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

Thanksgiving in Houston


As originally planned, the Soviet delegation would arrive in Houston on 22 November so they could join in an American Thanksgiving dinner before starting to work on Friday, the 24th. Because of a 19-hour mechanical delay in Moscow, however, the visitors did not arrive at Houston Intercontinental Airport until 3:00 Thanksgiving afternoon. Ed Smith and his Group 2 colleagues listened to the Oklahoma-Nebraska football game on a portable radio while they waited. When the party did finally deplane, they were all rather wilted and exhausted. Ed Smith rode to the Kings Inn in Clear Lake City with the Group 2 specialists, and R. H. Dietz and A. Don Travis accompanied Group 4. All plans for a festive meal were canceled, and the Soviets were given the remainder of the day to recover from their trip. Looking back on that occasion, Don Travis recalled that he ate a "hell of a lot of turkey" over the next few days.45

Work began at 9:00 a.m. on the 24th. Viktor Pavlovich Legostayev was in charge of the nine-man Soviet delegation, and he told Smith, Working Group 2 chairman, and Dietz, Working Group 4 chairman, that he would [213] initially give the majority of his time to communications issues because Group 4 had the greatest number of agenda items to be completed in the time alloted for their stay. Once the communications and tracking discussions were satisfactorily under way, Legostayev turned the Soviet part of the talks over to Boris Viktorovich Nikitin and assisted Group 2.

Ed Smith found his three Group 2 counterparts to be first-rate engineers and good people with whom to work. Smith, who had the personal sense of precision and perfection that guidance and navigation demanded, was full of praise for Legostayev:

As had been the case in the past, his knowledge of the analytical problems associated with guidance and control is excellent. His knowledge of English is good and improving. He discusses technical problems in English easily, and only in the case of large meetings does he use Russian. He is at ease and very congenial in either large or small groups and appears to be an excellent leader and organizer. He is competent in problems of hardware integration but appears to prefer analytical work.46

From their discussions, Smith got the feeling that Legostayev was the designer of the Soyuz automatic rendezvous and docking control system and that he might have been the chief designer for all the attitude control systems used on that spacecraft. The Americans found Legostayev willing to listen to both sides of an issue before he made his own position known. Like most of his Soviet colleagues, he did not have the authority to make decisions on the spot during a meeting, but his recommendations appeared to carry considerable weight with his superiors.47

In his post-meeting report to Lunney, Smith indicated that he had been equally impressed with Shmyglevskiy and Podelyakin, who, in addition to being experts in their respective fields of guidance and control and docking targets, also had a good command of English. Nearly 95 percent of Group 2's negotiations were conducted in English, a factor that speeded their work considerably. Elsewhere, the language barrier was more of a problem, and many American engineers began to learn Russian. Despite their studies, difficulties with preparing joint documents would continue to be a primary concern.

During their November meeting, Group 2 looked at three basic topics - control systems, rendezvous analysis and tracking requirements, and docking targets. Smith and his NASA colleagues exchanged functional descriptions of the Apollo and Soyuz control laws used in the flight systems with Legostayev and Shmyglevskiy. Group 3 had asked for this information so that they could complete the computer program for simulating the docking of the two spacecraft. During their discussion of control systems, Group 2 outlined and agreed on the procedure that would be used for [214] controlling the ships when they were docked. This meeting gave the chairmen a better understanding of the conditions that flight crews could anticipate prior to docking and the manner in which the two ships would act after they were joined together as one orbiting mass.48

American specialists brought their latest revision of rendezvous trajectory and tracking requirements. A normal flight path dictated the need to begin VHF radio tracking at 236 kilometers, but the Americans wanted to extend the tracking range to 266 kilometers to account for trajectory dispersions that might occur if the launch of either spacecraft was delayed to one of the alternate opportunities. For optical tracking, the Soviets and Americans planned to exchange samples of their different exterior coatings so that the reflectivity of the ships' surfaces could be determined. Optical tracking with the Apollo sextant appeared to pose no problems for the normal trajectory, but some of the flight paths dictated by alternate launch times might cause some difficulties if the Soyuz were lost in the brilliance of the sunlit earth. These issues were placed on the agenda for further study.

Podelyakin described for the Americans the docking target installation that they were planning to build for Soyuz. MSC personnel in turn presented the North American Rockwell proposal for ensuring proper alignment of the docking target and the Apollo alignment sight. They also considered various methods for aligning the two craft if the Soyuz target failed to deploy properly. This subject was also placed on the agenda for March, when the group would hold a Preliminary Systems Review of the docking alignment system.49

Simultaneously with the Group 2 effort, the members of the Working Group 4 communications team worked literally days, nights, Saturdays, and one Sunday to complete all the items on their list. Part of the difficulty in negotiating arose from the Soviets' fixed 3 December departure date. Dietz said in a report that the selection of an arbitrary date for completing the work without taking into account the anticipated workload placed an unnecessary strain on the support people (translators, typists, and drivers), as well as on the delegation itself. Glynn Lunney subsequently wrote to Professor Bushuyev, stressing the need for adequate time. In addition to setting aside one or two days at the end of a meeting for cleaning up the documents and signing them, Lunney suggested that documents scheduled to be signed should be made available in draft form at least one month before the session. If documents were understood beforehand, the meeting time could be put to better use. Documents introduced for the first should be presented in both languages to prevent a similar waste of time.50

Despite the tight schedule, Group 4 accomplished all its major goals. After reviewing the Soviet antenna data, the Americans concurred with their [215] counterparts' wish to build the Soyuz antennas for both the 121.75-megahertz (VHF/FM) and the 296.8-megahertz (VHF/AM) systems. Agreements were also reached concerning signal characteristics for the radio communications and ranging systems, compatibility test plans for those systems, and installation of the Apollo VHF/AM equipment aboard Soyuz. The specialists also completed a definition of the cable communications system that would be used between the two craft, and they finished preliminary talks about the communications links that were necessary between Houston and Moscow mission control centers. From the American vantage point, the Group 4 activities were extremely productive. The depth of system definition was sufficient to permit the detailed design of the communication gear. Lunney, in his post-meeting letter to Bushuyev, said that he was very pleased with the progress made and asked the Professor to thank the Soviet specialists for their hard work and dedication.51

45. Interview, Smith-Ezell, 2 Sept. 1975; and interview, A. Don Travis-Ezell, 2 Sept. 1975.

46. Smith to Lunney, memo, "Report of Working Group No. 2 Joint Meetings," 15 Dec. 1972, enclosing "Conduct and Results of ASTP Working Group No. 2 Meetings between NASA and the Soviet Academy of Sciences" [n.d.].

47. Interview, Smith-Ezell, 12 Feb. 1975.

48. Ibid.; and "Working Groups No. 2 and No. 4, Minutes of Meeting on Apollo/Soyuz Test Project," 24 Nov.-2 Dec. 1972.

49. "Working Groups No. 2 and No. 4, Minutes of Meeting on Apollo/Soyuz Test Project," 24 Nov.-2 Dec. 1972.

50. Letter, Lunney to Bushuyev [drafted 6 Dec. 1972].

51. Ibid.; and "Summary of ASTP Working Groups 2 & 4 Meeting, Houston, Texas, November 24-December 2, 1972" [n.d.].