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

October in Moscow


[207] A 27-person NASA delegation arrived in Moscow shortly before 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, 7 October 1972. After a day of sightseeing, the three Working Groups (1, 3, and 5) began 11 days of work on the agenda items drafted during a September exchange by telex and telephone.29 H. E. "Ed" Smith represented Group 2 in some of the negotiations, while George Jeffs, manager of the CSM program at Rockwell, and Clarke Covington acted as advisers to Lunney and the three chairmen. By then a sort of routine had emerged - work the technical problems at home and prepare for the next meetings; attend the joint sessions and define the next phase of activity. The Americans were ready.

Subjects discussed by Working Group 1 this time fell into five categories. First came trajectory considerations: specialists outlined the paths of the two spacecraft from launch through rendezvous and docking. In addition to investigating alternative launch opportunities so that the mission could still be conducted if there was an abort during initial launch attempts, the two sides examined which Apollo revolution - the 14th or the 29th - would be selected for docking.

When the Soviets discovered that they had a ceiling of approximately 225 kilometers due to the weight of Soyuz as configured for ASTP, they asked the Americans to consider lowering the docking orbit to 222 kilometers from 232.30 But they made their request in the guise of a technical problem in orbital flight mechanics. After considerable confusion and much dialogue, Covington asked his Soviet counterpart, "Tell me, is the main reason you want to fly at a lower altitude because you have got a weight problem and your launch vehicle can't get you any higher than that?" Yes, came the Soviet reply. Looking back, Covington said:

It was no real problem to us, but we just couldn't understand why they wanted to do it. . . . It was no big deal for us but it was a big deal for them. They seemed to embarrass easily about the capability of their spacecraft, which they had no need to do. Their spacecraft was designed for a different thing that Apollo was. The Apollo spacecraft is way over designed for this mission, it was built to go to the moon and back. We just had an inherent capability greater than theirs.31

But the Americans were realizing that early Soviet boasts of leadership in space still echoed in the background. When it came to making changes, the Soviets would always prefer a technical rationale to directly admitting limitations or asking for assistance.

But these difficulties did not hinder the work of Group 1. Under the chairmenship of M. P. Frank and V. A. Timchenko, they went on to discuss [208] problems related to finding common formulas to determine the earth's atmosphere and gravitational field so as to achieve compatible trajectory calculations. They needed to be certain that when they placed their spacecraft in orbit the mathematical computations would permit the Apollo crew to complete rendezvous. Besides the trajectory issues, progress was made on four other topics - mission requirements, contingency plans for abnormal situations, onboard flight and activities plans, and crew training and mission operations.32

Frank observed that the Soviet delegation, which included 15 people, represented systems planning, flight control, flight crew activities, and mission documentation. In the past, NASA had been concerned over some of the Soviet specialists' lack of expertise, but seemingly the correct personnel were now involved. Pete Frank also indicated that while the two sides approached the organization of flight-related data in completely different ways, they basically agreed on the technical information involved. After discussing crew training with Astronaut Tom Stafford and Cosmonauts A. G. Nikolayev and A. S. Yeliseyev, Working Group 1 scheduled the initial training session for mid-1973 in Houston, with a second meeting planned for autumn in the U.S.S.R. The Soviets were considering selecting two prime crews and two backup crews to train with the U.S. astronauts. The second set of Soviet crews would be trained as standby in case a second Soyuz must be launched.33

Ed Smith, who had replaced Cheatham as American chairman of Working Group 2, discussed a number of guidance and navigation issues with V. P. Legostayev, V. A. Podelyakin, and I. P. Shmyglevskiy. One of their major decisions related to the proposed development of a "centerline television" system for docking, mounted in the front of the docking module, transmitting to the Apollo crew a television image of a docking target on the Soyuz half of the docking mechanism. This system was being evaluated to determine if it would give the Apollo crew a better docking approach than the externally mounted passive target that had been used throughout the lunar module dockings. But for technical and financial reasons, the Americans wanted to drop the new idea and stay with the external target. The Soviets agreed. Canceling the television system also meant eliminating a glass viewing port in the DM hatch - a desirable change since it simplified the design, removing a minor element, which if damaged, could have posed a threat to the crew.34

Smith and Legostayev proposed to convene meetings of Groups 2 and 4 in Houston at the end of November, even though the Soviets had indicated that it might be difficult to complete all their preparations by that date. They had not anticipated the depth at which the Americans were pursuing [209] these discussions but consented to make every effort to complete their work in time. On the other hand, the Americans in Working Group 3 had been quite pleased with the preparations the Soviets had made for their October session; they had fully understood the expectations and needs of their NASA counterparts.

29. TWX, Lunney to Bushuyev, 5 Sept. 1972; Bushuyev to Lunney, 11 Sept. 1972; Lunney to Bushuyev, 12 Sept. 1972; TWX, Bushuyev to Lunney, 14 Sept. 1972; TWX, Lunney to Bushuyev, 15 Sept. 1972; and TWX, Lunney to Bushuyev, 19 Sept. 1972. George Low and Academician M. V. Keldysh had approved the results of the July meeting in an exchange of letters: Mstislav Vsevolodovich Keldysh to George M. Low, 9 Aug. 1972; and Low to Keldysh, 7 Sept. 1972.

30. "Minutes of the Joint Meeting of Working Group 1," 9-20 Oct. 1972, in "Apollo/Soyuz Test Project, Minutes, Fifth Joint Meeting, USSR Academy of Sciences and US National Aeronautics and Space Administration," 9-19 Oct. 1972.

31. Interview, Covington-Ezell, 3 Apr. 1975.

32. "Minutes of the Joint Meeting of Working Group 1," 9-20 Oct. 1972, in "Minutes of Joint Meeting."

33. Lunney, "Minutes, ASTP Staff Meeting, October 25, 1972," 30 Oct. 1972.

34. "Minutes of ASTP Working Group 2 Meeting," 9-20 Oct. 1972, in "Minutes of Joint ASTP Meeting," 16 Oct. 1972; and interview (via telephone), Smith-Ezell, 25 Aug. 1975.