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

Public Information Plans


October in Moscow was notable for more than just the Mid-Term Review. It was also the first time that NASA Headquarters public affairs personnel attempted to negotiate with the Soviets. Before this, John P. Donnelly and his deputies, Alfred P. Alibrando and Robert J. Shafer, had been participating in the public affairs planning process from a distance. But once they began to take a more active role, expressing their desire for face-to-face discussions with their counterparts, they discovered that their requests - even their very presence - were regarded as an intrusion by Glynn Lunney and the others in Houston who were managing the negotiations. It appeared to Donnelly that the Johnson Spacecraft Center (JSC) was reluctant to share that responsibility with him because the technical teams feared that the introduction of new faces would tend to slow the [235] negotiations. But Donnelly was eager to participate because he was concerned that the technical personnel working for Lunney, in their efforts to meet the launch deadline, might make agreements with the Soviets that could undermine NASA's public affairs policy of full disclosure. Looking back, Low explained the different motivations underlying the negotiation objectives of the Public Affairs and Program Office personnel:

The project people had essentially one basic goal and that was to make the project succeed. Anything which would make attaining that goal more difficult would and should be opposed by the project people. Thus, a negotiating position which might "upset" their Soviet colleagues would be something that the project people would want to avoid if at all possible. The Public Affairs people on the other hand saw a tremendous opportunity for the United States to show "detente" in its best light. They also saw the need to maintain NASA's open position with the world press and the credibility which NASA has achieved in dealing with the news media. To attain these Public Affairs' goals might entail taking very hard negotiating positions - harder than the technical people would like to have seen on a non-technical issue.17

These essentially opposing positions led Low to annunciate two principles in a number of meetings that he held with Donnelly, Shafer, Frutkin, Lee, and Lunney. First, Donnelly could not do anything that would cause the overall negotiations to come to a halt or to fall apart. As Low reported, "this meant that Donnelly would have to check with me before getting himself into a position where hard lines would be drawn - lines that would lead to a major confrontation." In Low's view, "the Public Affairs people did a remarkable job in avoiding such confrontations." Second, the public exposure of the project - especially television - was a major objective of ASTP, accorded as high a priority as everything else in the project except flight safety. This meant that the project people subsequently had to alter flight plans and the like to accommodate in-flight television as required by Public Affairs. Low pointed out that "This was a change from the way we had operated in previous programs, a change which I believed to be necessary for this special project."18

Release of information about the joint mission was an area in which NASA personnel had anticipated possible difficulties from the earliest stages. One line in the Low-Kotelnikov agreement of April 1972 had addressed the issue of public information: "A public information plan will be developed which takes into account the obligations and practices of both sides." That phrase combines both genius and difficulty. It gave both sides what they wanted - control over mission-related news - but it did not explain how those two sets of obligations and practices would be reconciled. George Low and [236] his colleagues in the American space agency firmly believed that they could not enter into any agreements that would lead to the alteration of NASA's policy of immediate and full public disclosure. This "real-time" release of audio, video, and other news materials had provided momentary embarrassments in the early days of the program (the failure of MA-1 shortly after lift-off in July 1960 or the sinking of Gus Grissom's spacecraft after his suborbital flight in July 1961), but live television had also covered the most dramatic moments of the space age as well (man's first steps onto the lunar surface or the repairs the first Skylab team made to their damaged laboratory).

Traditionally, the Soviets had released information about their missions only after the fact. And they had not engaged in extensive use of television, preferring instead to tell the space story through newspapers and motion pictures. Therefore, NASA and the Soviet Academy had to reconcile two issues - real-time versus after-the-fact news coverage and reliance upon different media forms. As Headquarters and JSC public affairs representatives were to discover, their requirements for live television broadcasts from Apollo and Soyuz were to be often in conflict with the Soviet desire to make motion pictures of the same events. Skillful negotiations were required to satisfy the obligations and practices of both sides.

