The Partnership: A History of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project|
Do You Speak Russian?
During the winter of 1972 the Manned
Spacecraft Center (MSC) created the civil service position of Russian
Language Officer, and Nicholas Timacheff filled that slot on 2
January 1973. His duties were varied and included supervising the
interpreters who worked during the joint missions, the contractor who
provided translators who in turn worked on the documentation and the
Russian language training for the American flight crews. In addition,
Timacheff and his assistant, Donalyn Epstein, filled in as
interpreters at meetings and telecons, reviewed movie scripts, and
oversaw the compilation of a commonly accepted English-Russian
Russian-English glossary for ASTP.
Language training was a major challenge for
the crews, despite Tom Stafford's comments to the press during the
July meeting that Russian was nyet
problém.27 During the fall of 1972, language training had been
discussed in Washington and Houston, and all parties agreed that a
formal program of instruction was needed to supplement the personal
studies in which some of the astronauts were engaged. There appeared
to be three possible approaches enroll the astronauts in a formal
course such as those offered by the State Department Foreign Service
Institute or the Department of Defense language schools; contract
with a university to provide instruction; or bring instructors to the
space center to work with the crewmembers. The language schools
required a full year of residential study, and the crew obviously
could not leave their other activities for that length of time.
Johnson Spacecraft Center (JSC) management also preferred to keep the
work within government circles in an effort to keep costs down; that
ruled out universities. Early in 1973, Lunney, Timacheff, and the
others finally agreed to try having instructors from the Foreign
Service Institute work at JSC with Slayton and Stafford for short
stretches to see if this  approach would be
satisfactory. Vance Brand and the backup crewmen would begin language
studies once their commitments to Skylab were
By the time the Soviets arrived for the July
training sessions, Slayton had received nearly 140 hours of Russian
instruction, and Stafford 115. Between August and the November trip
to Star City, Slayton raised his total to 245, and Stafford to 225. A
year earlier, Deke had noted in a memo that he hoped "all will
consider adequate" 300 hours of language training.29 But having nearly reached that point, Slayton and
Stafford realized that many, many more hours of studying Russian
would have to precede the flight.
27. "Visiting Cosmonauts
Have a W. Texas Rural Look," Houston
Chronicle, 19 July 1973.
28. Owen G. Morris to
Christopher C. Kraft, memo, "Flight Crews for ASTP," 18 Sept. 1972;
Morris to Kraft, memo, "ASTP Language Training," 7 Nov. 1972; Myers
to Rocco A. Petrone, memo, "Astronaut Proficiency in the Russian
Language," 17 Oct. 1972; Petrone to Meyers, memo, "Astronaut
Proficiency in the Russian Language," 20 Nov. 1972; Donald K. Slayton
to Morris, memo, "Joint US/USSR Crew Training," 15 Dec. 1972;
interview, Brzezinski-Ezell, 23 Sept. 1975; and interview, Nicholas
Timacheff-Ezell, 1 Oct. 1974.
29. Morris to Kraft,
memo, "Flight Crew for ASTP," 18 Sept. 1972.