The Partnership: A History of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project|
Questions About Soyuz
Concurrent with their training exercises in
1974, the astronauts became involved in a renewed controversy over
the flightworthiness of the Soviet spacecraft. The first phase of
this debate opened with the publication of two articles in
Aviation Week that argued that Soyuz was a very marginal design when
compared to Apollo, especially in the area of guidance and control.
These stories, which came from conversations with some NASA
astronauts, made several strong judgments about the quality of Soviet
hardware, stating: "In some areas, Soyuz capability is below that
available in the Mercury spacecraft flown by American astronauts
almost 13 years ago."41 At the time these items were written, the NASA team
still did not fully understand the operation of the Soviet spacecraft
control systems. In fact, when the astronauts returned to Star City
in June, they were given at their request a
 briefing on these systems by V. P. Legostayev to
clear up several points of confusion resulting from data presented to
them the preceding November.
Legostayev and his colleagues had created
control systems for Soyuz that were sufficient for the earth orbital
missions that the craft was expected to fulfill. From the start,
Soyuz was basically a vehicle designed to be controlled automatically
from the ground. As various unmanned Cosmos flights had indicated,
Soyuz-type ships could be directed to rendezvous and dock from the
ground. When manning Soyuz, the cosmonauts acted more as systems
monitors than as pilots. This approach to manned space flight and the
limited activities demanded in earth orbit meant that the Soviet
designers did not need to develop the more complex guidance and
navigation equipment that had been required for Apollo's trips to the
moon. They relied instead on sun sensors and earth horizon
observation, plus limited use of gyroscopes for navigation and
In this area, Soyuz and Apollo represented
completely different approaches to a problem. For American astronauts
who were used to having their hands on the controls and flying by the
seats of their pants, Soyuz was not the kind of ship with which they
would feel comfortable. Being a passenger was not their cup of tea;
thus, it was not unreasonable for them to make negative comparisons
of Soyuz to Apollo. But such value judgments were at best subjective.
The Soviet approach was not worse than the American way of flying it
was simply different. When Aviation
Week took the facts of the difference
in design and coupled them with astronaut opinions, it sounded as if
the Soviets had an inferior spacecraft. Not surprisingly, the Soviets
were offended by these comparisons, and Glynn Lunney cautioned his
people to take care how they evaluated Soviet hardware when talking
to the press. He advised them to stick to the facts and to beware of
editorializing. He suggested that only a "damn fool" would mix fact
Phase two of the argument over the reliability
of Soyuz started with the apparent failure of Soyuz 15 to complete its
mission. Successful flights of Soyuz
12 (September 1973), Soyuz 13 (December
1973), and Soyuz 14 (launched for a 14-day mission during the June-July
1974 visit of the astronauts to Star City) had helped to reassure
many of those public figures who were still worried about the
tragedy. When Soyuz 15 failed to dock with Salyut 3 and returned to
earth after just two days and made a night landing, cries arose from
Capitol Hill and in the news media, questioning once again the wisdom
of the joint flight.43 Most vocal among the congressional critics was Senator
William Proxmire, who wrote to Administrator Fletcher asking for a
complete safety review of Soyuz prior to the ASTP mission. "In
particular," he recommended "that the National
 Aeronautics and Space Administration go slow and
proceed with all due caution." And he felt that "present plans for a
joint space mission should be seriously re-examined in light of the
continuing difficulty in the Soviet program." Proxmire said that he
did not want the space agency to take chances with the lives "of our
astronauts for the sake of some untangible diplomatic benefits of
While the Senator's concern was
understandable, he was ill informed if he believed that anyone within
NASA was about to gamble with the safety of either the American
Soviet crew. The whole purpose of exercises such as the safety
assessment reports was to identify problem areas and establish that
such potential trouble spots would not affect the execution of the
mission. Lunney, in a regularly scheduled telephone conversation, had
discussed the Soyuz 15 mission with Bushuyev on 27 August, the day after it
