Apollo-Soyuz: The First International Space Station
Monday, February 6th, 2012
On July 17 at 3:17 p.m. 1975, two men, one from Russia and one from the United States shook hands. Aside from the political setting of the time, this event would be entirely unremarkable if it was not for the fact that this particular handshake took place thousands of miles above Earth. The meeting of their two spacecraft, one an Apollo Command and Service Module from the lunar missions and the other a Soviet Soyuz craft, set the stage for the modern partnerships that dominate 21st century space travel.
With the formal end of the shuttle program, the United States and NASA must rely more than ever on international partner agencies for trips to the International Space Station. A notion that would not be possible if not for that handshake and the successful Apollo Soyuz Test Project 37 years ago. While the flight’s official goals were to test possible rescue operations and improve relations following the space race to the moon. The flight also proved that despite growing political, communication and operational differences, competing space programs could work together for the benefit of both parties.
For a brief period of time, the Apollo Soyuz Test Project warmed the Cold War relations between the governments of the United States and the Soviet Union. During the pre-flight phase of the project the respective crews of both space craft would travel to each other’s countries to break down cultural and language differences, and gain a better understanding of the once-rival agencies’ flight operations. Today, such visits would seem only natural, but in 1975 this Apollo crew would be the first Americans to witness Soviet launch operations.
Prior to 1975 both the Soviet and American space agencies had shown they were capable of overcoming the difficulties of launching manned-craft into orbit, but having the two very different vessels dock with one another presented a unique set of challenges. To overcome hardware differences, the docking module was designed by engineers from both space programs: a task made even more difficult due to the atmospheric differences of the Soviet and American space-craft.
On the operational side, cultural differences between the crews presented one of the most challenging obstacles. To overcome the language barrier, each crew would make multiple trips to the other crews’ country and would only communicate in the language of the listener.
The first International Space Station
At 12:12 p.m. on July 17, 1975 miles above the Atlantic Ocean the very first International Space Station was established when docking was completed between the Soyuz and Apollo module. Following a series of complex alignment maneuvers the two craft hard-docked. It would be another three hours before the hatch to the Soyuz could be opened and the two crews shook hands.
Almost immediately the crews began conducting joint scientific experiments in both modules. During the flight each of the crews would spend significant amount of time conducting biological experiments and share a meal in the other spacecraft. TV cameras for both Russian and American broadcasts captured the 2 days and 19 hrs of joint activity between the two crews for enraptured audiences back home. At 11:26 a.m. on July 19, the craft prepared for the final undocking sequence and an eventual descent to Earth.
It was formally labeled a test project, but the successes of the Apollo-Soyuz mission would pave the way for future collaboration and a lasting partnership that would lead to the International Space Station.
By Jason Taetsch
Jason Taetsch is a freelance content writer with experience in tech writing, blogs, travel writing, pop culture and a range of promotional materials. Jason blogs via Contently.com.