Before they could discuss such matters with the Soviets, the Americans needed to agree among themselves. As the Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs, Donnelly had been interested in the public information aspects of the joint mission since the early days of the talks, but his team at Headquarters had only begun to work actively on the topic at the time of the May 1972 Nixon-Kosygin Summit. On 19 May, Bob Shafer had written a memo to Donnelly in which he outlined actions that would have to be taken once the international rendezvous and docking mission was officially announced in Moscow. "First of all, I think we've got to come to terms with the White House and State on the overall public affairs public information responsibility for the mission. We'll have to take the initiative on that as soon as possible. . . . we need a meeting with Lunney and those of his superiors and subordinates who are actively working with the USSR team." Objectives of such a meeting were:

to establish our responsibility for public affairs planning and implementation concerned with IRDM [International Rendezvous and Docking Mission]; to define the interface between Public Affairs and project management; to get a better understanding of their working relationship with members of the USSR team so that we can pattern ours accordingly wherever appropriate; and to identify what we believe to be sensitive areas we must accommodate in one manner or another as we proceed so that we do not unwittingly disrupt the progress Of the cooperative effort.19

[237] Once the role of the Washington Public Affairs Office was finally clarified, Shafer would then recommend that a meeting take place with "appropriate representatives" in the U.S.S.R. to address the development of a public affairs plan. He continued, "All of this, it seems to me, is urgent," and he thought that the Headquarters public affairs staff should be ready to talk with the Soviets "by the end of September at the very latest."20 But planning public affairs activities for Apollo 17 and Skylab took much of Donnelly's and Shafer's time, so they were unable to touch base with the people in Houston for nearly a year, and it was not until October 1973 that they had an opportunity to meet with the Soviets.

Meanwhile in Houston, Lunney and the JSC public affairs staff had already taken the initiative in developing procedures for the release of newsworthy information generated during the joint meetings. When the idea of a Public Affairs Plan was first raised, Lunney recommended that the proposed plan be broken into two parts - pre-mission joint activities and actual in-flight joint activities. He reasoned that a single document would be too much to negotiate at one time. Furthermore, it was still too early to clearly define all of the flight-related public affairs activities. By starting with the pre-mission issues, the two teams could learn more about each other's obligations and practices and give the flight planners an opportunity to more fully map out crew activities that would affect the second part of the plan.21

By January 1973, John E. Riley of the JSC Public Affairs Office had developed a draft of the first half of the Public Information Plan. This early version stated: "NASA proposes that the ASTP public information activities be governed by two documents." The first was planned to "deal with pre-flight activities, including actions of Joint Working Groups; hardware development and manufacture;[*] training of flight crews, engineers, flight controllers and other personnel involved in the mission; simulators and tests; and control center preparations requiring joint activities." The other document's purpose was to cover flight and post-flight activities.22 After several versions of Part I of the plan had been drafted, JSC's Public Affairs Officer, John W. King, forwarded the document to Chet Lee in Washington.23

Lee circulated the proposal at Headquarters, seeking comments particularly from the Public Affairs and International Affairs Offices. By mid-February, Donnelly and Frutkin approved a revised draft of Jack King's information guideline, and they sent a copy to the American Embassy in Moscow for comment.24 Lee responded to this "most recent draft of the [238] proposed . . . information plan" by saying that "it contains new provisions I believe are not conducive to continued smooth relations with our Soviet counterparts."25 Four major changes bothered him. One of these related to the issue of status reports. The earlier drafts had provided that status reports of "joint working group meetings and joint activities . . . be issued by the host country and the contents approved mutually prior to release." In the Donnelly-Frutkin approved version, the document read: "each country may issue status reports and . . . the substance of reports will be provided in advance to the head of the other side's delegation." Lee argued that this was "a clear deviation from our methods of operation with the Soviets in our joint meetings to date." He believed that the existing system should be continued since it had "functioned smoothly and to our knowledge has not put any undue constraint on information released to the press."26 In a joint memo to Lee, Donnelly and Frutkin responded that they did not want the "ASTP Information Plan [to] make US media residents in the USSR dependent on the Soviets for news of ASTP activities." In their opinion, the original proposal did so since the host country could determine the content and frequency of status reports, "based upon its obligations and usual practices." As an alternative to their proposal, Donnelly and Frutkin suggested the following, which Lee found acceptable:

