WASHINGTON – Two astronauts and two cosmonauts remembered their historic meeting in space 30 years ago at the National Air and Space Museum Thursday.
The first human international spaceflight launched by the United States and the Soviet Union,the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project,was an eight-day mission capped when the world's two space powers shook hands in space in the docking ring of the Apollo and Soyuz spacecrafts July 17,1975.
“This was the beginning of the growing mutual partnership,” said Thomas Stafford,a U.S. astronaut and member of the Apollo crew.
The four surviving crew members – astronaut Donald Slayton died in 1993 – spoke before TV crews and dozens of visitors at the museum to commemorate the anniversary of the mission intended to overcome the Cold War barriers between two nations.
The mission began with the Soyuz launch on July 15 and was designed to test the compatibility of the docking systems for American and Soviet spacecraft to open the doors for the future joint flights.
“We all heard a lot of bad things about that country and it was really amazing getting together and understanding each other,because we were in the same business,” said Vance Brand,an Apollo astronaut.
“We were all not interested in politics. We were doing the technical part and that is why our project succeeded,” said Alexei Leonov,a Soyuz cosmonaut.
The cosmonauts,Leonov and Valeriy Kubasov,together with astronauts Thomas Stafford,Slayton and Brand started a mission preparation and training program together in 1973.
“The hardest thing during our flight preparation trainings was Houston's hot and humid climate. People who were working with us thought that there are only bears in Russia and people who live there wear a bear skin,” Kubasov said.
The Soviet Soyuz took off from the Kazakhstan's Baykonur Cosmodrome on July 15,and seven hours later,America's Apollo launched from the Kennedy Space Center.
At 2:17 p.m. U.S. CDT July 17 the two aircraft docked in space above Russia's Elba River.
“Alexei knocked the hatch and I asked,‘Who is there?' as if there was someone else except for us in the outer space,” said Stafford,who shook Leonov's hand in the docking ring.
Leonov said that,despite being in space,according to the Russian tradition,they had to celebrate their long-awaited docking with vodka or cognac. But there had been a little mistake.
“I glued labels with a vodka sign on the tubes with borscht. So when we gathered to commemorate our rendezvous after docking of the spacecrafts,we all drank borscht,” Leonov said,laughing.
After two days of mutual operations,the Soyuz cosmonauts resided in space for two more days before landing in Kazakhstan's Baykonur July 21. The Apollo spacecraft's splashdown was July 24 near Hawaii.
Apollo-Soyuz crew members said that their flight was the beginning of international space projects and space cooperation. However,the next joint project between the United States and Russia didn't come for another 20 years,four years after the Soviet Union came apart.
In 1995 the space shuttle Atlantis flew into space for a docking with the Russian space station Mir,which paved the way for the International Space Station.