was launched, and the Professor had told him that it was in no way
related to ASTP, contrary to some media speculations. Bushuyev said
it was a test of automatic docking systems.45
At their 26 August-20 September 1974 meetings
in Moscow, Lunney and Bushuyev talked at considerable length about
and the Cosmos 638 and 672 flights. The latter, flown in April and August, were
unmanned tests of Soyuz as modified for ASTP, and they were
unqualified successes. As recorded in the joint minutes, the
objective of Soyuz 15 was:
the testing of a system of
automatic approach and docking. This system is not used in the
Apollo-Soyuz program. All Soyuz 15 systems that are analogous to
those used in the ASTP flight worked in a satisfactory manner. During
the final phase of approach not all of the monitored parameters for
approach and docking were within the prescribed range. The crew,
therefore, in accordance with previous instructions, switched off the
automatic approach and docking system. Following completion of the
planned flight program, the preplanned night landing was achieved for
the purpose of verifying the feasibility of . . . a night
In addition to the discussions between the
Technical Directors, the American crews were briefed by the
On 11 September 1974, Tom Stafford raised the
issue in a Houston press conference. He said that he had been given
the full story by General Shatalov at the beginning of their current
training session. Since there was still some concern about the
flight, however, Stafford gave the floor to Shatalov who had agreed
to answer queries from the press. Shatalov told the reporters that
had been a test of a system to permit automatic docking with Salyut,
since one of the long range goals of the Soviet space program was the
use of unmanned resupply craft that could dock with the space station
and automatically transfer fuel and supplies. Cosmonauts G. V.
Sarafanov and L. V. Demin had flown the mission to
 observe the functioning of the new system, and the
Soviet spokesman reminded the press that this was the traditional
role of the test pilot. Further, he pointed out that while NASA might
rely more heavily on ground- based simulations, the Soviet space
engineers had traditionally flight tested their spacecraft. In the
case of Soyuz 15, when it became apparent that the systems were not
working properly, the flight was terminated. Again, these experiences
were not unusual in the business of flight testing
hardware.47 Phase three of the Soyuz reliability debate came with
the successful flight of Soyuz
16. Manned by the number two ASTP
prime crew, Filipchenko and Rukavishnikov, this flight was a full
dress rehearsal of the Soviet half of the joint mission. From the
afternoon lift-off at 12:40 Moscow time on 2 December to the morning
landing at 11:04 on the 8th, the flight of Soyuz was nearly perfect,
and the results of the test of life support, docking, antenna
deployment, and ground control systems were excellent. Shortly after
launch, the Soviets had notified the Johnson Space Center, so the
Spaceflight Tracking Data Network could begin tracking the
Lunney's team in Houston had known that the
Soviets were planning a manned flight for the end of 1974. In fact,
the Soviets had been prepared to give the Americans advance notice of
It was agreed that during the
upcoming manned Soyuz flight which is a precursor test flight for the
ASTP mission, the American side will perform Soyuz spacecraft
tracking with their own ground tracking stations and the two sides
will subsequently compare tracking data. The American side will be
informed about the launch date and planned orbital parameters 5 days
prior to launch. State vectors of the spacecraft will also be
provided after insertion into orbit.49
Subsequently, the Soviets added the
restriction that this information would be given to NASA only if the
agency agreed to withhold it from the press until the flight had
actually begun. After lengthy discussions, which involved George Low,
Glynn Lunney, Chet Lee, Arnold Frutkin, and John Donnelly, it was
concluded that NASA's tracking Soyuz
16 could be considered a joint
activity.50 To withhold details from the public concerning such an
exercise would not be consistent with the agency's traditional
practice of providing information. On 11 October, Lunney telexed
We appreciate Soviet desire to
make own announcement of launch notice and launch. However, because
of our own involvement in this activity, we would find ourselves in a
difficult position if we could not report this information to our
press. Therefore, we prefer to receive no information in this case
until you have released it or we can release it. When we learn of the
launch under these conditions we will initiate tracking activities. .