During meetings of Joint Working Groups and during joint activities of flight crews and other mission personnel, the US and USSR heads of delegations may issue joint status reports to the news media. Joint status reports are expected to be the usual procedure, but if either side wishes to issue status reports to news media on its own side, in accord with its normal obligations and usual practices, it may do so after notice of the substance of the release to the head of the other side's delegation present.27

After similar horse trading at Headquarters on the other three points, which all dealt with different aspects of the same question - equal treatment of American and Soviet press representatives in the Soviet Union - JSC was permitted to give NASA's draft of "ASTP Public Information Plan Part I" to the Soviets during the March 1973 meetings. Later during the July sessions in Houston, the Soviets said that they had no basic objections to the draft text but that they did want to modify some of the language. They would submit their comments by the end of August. In July, there had also been some discussion on the joint production of a post-flight motion picture that would summarize the project. That film, the signing of Part I, and discussions of the content and schedule to be followed in negotiating Part II were placed on the agenda for October.28

Although Glynn Lunney had planned to send only Jack King to Moscow, John Donnelly asked that he too be permitted to participate. [239] Donnelly specifically wanted to go because there had been no response from the Soviets since the July meeting regarding the public affairs topics. And he insisted that Bob Shafer accompany him so that they could discuss television issues with the Soviets. Both men were worried that if left to the technical people, ASTP might occur in the dark, and they wanted the broadest possible television coverage for this mission. After considerable discussion, during which Donnelly and Shafer took their case to George Low, the two men departed for Moscow with King.29

Upon their arrival, they were met at the airport by Nikolai Vasilyevich Khabarin from the Council for International Cooperation in Space Exploration and Use (Intercosmos). During their ride into the city, Khabarin grilled Donnelly, apparently so he could determine who this new American was, how much authority he had, and where he fit into the NASA hierarchy. Shafer recalled later that the question and answer session was getting nowhere until Arnold Frutkin's name came into the discussion. Khabarin asked Donnelly how his position compared to Frutkin's. Donnelly told him that they were at the same level, both being Assistant Administrators. Khabarin responded that Frutkin reported directly to George Low, and Donnelly came back with, "So do I." This discussion, which went on to include questions concerning the relative sizes of the staffs working for the two men and so on, gave the Soviets some understanding for how these new faces fit into the NASA scheme of things.

Donnelly compared his first meeting that October with his Soviet counterpart, Igor Pavlovich Rumyantsev, to the sparring two boxers do the first time they meet in the ring. "We were feeling each other out. Clearly we didn't trust them, and they didn't trust us."30 Questions of trust were to surface several times during this meeting. Shafer recalled that Rumyantsev came into the room where they had all gathered and made a formal statement about how good it was for them to be together and to be working towards this joint flight. But he wanted to know why NASA had called for this meeting and what exactly they wished to discuss. Donnelly explained that they were there to complete work on Part I of the Public Affairs Plan, to discuss the joint movie, and to begin work on outlining Part II. The Americans spent the rest of the day explaining to the Soviets what they meant by public affairs and what NASA hoped to accomplish in negotiating both halves of the plan. Rumyantsev, an Intercosmos staff member, was a professional negotiator in international matters, but he was not an expert on public affairs. It took a while for him and the other Soviets to fully comprehend what Donnelly and Shafer meant by full and open disclosure of information to the press. It also took time before they were convinced that neither NASA nor the American government in any manner managed the [240] press. The obligations and practices of the United States and the Soviet Union were quite different and not easy to reconcile.

Donnelly's negotiating stance with Rumyantsev was by his own admission hard-nosed. And as a result, the process was a slow one. After several days of talks, Donnelly discussed their progress on Part I with George Low on the evening of 15 October. Low then decided to meet directly with Petrov, who as Chairman of Intercosmos was Rumyantsev's boss. On the 17th, Frutkin and Low met in their hotel room and tried to clarify a plan for their discussions with the Soviets. That next morning saw Frutkin and Low come to agreement over the Public Information Plan with Petrov, Vereshchetin, and Rumyantsev.** While Low and Petrov did not sign the resulting document, preferring to wait two weeks for formal ratification, Donnelly and Rumyantsev affixed their signatures to "ASTP Public Information Plan Part I," ASTP 20 050, as an indication of good faith, as did Lunney and Bushuyev. Final ratification of this much-debated plan came in November when Kotelnikov notified Low that the Soviet side accepted the modified language drafted in Moscow.31

