. MSC pointed out to Headquarters, "Conduct of such a mission warrants a measure of trust and the need to accept less than-100% knowledge and understanding of each other's equipment."

But the critical areas in which full disclosure was necessary would be an issue to be resolved within each of the Working Groups.7

Looking at the long term, the planners saw here some important considerations that would also demand comment from Headquarters. On the American side, long-range requirements were being drafted with Shuttle-era spacecraft in mind (Shuttle Orbiter, modular stations, and space stations), but MSC was still unable to state specific needs for a number of Shuttle subsystems - communications, guidance, and tracking. The Houston representatives told the Washington staff that "In a number of technical areas, we should not agree on requirements (step A) [with the U.S.S.R.] until our long-term programs are better defined." But the Soviets would seem prepared to finalize their technical requirements after their next meeting and move on to step B, the preliminary design of hardware. Caldwell Johnson had felt all along that there was a problem of semantics in using the word "future." NASA tended to reserve this adjective for concepts that were still rather nebulously defined, while the Soviet engineers used future to describe any spacecraft that had not yet been flown.8

Even though the Americans were in the dark about the Soviets' plans for the 1980s and unclear about details of their own next generation of hardware, Lunney and the others were sure that an actual test mission would have specific benefits. First, the Soviets and the Americans would learn to work together. Second, jointly designing a docking mechanism would be an opportunity to work out the specific issues involved in bringing two different engineering approaches together in a compatible piece of hardware. And third, an Apollo/Salyut mission would provide NASA time to define more fully its requirements for Shuttle-era subsystems. Clearly, the Manned Spacecraft Center favored a test mission not only for its educational value but also because it would permit NASA to "work the problem" of creating compatible systems with the Soviets in their discussions of future systems without prematurely foreclosing flexibility in Shuttle design.9

5. Lunney to distribution, memo, "Organization of Material for US/USSR Activities," 8 Sept. 1971.

6. Lunney to distribution, memo, "Review of Material for US/USSR Meeting," 22 Sept. 1971; NASA, MSC, "E&D Weekly Activity Report," 2-8 Oct. 1971; NASA, MSC, "E&D Weekly Activity Report," 16-22 Oct. 1971, p. 11; NASA, MSC, "E&D Weekly Activity Report," 6-12 Nov. 1971, p. 11; and [MSC], "Review of Material for Next Meeting with USSR on Compatibility of Rendezvous and Docking," 10 Nov. 1971.

7. [MSC], "Review of Material for Next Meeting with USSR," 10 Nov. 1971.

8. Ibid.; and interview, Caldwell C. Johnson-Edward C. Ezell, 27 Mar. 1975.

9. [MSC], "Review of Material for Next Meeting with USSR," 10 Nov. 1971.