Apollo-Soyuz Mission: When the Space Race Ended – Astronomy Magazine

A handshake in space

To some politicians, the ultimate symbol of dtente would be docking a Soviet capsule with an American one in low-Earth orbit for a handshake in space. Scientists and engineers saw benefits to such a joint mission, too. America had talented space pilots and advanced long-distance space technology. Meanwhile, the Soviets had focused on automation and had pioneered long-term spaceflights. Both had something the other was interested in learning about.

An American delegation traveled to Moscow in 1970 to lay the framework for the mission, and within two years, the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project was officially born.

But not everyone liked the idea. Each side worried the other could steal its technology. Some defense hawks, and even a New York Times editorial board opinion, noted that Apollo-Soyuz offered a technical and scientific bonanza for the Soviet Union's lagging astronautical program. Meanwhile, the Soviets continued insulting American spacecraft.

Finally, three years after the final Apollo moon flight, the two superpowers overcame the political and engineering hurdles to make the rendezvous happen, including the design and development of an American-funded docking module that could mate the two crafts.

On July 15, 1975, a Soyuz capsule and an Apollo capsule leftover from a canceled moon flight launched within hours of each other from opposite sides of the planet. Then, two days later, they met up 140 miles over Earths surface.

Soyuz and Apollo are shaking hands now, Soyuz commander Alexei Leonov said as the two spacecraft gently docked. And as the door opened between the ships, the astronauts inside exchanged their own handshakes and posed for pictures.

Over the next two days, the men learned to work together as they toured the other countrys spacecraft and carried out five joint scientific experiments. At first, though, they struggled to even communicate. Each wanted to speak their own language, but they eventually realized that they all understood things better when they attempted to speak the others language.

We [the Americans] thought they [the Soviets] were pretty aggressive people and ... they probably thought we were monsters, Brand said. So we very quickly broke through that, because when you deal with people that are in the same line of work as you are, and you're around them for a short time, why, you discover that, well, they're human beings."

Together, the crew helped their space agencies gather new technical and scientific insights. One experiment tested the effects of low-gravity on the development of fish eggs. Another created an artificial solar eclipse using the Apollo capsule to block the sun while cosmonauts took pictures of the solar corona.

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Apollo-Soyuz Mission: When the Space Race Ended - Astronomy Magazine

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