 At 6:35 Houston
time on the morning of 2 December, V. A. Timchenko called JSC. The
security guard who took the early morning call said that Mr. Lunney
was not yet in his office. At the Soviets' request, the guard
notified the U.S. Technical Director that Moscow would be contacting
him by telephone at 8:15. Less than two hours later, Timchenko and
Lunney were talking about the mission manned by Filipchenko and
Rukavishnikov. Lunney in turn advised the tracking team, giving them
the data provided by Timchenko. These mathematical statements of the
spacecraft's location and velocity at a given time would permit the
tracking stations to follow its path, an exercise that was essential
for the rendezvous part of the joint mission.52
 Bushuyev gave
Lunney brief reports on this ASTP precursor flight during telecons on
3 and 8 December. Subsequently during the winter meetings in Houston,
he provided full details of the Soyuz
16 mission to the American members of
Working Group 4. On 31 January through his interpreter, Yu. S. Zonov,
the Professor told Lunney that the flight had been a complete dress
rehearsal for the Soviet portion of ASTP. The Soyuz spacecraft was
identical to the one that would be flown in July, and the Soviets had
designed the December flight plan to check out key parts of the ASTP
plan. Of particular interest to the Americans were the reports
provided by Bushuyev on the functional tests of the modified life
support system. (See box below.53)
Life Support System
Operation Timeline: Checkout of ASTP Modifications to Spacecraft
During Soyuz 16 Flight
Ground elapsed time (hr:min)
Descent vehicle gas analyzer,
orbital module gas analyzer, and pressure integrity check
Crew in pressure suits
ingresses vehicle: SC connects his PG to OM fan assembly,
activates OM panel and PG fan assembly , and begins
pre-launch OM examination. FE ingresses DV, connects his PG
to DV fan assembly, activates CSD and PG fan assembly, and
begins pre-launch DV examination. Following examination, SC
deactivates PG fan assembly and OM panel, disconnects PG
from fan, transfers to DV , connects PG to the DV fan
assembly and activates it. DV RA activation.
Begin status and operations
check of DV systems. Close hatch 5. Close OM ingress hatch.
Pressurize OM with 125 mm Hg of oxygen. OM pressure
integrity by launch team.
Begin PG pressure integrity
End PG pressure integrity
Lower PG visors.
Launch: December 2, 1974,
12:40 Moscow time.
Raise PG visors.
Switch PICU to pressure leak
Remove PG gloves.
End pressure integrity
monitoring of modules. Activate GMSS automatic controls.
Close "TANK" valves.
Activate OM RA. Equalize
DV-OM pressure and open hatch 5. DV RA "OFF." Transfer to
OM. Set OM PVV to "CLOSED" position. DV-OM pressure vent
test. Remove PGs and begin drying.
End PG drying.
6:43 to 8:28
DV-OM pressure vent to 540 mm
10:40 to 18:50
28:37 to 28:53
Corrective pressure vent from
540 to 510 mm Hg.
34:30 to 42:20
Open bypass valve (initiation
TCS LML coolant flow through Apollo radio station
transceiver mounting assembly).
Close bypass valve.
OM RA CO2 absorber
Switch OM RA to minimum flow
mode from OM panel. Transfer to DV and close hatch 5.
Open hatch 5.
Switch OM RA to automatic
control mode and activate CO2
Remove PGs, begin
58:20 to 66:00
82:00 to 89:40
DV OM pressurization to 830
condensation collector, transfer it to OM, and connect DV
105:50 to 113:25
Transfer to DV and close
hatch 5. Jettison APDS mock-up ring.
Open hatch 5.
DV-OM test pressure vent from
805 to 760 mm Hg.
Switch TCS ERL external line
coolant temperature setting from 7°C to
130:00 to 137:00
Switch gas temperature
setting at heat exchanger-condenser output from 20°C to
Descent preparations and
Set OM PVV handle to "ELECT
Transfer to DV ; close hatch
5. Connect PG to GMMS; activate PG fan. Activate DV RA. OM
pressure vent by 125 mm Hg. Monitor hatch 5 pressure
Monitor PG pressure
OM pressure vent.
Landing: December 8, 1974,
11:04 Moscow time.