Donnelly and Shafer learned from their trip to Moscow that negotiation was more art than science. Two other sticky topics discussed during October illustrated that point. The Soviets dearly wanted a jointly produced motion picture describing ASTP. A jointly produced movie would be another visible indication of cooperation, and equally important, the two countries would share the cost of producing the film. Furthermore, the idea of a movie was particularly attractive to the Soviets since they could show it in State theaters as a major feature attraction, but NASA did not expect U.S. movie houses to desire such a production, and it seemed equally unlikely that the television networks would buy the lengthy documentary. Such a film fit one system, but it did not meet the obligations and practices of the other. Lunney advised Bushuyev back in September 1973 that the Americans did not favor this project, but Donnelly and Shafer had to tell them again that NASA would not enter into such an enterprise. Being the bearers of such bad news did not enhance their rapport with their newly found colleagues, nor did their insistence on a second issue - equal treatment for American newsmen covering ASTP in the U.S.S.R.32

Early in their talks on the 10th of October, Rumyantsev had told the Americans that it would not be possible to invite every American correspondent who resided in Moscow to all ASTP press conferences. When Donnelly asked why, Rumyantsev said that the room where such gatherings [241] were held was too small to accommodate them all. Donnelly said that the Soviets would simply have to find a larger room, but his counterpart replied that it was impossible to alter the location of the briefings - all press conferences were held in that room! He indicated that the Soviet solution to the space problem was to limit the size of the press delegation. Donnelly was told that in previous technical negotiations, the Americans - over the objections of Eli Flamm, the Press Attache at the American Embassy - had agreed to limits on the size of press contingents, as long as equal numbers from both sides were permitted to attend. Donnelly argued against such restrictions, saying that they were only valid when genuine physical restraints existed, such as those at the training facilities at Star City. But he was against arbitrarily imposed limits, holding them unreasonable and contrary to the spirit of the Information Plan they were trying to establish. According to Donnelly, this was nothing less than "censorship by selectivity." The men suspended their negotiations for the afternoon at a loss for agreement.33

On the following morning, Rumyantsev approached the Americans. As Shafer recollected, the Soviet negotiator proclaimed, "Mister Donnelly , there is an answer! It is called a pool!" In making their proposed alteration, the Soviets had a completely different understanding of that concept than did the Americans. "Their suggestion was that we dictate the pool - that we go to the U.S. correspondents and say, 'Form a pool and take it here.' " Donnelly told Rumyantsev that press pools in the West did not work that way. The news representatives selected the members of a pool delegation when they had been informed that a particular activity would allow only a small group to attend. NASA could not and would not determine pool membership. After a discussion that lasted nearly the whole day, a breakthrough occurred when Donnelly inquired if the source of their problem lay with the size of the Soviet delegation and not with the size of the American contingent. Rumyantsev replied that Donnelly was beginning to understand.34 To take into account the Soviets' desire to limit the number of Soviet correspondents that might be invited to a news briefing, the following language was drafted into Part I of the plan: "For each joint-activities event, each side may designate the number of accredited press from its side to be invited, taking into account its own customs and traditions."35

Donnelly also persuaded Rumyantsev to accept another principle - "with the exception of situations in which physical limitations make it impossible, all accredited U.S. correspondents would be invited to premission news events."36 "In situations where physical or technical limitations require, the host country may propose that the news media establish [242] pooled coverage."37 Despite this agreement, Shafer later wrote Donnelly that the question of full representation for American media personnel in Moscow had been the "principal issue which divided the two sides during our negotiations of Part I . . . [and] seems likely to reappear from time to time."38

