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

Chapter 9

Preparing for the Mission


[247] With a 30 January 1973 announcement, the U.8. was first to make public their ASTP crew assignments. Brigadier General Thomas P. Stafford, a veteran of three flights and Deputy Director of Flight Crew Operations since 1971, would lead the prime crew. The Command Module Pilot, Vance D. Brand, had been backup Command Module Pilot for Apollo 15, and at the time of his appointment to the ASTP crew was backup commander for the second and third manned Skylab missions. Donald K. "Deke" Slayton would fill the position of Docking Module Pilot. Since a heartbeat irregularity had deprived him of a flight on Project Mercury, Slayton as Director of Flight Crew Operations had played a key role in the management of crew selection and training at NASA. In March 1972, following a comprehensive series of medical examinations, Slayton was restored to full flight status. At 48, Deke was six years older than his crew mates and the oldest man yet to be selected for a space trip.1

Stafford's crew was backed by Alan L. Bean, Ronald E. Evans, and Jack R. Lousma. Bean, the fourth man to walk on the moon, had been in the space program since October 1963. This exacting, hard working naval officer was scheduled to command the second Skylab crew, which was preparing for a July 1973 launch. Evans, a Navy captain, had been Command Module Pilot for Apollo 17, and Lousma, a Marine Corps major, was preparing to accompany Bean on the flight to Skylab.2

Richard H. Truly, Robert F. Overmyer, Robert L. Crippen, and Karol J. Bobko would assist the flight crews in their training. These four support crewmen had transferred to NASA in 1969 following the cancellation of the Manned Orbiting Laboratory, a Department of Defense program. During the preparations for ASTP, they would stand-in for the prime crews in a number a time-consuming but critical activities, such as mission planning and lengthy manned tests of the flight hardware. During the flight, Truly, Crippen, and Bobko would act as spacecraft communicators from the mission control center in Houston. Overmyer, who was to work extensively with the Soviets in mission planning and crew training, would be one of the technical advisers at the mission control center in Kaliningrad during the flight. Together these ten men would work as a team for the American half of the joint flight.3

[248] On 1 February, Glynn Lunney introduced the American ASTP astronauts to the press. "The naming of the crew . . . is always an exciting time for us in the manned space business and I think especially in this project . . . [since] it indicates the progress that has been made on the planning for this activity," Lunney said. He turned the microphone over to Stafford, who indicated that it was great to have been named to a crew and that he was looking forward to getting away "from some of the paper work for a while and get[ting] back to simulation and training." For those critics who saw ASTP as simply an easy orbital flight, Stafford had a few words of caution.

The mission . . . is probably going to be one of the [most] difficult the manned space flight team has ever undertaken because it involves a different country, a different language, different operating techniques, and it's just . . . slow and painstaking . , . to work out all these [details].4

Stafford saw ASTP as a great challenge and a means of opening doors to a better future. Brand, who was fully occupied with training for Skylab, told the reporters that he agreed with Stafford's evaluation of the mission. He hoped that his Skylab training in the command module simulators would help him in preparations for ASTP. Once the last two flights to the space station were completed, he would turn his full attention to the joint mission, concentrating especially on learning Russian.

Since his restoration to flying status, Slayton had been working for a place on the ASTP crew. During the summer of 1972, Slayton, Bobko, and Crippen had been studying the Russian language. Bobko and Crippen spent their spare time on the language during a 56-day Skylab Medical Experiment Altitude Test, and Slayton had thought that some knowledge of the language might improve his chances for selection, as well. In his remarks to the press, Slayton began by thanking all those who had over the years tried to get him certified once again for flying and especially Dr. William K. Douglas and Robert R. Gilruth, who had worked to keep him flying 12 years earlier. "If I had no other reason to fly this mission," Slayton added, "I'd want to vindicate their good judgment." He also thanked Dr. Charles A. Berry of NASA and Dr. Hal Mankin of the Mayo Clinic for their efforts that led to his being available for this crew.

