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

A Report to Congress


Despite these difficulties with public affairs, George Low was still genuinely optimistic about the prospects for a successful flight. And even on topics such as public affairs, there was hope since NASA had not given up any of its traditional openness and since the Soviets seemed willing to negotiate in good faith. So upon his return from the Soviet Union, Low touched base with Chairman Olin Teague of the House Committee on Science and Astronautics. In a letter, he told Teague about his various chats with the Soviet space leaders, summarized the results of the joint talks, and described his visits to the space facilities. Among the significant results produced by the Working Group sessions, Low noted:

It was agreed to conduct five joint scientific experiments on the mission involving biological interaction, microbial exchange, a multipurpose furnace, artificial solar eclipse and ultraviolet absorption.[*]

It was agreed that there would be reciprocal participation of US and USSR specialists in preflight fit checks at the launch site of compatible hardware such as TV cameras, speaker box, etc. in the flight Soyuz and Apollo spacecraft.

With regard to the Apollo VHF/AM communication equipment, it was agreed that the US specialists will participate in the checkout of the equipment after delivery to the USSR and also during the preflight checkout of this equipment in the flight Soyuz at Baikonur, the Soviet launch site. In addition to these agreements, improvement was noted in the preparation [245] of plans and documents, particularly in the Communications Working Group. All documentation is essentially now on schedule.44

Low advised Teague that these agreements would "materially contribute to a successful mission and . . . [were] a good indication of the Soviets' commitment to making this mission a success." Turning to the Mid-Tem Review, the Deputy Administrator reported that "The Project Technical Directors . . . and the Working Group Chairman made detailed presentations" to Academician Petrov and me "and responded to all questions." As a consequence of this exercise they had "concluded that the progress made and the quality of the joint work to date [gave them] high confidence that the scheduled launch date [would] be met."45

Privately Low was equally confident of success, particularly considering the international scene at the time. On 6 October, the fourth major war between the Arab states and Israel had erupted when troops from Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and several other countries attacked. The Yom Kippur War had raged throughout the stay of the Americans in Moscow, with the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. airlifting arms to the opposing sides. And on 17 October, the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries had announced a coordinated program of oil production and export cuts to those nations that supported Israel.46 Jim Jaax of Working Group 5 recalled that he and his colleagues only learned about the war when one of the interpreters read of the conflict in a Soviet newspaper during a bus ride from the Rossiya Hotel to the Institute of Space Research. In their isolation, they had had no other indications that a war was being fought in the Middle East.47

Potentially as disruptive to the Soviet-American space efforts had been the U.S. National Academy of Sciences' protests to the Soviet Academy concerning the "heightened campaign of condemnation" being waged against dissenting Academician Andrei Dmitriyevich Sakharov. The President of the American Academy had cabled Keldysh in September 1973 regarding the matter and had subsequently published the text of his message in Science on 21 September.48 Low, commenting on these problems, said, "Although we were in Moscow during an international crisis and during the exchange of letters between the U.S. and Soviet Academies on the Sakharov affair, neither of these subjects came up at any time during our visit."49 Low noted that one New York Times article concluded: "the warm treatment of Mr. Low and a team of American specialists, working with their Soviet counterparts to prepare for the Apollo-Soyuz mission, was read as a deliberate gesture by Moscow to emphasize its interest in Soviet-American cooperation and detente despite the frictions of the Middle East conflict."50

At the end of 1973, a successful flight in July 1975 seemed probable. The Soviet and American teams had made considerable technical progress [246] and, despite the tight schedules and heavy work loads, were confident. ASTP appeared to be politically possible as well, since major international crises had not intruded into the world of the Working Groups. The year 1973 had also seen the two crews begin to work out the details of joint training. The day of rendezvous was approaching.

* Detailed descriptions of ASTP experiments are presented in appendix E.

44. Letter, Low to Teague, 31 Oct. 1973.

45. Ibid.

46. "War Erupts in Middle East," Facts on File 33 (7-13 Oct. 1973): 833-838; and "Mideast War Mounts in Intensity," Facts on File 33 (14-20 Oct. 1973): 857-862.

47. James R. Jaax, comments on ASTP history draft, 19 Jan. 1976.

48. "Council of U.S. Academy of Sciences Expresses Concern to Soviet Counterparts over Sakharov Harrassment," Science, 21 Sept. 1973, pp. 1148-1149; "Soviet Academy Replies to NAS Defense of Sakharov," Science, 2 Nov. 1973, p. 1459; "Soviet Rebuts Americans on Sakharov," New York Times, 18 Oct. 1973; and "Soviet Letter on Sakharov," New York Times, 18 Oct. 1973. See also Smith, The Russians, pp. 439-445; and Kaiser, Russia: the People and the Power, pp. 419-428.

49. Low, "Visit to Moscow, October 14-19, 1973," Dec. 1973.

50. Hedrick Smith, "U.S. Space Team at Soviet Center," New York Times, 19 Oct. 1973.