The Americans' concern about equal treatment for the American press was well founded. American correspondents, with their noses for news and penchants for investigative reporting, did not always have the best of relations with the Soviet government. These newsmen were seldom happy with the handouts they received from government news agencies, and the Soviets rewarded only those reporters whose stories were positive. Americans often criticized the Soviet practice of late night phone calls to select reporters concerning news events that would occur the following day. In the case of ASTP, they wanted free access to news events, and they expected NASA to protect their interests. This posed several problems. NASA could try to guarantee them full access to joint events, but the agency could not assist them in their desire to cover unilateral Soviet activities. The Information Plan stated: "Decisions related to news media access to independent activities are the unilateral responsibility of each country in accordance with its established traditions and practices."39 Nor could NASA shield the resident media representatives in Moscow from non-resident correspondents who managed to get special visas that allowed them to interview cosmonauts or members of the Soviet Academy. Donnelly argued that the resident press would have to fight those battles through their home offices; after all, competition was one of the aspects of a free press.40 Though they could not protect American correspondents from each other, NASA public affairs people could ensure that they had equal access to information.

Equal access to ASTP news events only came with much hard work. The talks held in October 1973 were just the beginning. Part II of the Public Information Plan (especially the discussion of real time television) was to involve far more complex and lengthy negotiations. A final agreement on the mission-related news coverage would not be completed until three months before the launch, and drafting a plan was only the first step. As Jack Riley discovered in November 1973, a formal plan did not exist for the Soviets until it was officially ratified. A couple of days before the end of the astronauts' first visit to the Soviet Union in November 1973, Valentin Ivanovich Kozorev, Scientific Secretary of Intercosmos, approached Riley to tell him that the Soviets would like to use one of the photographs that they had received from NASA during the June-July 1973 cosmonaut visit to JSC to illustrate an article they planned to publish. Kozorev had been instructed [243] to obtain Riley's permission to use that photograph. Riley reported on this conversation:

I responded that they were free to use any of the photos provided by NASA and that there were no restrictions on their use for news purposes. I said that we planned similar use of the photos we received from them.

Kozorev thanked me profusely and then said that he regretted that he could not be as generous as I had been. He said that we would be given five or six photos before we left and that we would require permission from them on a picture by picture basis.41

Kozorev referred to the photographs taken at the control center in Kaliningrad following the Mid-Term Review. He said that "Dr. Lunney" had asked the Professor for permission to release those illustrations to the American press but Bushuyev still had not secured authorization. When Riley mentioned that the release of such items should be covered by the photography exchange section of Part I of the Information Plan, he "was told for the first time flat out . . . that the Soviets did not consider the plan to be in effect yet." Kozorev indicated that the Soviets had sent the plan to Washington for Low's signature but it had not been returned yet. Until they had a signed copy in their hands, the plan was not operative.

Kozorev apparently believed that his position would cause Riley to reconsider his "generosity," because he again asked about releasing the photographs they had received from Houston. Riley told Donnelly in a memo, "I got the impression that he was somewhat ill at ease with his position and would have felt justified if I had changed my mind and insisted that they too would have to get permission for each individual photo." Instead Riley told Kozorev that they both knew that the plan had been approved and were only waiting for formal notification. "I intend to operate under the spirit of the plan even though formal signed documents were not yet available, and I repeated that they were free to use photos obtained from NASA."42

Kozorev and Riley also had a second discussion dealing with the participation in ASTP news conferences of correspondents from countries other than the United States and the Soviet Union. Several days before the 29 November briefing marking the end of the astronaut familiarization tour, Kozorev asked Riley whether NASA objected to newsmen from other countries attending. Riley told him that it was NASA's policy to welcome any accredited reporter, irrespective of nationality. Again Kozorev thanked the American public affairs representative and added that he would tell the several foreign correspondents that they could participate. Early on the morning after this press conference, however, Riley received a telephone call from a West German reporter who asked if there would be an opportunity [244] for him to talk with the astronauts before they departed. Riley later informed Donnelly:

I responded that we were leaving that day and that a news conference had been held the previous day. He said that he knew about that conference but when he asked to attend, he was told by Soviet authorities that NASA had requested that only American and Soviet correspondents be permitted to cover the conference and, therefore, they could not permit him to attend.43

Riley passed the reporter's complaint on to Donnelly with the information that several East European reporters had been present during the news session with the crews. Riley went further to note that Eli Flamm at the Embassy could not understand the exclusion of this particular individual since he normally had an excellent relationship with the Soviets. By early 1974, Donnelly and the others working on the NASA public affairs team had learned that they had a difficult task ahead of them.


