With the July 15, 1975, launch date for the historic
Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP) just one week away, the astronauts and
cosmonauts, in strict medical isolation, finished their training. The prime crews,
as well as their backups and support teams, arrived at the respective launch
sites in Florida and Kazakhstan. While the Saturn IB rocket for the Apollo
mission had stood on its seaside launch pad for nearly four months, the Soyuz
rocket rolled out to its pad just a few days before launch. Flight controllers
from each country arrived at their counterpart control centers ready to support
Left: ASTP Soyuz
rocket rolls out to the launch pad at Baikonur. Right: ASTP Soyuz cosmonauts Aleksei
Leonov (left) and Valeri Kubasov pose at the launch pad the day before launch.
At the Baikonur Cosmodrome in the Soviet republic of Kazakhstan,
engineers prepared two identical rockets and spacecraft for ASTP, a prime and a
backup. Should any issues arise with the prime spacecraft, the Soviets would be
ready to fly the backup vehicle and not delay the mission. On July 11, workers
rolled the prime rocket and spacecraft to Pad 1, known as Gagarin Start since
Yuri A. Gagarin, the first human in space, took off from that facility 14 years
earlier. Two days later, they rolled the backup vehicle out to Pad 31, about 12
miles away. To aid with monitoring during the mission, the Soviets deployed two
tracking ships, the Akademik Sergei
Korolev and the Kosmonavt Yuri
Gagarin to their stations in the Atlantic Ocean. The prime Soyuz crew of Commander
Aleksei A. Leonov and Flight Engineer Valeri N. Kubasov, accompanied by backups
Anatoli V. Filipchenko and Nikolai N. Rukavishnikov and support crewmembers
Yuri V. Romanenko and Aleksandr S. Ivanchenko, arrived at the Cosmodrome a few
days before launch. A team of 15 Soviet specialists and interpreters arrived at
mission control at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston on July 8, ready to
support the mission.
crew members (left to right) Aleksandr Ivanchenko, Yuri Romanenko, Kubasov,
Leonov, Anatoli Filipchenko, and Nikolai Rukavishnikov pose at the base of the
Soyuz rocket at Baikonur.
The prime Apollo crew of Commander Thomas P. Stafford, Command Module
Pilot Vance D. Brand, and Docking Module
Pilot Donald K. “Deke” Slayton practiced the all-important rendezvous and
docking in the spacecraft simulator at Johnson. They posed near the simulator
with their backups Alan L. Bean, Ronald E. Evans, and Jack R. Lousma, as well as support
crew members Karol J. Bobko, Robert L. Crippen, Robert F.
Overmyer, and Richard H. Truly. On July 10,
Stafford and Leonov held a telephone conversation and confirmed that all was
ready for the mission.
Meanwhile, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, the countdown
for the Apollo launch commenced on July 11. Two days later, Stafford, Brand,
and Slayton arrived at Patrick Air Force Base (AFB) near Kennedy. A team of 15 American
flight controllers, led by Flight Director Charles R. Lewis, arrived in Moscow
on July 12, ready to support the mission from the Soviet Flight Control Center
in Kaliningrad (now Korolev), located just outside Moscow. A formal review on
July 13 conducted by Apollo Program Office Manager Chester M. “Chet” Lee
determined that all elements were in place and ready to support launch.
Left: Thomas Stafford
after arriving at Patrick AFB near Kennedy. Right: Deke Slayton (left, in
orange flight suit) and Vance Brand (right) after arriving at Patrick AFB.
ASTP Apollo crew members
(left to right) Robert Crippen, Robert Overmyer, Richard Truly, Karol Bobko,
Slayton, Stafford, Brand, Jack Lousma, Ronald Evans, and Alan Bean.
The mission plan called for Leonov and Kubasov aboard the
Soyuz to launch first and, once mission controllers received word that it had entered
the correct orbit, the Apollo spacecraft carrying Stafford, Brand, and Slayton would
liftoff seven-and-a-half hours later. Shortly after orbital insertion, the
Apollo crew would perform a transposition and docking maneuver similar to what
Moon-bound astronauts did, but instead of a Lunar Module (LM) tucked away in
the Spacecraft LM Adapter, on this flight the Docking Module (DM) replaced the
LM. After separating from the rocket’s third stage, the astronauts would turn
the Command and Service Module (CSM) around, dock with the DM and extract it
from the now empty stage. Two days after launch, with Apollo playing the role
of the active spacecraft, the two vehicles would dock while flying over
Over the next two days, several crew exchanges were
planned, using the DM as an airlock since the two spacecraft operated at
different atmospheric pressures and compositions, with one crew member always
remaining in their “home” spacecraft. During these visits, the crews planned to
exchange gifts, such as flags of each other’s countries, unite halves of
medallions launched separately, conduct joint science experiments, and share
meals together. One unique gift for the cosmonauts, prepared by the United
States Department of Agriculture’s Forestry Service, involved a package of
white spruce tree seeds in a special wooden container. The seeds, enough to
plant an acre, represented a superior breed of spruce tree with fast growth
capabilities to yield trees of exceptional height and shape. The mature trees would
reduce pollutants in the air, filter noise, act as windbreaks and add natural
beauty to the landscape.
overview of the ASTP mission. Right: Ceremonial exchange gifts.
After two days of joint operations and multiple crew visits,
the two craft would separate, and the Apollo would try to create an artificial
solar eclipse as viewed from Soyuz. Then Soyuz would then practice docking as
the active spacecraft before the two spacecraft undocked for the final time.
Soyuz would remain in orbit for two more days before re-entering and landing in
Kazakhstan, while Apollo would continue to conduct science experiments for five
more days before making a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.
To be continued …