List of abbreviations
Command signal device
External radiator loop
Gas mixture supply
Living module loop
Pressure garment (space
Pressure integrity check
Pressure vent valve
Regenerated assembly (oxygen
Thermal control system
 Bushuyev also
called to Lunney's attention the fact that Soyuz 16 had been placed
into an initial orbit different from the ASTP rendezvous orbit so
that the Soviets could test the spacecraft's maneuverability. The
Professor went on to provide the Americans with details regarding the
docking system evaluation:
As I said before, for the
imitation of the operation of docking assembly of the Apollo
spacecraft, we made a special technological ring which corresponded
to the docking ring of the American assembly. During the flight, we
tested the following items: the opening and the closing of the
[capture] latches. The retraction of the ring with the guides. The
alignment of the ring. The opening of the [structural] latches. The
closing of the latches. The undocking. The reserve opening of the
active hooks. . . . During the process of opening the hooks and
undocking, the movement of the hooks was done not to the end but to
the position of intermediate. This was done specially so we could do
the final separation of the ring with the help of the pyrotechnics
[i.e., to test the emergency release system].54
All the tests of the docking were carried out
successfully with no problems.
Bushuyev was very confident that Soyuz was
ready for the joint mission. After a nearly perfect flight by
Soyuz 16, he had good reason to be optimistic. In fact, he
commented that both Filipchenko and Rukavishnikov, veterans of
earlier Soyuz flights, had indicated that all the changes
incorporated into the spacecraft had made it a more flexible ship to
fly.55 Filipchenko and Rukavishnikov spoke with the press on
13 December when the Soviets conducted a post-flight news conference,
a check out of their public affairs procedures for ASTP. The two
crewmen, plus Petrov, Beregovoy, Flight Director Shatalov, and
Bushuyev, met with several hundred correspondents. Bob White,
American Working Group 3 chairman in Moscow for the pre-flight tests
of the docking systems, also attended. He noted that this was the
first time the press had been able to directly ask questions of a
Soviet crew after a mission and the first time most of them had been
permitted to visit Star City where the press conference was
held.56 The Soviets' optimism over Soyuz 16 was soon shared
by Lunney, his Working Group chairmen, and the crews. Soyuz was
ready; the Soviet reports, joint test data, and safety assessment
reports proved it. This evaluation was presented to the U.S.
Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP).
41. "Soyuz Gives
Cosmonauts Little Control," Aviation
Week & Space Technology, 21 Jan.
1974, p. 38; Theodore Shabad, "Soviet Puts Soyuz 12 with 2 Aboard,
into Earth Orbit," New York
Times, 28 Sept. 1973; James
Oberg,"U.S.Soviet Space Flight," Los
Angeles Times, 30 Sept. 1973; "Nas
planetoi sovetskii kosmicheskii korabl v polete Soyuz-13" [Above the
planet, Soviet space ship, in the flight of "Soyuz-13"]
Izvestiya, 19 Dec. 1973; "V polete-Soyuz-13 [In
flight-"Soyuz-13"], Pravda, 19 Dec. 1973; A.
Pokrovskii, "Soyuz-13: Lydi i sudbi" ["Soyuz-13": people and fates],
19 Dec. 1973; "Soyuz-13: Den Vtoroy" ["Soyuz-13": the second day],
20 Dec. 1973; "Smooth Sailing for Companions in Orbit,"
Dec. 1973, p. 41; B. Komovalov, "Zdravstvei, zemlya!" [Hello,
earth!], Izvestiya, 27 Dec. 1973; "Soviet Cosmonauts Link Up to Salyut
3," Newport Times
Herald, 4 July 1974; "Cosmonauts Star
on Moscow TV, Washington
Star-News, 14 July 1974; Malcolm
Browne, "Russian Crew Ready to Return to Earth," New York Times, 19 July
1974; and Kenneth W. Gatland, "Salyut 3: Soviets Still Catching Up,"
Monitor, 22 July 1974.