* Hardware development and manufacture was dropped from subsequent JSC drafts.

** Also present were Donnelly, Lee, Lunney, Bushuyev, A. I. Tsarev, and V. I. Kozorev.

17. Letter, Low to Ezell, 15 Apr. 1976.

18. Ibid.

19. Robert J. Shafer to John P. Donnelly, memo, "IRDM," 19 May 1972, which responds to handwritten attachments to routing slip, Donnelly to Shafer, 2 May 1972.

20. Shafer to Donnelly, memo, "IRDM," 19 May 1972.

21. Interview, Donnelly and Shafer-Ezell, 26 and 28 Jan. 1976; interview, John E. Riley-Ezell, 10 Mar. 1976; and interview, John W. King-Ezell, 15 Mar. 1976.

22. [Riley, draft of ASTP Public Information Plan Part I], 10 Jan. 1973.

23. [Draft of ASTP Public Information Plan Part I], 15 Jan. 1973; and "Draft" [ASTP Public Information Plan], 1 Feb. 1973.

24. Routing slip, Richard Friedman to William J. O'Donnell, 13 Feb. 1973; and "R. Friedman: 2/13/73 Revisions" [ASTP Public Information Plan], 13 Feb. 1973.

25. Lee to Donnelly and Frutkin, memo, "Draft ASTP Information Plan Dated 13 February 1973," 2 Mar. 1973.

26. Ibid. Italics in the original.

27. Donnelly and Frutkin to Lee, memo, "Draft ASTP Information Plan," 9 Mar. 1973. This acceptable draft was signed by Donnelly, Frutkin, and Myers on 21 Mar. 1973 and by Low on 28 Mar. 1973.

28. "Apollo Soyuz Test Project, Minutes of Joint Meeting, USSR Academy of Sciences and US National Aeronautics and Space Administration," 9-20 July 1973; and Lunney to Bushuyev, 6 Sept. 1973.

29. Interview, Donnelly and Shafer-Ezell, 26 and 28 Jan. 1976.

30. Ibid.

31. Ibid.; Low, "Visit to Moscow, October 14-19, 1973," Dec.1973; Vladimir Alexandrovich Kotelnikov to Low, 6 Nov. 1973; TWX, Henry A. Kissinger to American Embassy, Moscow, "Space Agreement: ASTP Information Plan," 29 Nov. 1973; Kotelnikov to Low, 29 Dec. 1973; and Lee to Lunney, memo, "PAO Plan Part I, Now in Effect," 15 Jan. 1974.

32. Interview, Donnelly and Shafer-Ezell, 26 and 28 Jan. 1976; and Ron Van Nostrand to Donnelly, 26 Nov. 1973.

33. Interview, Donnelly and Shafer-Ezell, 26 and 28 Jan. 1976; and Shafer [notes recorded during Moscow trip], 8-11 Oct. 1973.

34. Ibid.

35. "Apollo Soyuz Test Project, ASTP Public Information Plan Part I," ASTP 20050, Part I, 12 Oct. 1973.

36. Shafer to Donnelly, memo, "ASTP Public Information Plan," 23 Oct. 1973; and interview, Donnelly and Shafer-Ezell, 26 and 28 Jan. 1976.

37. "ASTP Information Plan Part I," 12 Oct. 1973, p. 6.

38. Shafer to Donnelly, memo, "ASTP Public Information Plan," 23 Oct. 1973.

39. "ASTP Information Plan Part I," 12 Oct. 1973, p. 5.

40. Two contemporary accounts of newsmen who have worked in the U.S.S.R. are contained in Robert G. Kaiser, Russia: The People and the Power (New York, 1976); and Hedrick Smith, The Russians (New York, 1976).

41. Riley to Donnelly, memo, "Soviet Documentary Photography during ASTP Crews Visit to U.S.S.R.," 14 Feb. 1974.

42. Ibid.

43. Riley to Donnelly, memo, "Soviet Exclusion of Non-U.S. Western News Media at ASTP Crews News Conference in Star City," 14 Feb. 1973.