And third, of course, and not least, . . . on behalf of all the crew I'd like to thank Chris Kraft for putting us on the flight. I think Chris had a tougher decision in getting the crew [for] this flight than I ever had picking flight crews, because we've got 39 guys . . . who would have like to flown it.5

Reflecting on the twelve years that he had sat behind a desk and watched other men fly, Slayton said that all in all he had been "pretty [249] fortunate" in working for NASA. He had missed out on a lot of the adventure of space flight but he had also missed the tragedy - the snow goose that had wrecked Theodore Freeman's T-38 jet trainer, C. C. Williams' "bum aircraft," and the fire that had gutted Apollo 204. He told his audience that he had stayed with the space program because he was there to fly. He had expected to be returned to flight status all along; it had just taken longer than he had anticipated. For the "last 20 or 30 years I've been paid to fly, which is the thing I love most." Now, Deke Slayton was looking forward to his first space flight as a "mature rookie"; he hoped "to fly a couple of more after this one."6

Soviet crew announcements for the 1975 flight came on 24 May to coincide with the opening of the 1973 Paris Air Show. Alexei Arkhipovich Leonov and Valeriy Nikolayevich Kubasov were chosen as the prime crew. Leonov was a veteran of the Voskhod II flight, during which he had performed the first extravehicular excursion. Kubasov had been the backup technical scientist for Soyuz 5 and flight engineer on Soyuz 6. He would fill that role again in the ASTP mission, while Leonov would command their craft.

Prime crew members for the second Soyuz were Anatoliy Vasilyevich Filipchenko and Nikolay Nikolayevich Rukavishnikov. Filipchenko, who had become a cosmonaut in 1963, was the backup command pilot for Soyuz 4 and command pilot on Soyuz 7. Rukavishnikov joined the cosmonaut team in 1967 and became the test engineer for Soyuz 10. Backup crewmen were Vladimir Aleksandrovich Dzhanibekov, Boris Dmitriyevich Andreyev, Yuri Viktorovich Romanenko, and Aleksandr Sergeyevich Ivanchenko - all rookies who had joined the cosmonaut corps in 1970. This public announcement of crew assignments was a first for the Soviets, who in the past had never identified cosmonauts until they had actually flown.7

1. NASA News Release, MSC, 73-12, "ASTP Crew Named," 30 Jan. 1973; Loyd S. Swenson, Jr., James M. Grimwood, and Charles C. Alexander, This New Ocean: A History of Project Mercury, NASA SP-4201 (Washington, 1966), pp. 440-442; and NASA News Release [redistributed at JSC], "Excerpt from a Medical Briefing with Dr. Charles A. Berry, March 13, 1972, Discussing Donald K. Slayton's Heart Condition and His Return to Full Flight Status," 14 July 1975.

2. NASA News Release, MSC, 73-12, "ASTP Crew Named," 30 Jan. 1973.

3. Ibid.; U.S. Congress, House of Representatives, Committee on Science and Technology, Astronauts and Cosmonauts: Biographical and Statistical Data, 94th Cong., 1st sess. (Washington, 1975), p. 80; Harold M. Schmeck, Jr., "U.S. Selects Space Crew for Flight with Russians," New York Times, 31 Jan. 1973; and Thomas O'Toole, "Crew Picked for Joint Space Mission," Washington Post, 31 Jan. 1973.

4. NASA Press Conference, MSC, "Apollo Soyuz Test Project Prime Crew Press Conference," 1 Feb. 1973. Lunney and Leehad sought to coordinate the public announcement of the crewmembers with notification to the Soviets and to interested members of Congress. This required some careful timing. NASA did not want word to leak from Moscow about the American crew selection before all bases were touched in Washington. Chester M. Lee to Dale D. Myers, memo, "Naming of ASTP Astronauts," 30 Jan. 1973, together with draft TWX to Bushuyev, draft news release, and recommended list of congressmen and senators to be notified.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid.

7. Committee on Science and Technology, Astronauts and Cosmonauts, pp. 123, 129, 131, 136, 140, 143, and 148-149; NASA News Release, JSC, 73-93, "ASTP Cosmonauts to Visit JSC," 6 July 1973; FBIS-Soviet, "Soviet Cosmonaut Crew Announced for Joint Space Program," from Moscow Tass International Service, 25 May 1973.