42. Ezell, "Notes on
0745 Directors Tag-up Meeting," 17 Apr. 1974.
43. Robert G. Kaiser,
"Cosmonauts in Orbit; First in Two Years," Washington Post, 28
44. William Proxmire to
James C. Fletcher, 3 Sept. 1974. Harold M. Schmeck, Jr., "Proxmire,
Citing Failures, Asks Study of U.S.-Soviet Space Plan,"
New York Times, 6 Sept. 1974; Richard D. Lyons, "Failures Mark
Russian Space Program," New York
Times, 26 Sept. 1974; "Cosmonauts Down
Early but at Least Safely," i, 1 Sept. 1974; "Soyuz Ends Flight;
Salyut Linkup Fails," Aviation Week
& Space Technology, 2 Sept. 1974,
p. 23; Christopher S. Wren, "Soviet Astronauts Land Safely; Space
Docking Apparently Fails," New York
Times, 29 Aug. 1974; "Soyuz Ends Space
Trip Early," Washington
Post, 29 Aug. 1974; and Wren, "Two
Soviet Astronauts in Good Health; First Night Landing Hailed in
Moscow," New York Times, 30 Aug. 1974.
45. Lunney to Bushuyev,
3 Sept. 1974, enclosing "Minutes of the ASTP Telephone Conversation
of August 27, 1974 [US Minutes]"; [Response to Query, HQ], "NASA's
Reply to Proxmire Letter," 5 Sept. 1974; and Fletcher to Proxmire, 10
46. "Summary of Results
of the August-September 1974 Meeting of Specialists of the USA NASA
and USSR Academy of Sciences on the Preparations for Conduct of the
Test Flight of Apollo and Soyuz," 20 Sept. 1974, in "Apollo Soyuz
Test Project Minutes of Joint Meeting, USSR Academy of Sciences and
US National Aeronautics and Space Administration," 26 Aug.-20 Sept.
47. NASA Press
Conference, JSC, "ASTP News Conference," 11 Sept. 1974.
48. NASA News Release,
JSC, 74-272, "U.S. Tracking Soyuz 16," 3 Dec. 1974; "Minutes of the
ASTP Telephone Conversation," 3 Dec. 1974; "Soyuz 16 Life Support
Systems Operation," USSR WGS-035, 27 Jan. 1975; Elizabeth Pond,
"Soviet Dress Rehearsal for U.S. Space Linkup," Christian Science Monitor, 3 Dec. 1974; Wren, "Soviet Orbits 2 in a Test for
Joint Space Link-up," New York
Times, 3 Dec. 1974; Soviets Orbit 2
Post, 3 Dec. 1974; Wren, "Space Flight
Test Pleases Soviet," New York
Times, 8 Dec. 1974; A. Bessonov,
"Provereno v kosmicheskom polete," Novoe Vremya, 13 Dec.
1974, pp. 6-7 (for translation, see the English version, "Tested in
Space," New Times, Dec. 1974, pp. 6-7); and V. Lesnikov, "Polet Soyuz
A-16, po sovmestnomu vapiantu" ["Soyuz-16," the joint version],
Kosmonovtika (Jan. 1975), pp.
49. "Minutes of Joint
Meeting, USSR Academy of Sciences and US National Aeronautics and
Space Administration," 26 Aug.-20 Sept. 1974.
50. Robert J. Shafer to
John P. Donnelly, memo, "Advance Notification for Soyuz Launch," 7
Oct. 1974; and Shafer to Donnelly, memo, "Advance Notification for
Soyuz Launch," 9 Oct. 1974.
51. TWX, Lunney to
Bushuyev, 11 Oct. 1974; Gerald M. Truszynski to John F. Yardley,
memo, "Procedure for Authorizing Tracking of Any ASTP Precursor
Mission," 8 Nov. 1974; TWX, Lunney to Lee, "Tracking of Soyuz
Flight," 8 Nov. 1974; and Yardley to Truszynski, memo, "Tracking of
Soyuz Flight," 15 Nov. 1974.
52. Bushuyev to Lunney,
16 Dec. 1974, transmitting "Report on Telephone Exchanges during the
Soyuz 16 Joint Tracking Experiment."
53. TWX, Lunney to
Bushuyev, 11 Oct. 1974; "Minutes of Joint Meeting, USSR Academy of
Sciences and US National Aeronautics and Space Administration," 20
Jan.-13 Feb. 1975; and "Soyuz 16 Life Support Systems Operation,"
USSR WGS-035, 27 Jan. 1975.
report on Soyuz 16 by Bushuyev, 31 Jan. 1975.
56. White to Grimwood,
memo, "Comments on E. C. Ezell's Draft Manuscript," 6 Jan. 1976.