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The Apollo/Soyuz mission raised the Cold War temperature

Posted in America, Communism, Exploration, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Space on Friday, 30 March 2012

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This edited article about space originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 680 published on 25 January 1975.

Apollo/Soyuz mission, picture, image, illustration

After docking the astronauts and cosmonauts share a meal in space by Wilf Hardy

American and Russian spacemen will shake hands in an orbiting sky station 130 miles above the earth this summer at the start of the most significant space flight so far.

This daring, joint enterprise stamps one of the seals on US-Russia friendship and may well open a chapter of co-operation between the two super powers for exploring not only our own solar system but also the inky vastnesses leading to the stars themselves.

The teams most likely to make the historic flight have been earmarked, although official confirmation has yet to come from the Russian and American space authorities. Target date for blast-off for both crews is July 15.

From the Russian space centre at Tyuratain near Baikonur in Central Asia, Colonel Alexei Leonov, the first man to “walk” in space in 1965 and one of Russia’s most experienced cosmonauts, and his colleague Valery Kubasov will take off in a Soyuz spaceship.

Seven hours later from Cape Canaveral, Brigadier General Tom Stafford, commander of the US crew, Major Donald Kent Slayton and Vance Brand will be shot into the skies over the Atlantic in an Apollo craft carrying special docking equipment to rendezvous and link up with the orbiting Russians.

As they close together, the jointly-designed docking module atop the Apollo spaceship will be aimed by pilot Brand through a sighting device at a six-inch target zone on the Soyuz craft. Once locked together, both teams will be able to visit each other through the docking module itself.

During the two-day flight, a string of experiments will be carried out. The spacemen will operate a small furnace in the docking module to find out whether it is possible to forge improved metals in space. At one point, they will undock to enable the Apollo craft to make an eclipse of the sun while the Russians take photographs. During the docking manoeuvres, measurements of ultra-violet rays will be taken. Two biological experiments will also be made: analysing microbiotic changes and examining the growth of fungi in space.

A spectacular television programme will also be carried out with the space station using a powerful satellite for the first time to relay pictures and messages to control stations on earth. The satellite will be sent into orbit well ahead of the flight. During its first year in space, it will be used for transmitting education programmes and medical advice direct to remote towns and villages.

The results of the experiments made by the Russians and Americans and their experiences together in the orbiting station will be analysed and compared by their respective space scientists.

The Russians have always been tight-lipped about their own affairs and have already declared that no American official will be permitted to be in Baikonur for the take-off of the Russian team.

So it was unusual for the Kremlin earlier this year to allow a group of American reporters to visit the Soviet space training station known as “Star City” at Zvezdny Gorodok, 20 miles from Moscow.

The pressmen concentrated on reporting the harmless comments of Russian and American spacemen on their training programmes and describing the mock-up of the Soyuz spacecraft, which they discovered was small compared with the American Apollo. No details of the Russian training centre appeared in their reports.

They found that Apollo’s cylindrical shape contrasted strangely with Soyuz, which consisted of two round modules: one for orbiting and one for take-off and re-entry, both of which were attached to a service module. In the main Russian capsule, the spacemen recline on small seats facing a bank of instruments; outside vision is restricted to two violet-tinged portholes. When Major Slayton climbed into the Russian re-entry craft, his knees were almost touching his chin.

For several weeks, the American team of nine spacemen trained in Star City using Soviet flight simulators, laid the ground-work for radio and television procedures and studied their respective languages. All of them carried a black book containing a glossary of 300 space terms in Russian and English. Last September, a Russian party of 70 spacemen, engineers and technicians went to Houston to train on American machines.

Both teams are on friendly, first name terms. Their only point of disagreement has been about food. Major Slayton told pressmen in Star City that the Americans did not like the pickled lamb on the Russian menu. But when the Soviet crews were in the US, they objected to the bread they were served. “They think it’s the lousiest bread in the universe, and I agree with them,” he said.

For Major Slayton, the trip will be the ambition of a lifetime. He was among the original team of seven US astronauts and the only one not to challenge the dangers of space during the 1960s. In 1962, just before he was due to be chosen for a space flight, doctors discovered he had a heart flutter and grounded him. Today, aged 50 and in perfect health, he will, for this operation, give up his job at Houston as chief of flight testing and find out for himself what space is really like after all. Major Slayton, a married man with two children, has an heroic US Air Force record with 56 missions over Europe and seven over Japan in the last war, two medals for bravery and 3,400 hours behind him as a test pilot.

The most experienced spaceman in Apollo will be its commander, Brigadier General Stafford, an expert in rendezvous tactics in the skies. He was pilot of the Gemini 6 flight in 1965, in which he achieved his first meeting with another craft in space. In that initial, cautious encounter, both vehicles flew just one foot apart. But the following year, he commanded Gemini 9 and made three dockings with an unmanned craft using a different technique each time.

If the Apollo-Soyuz operation succeeds, it will undoubtedly have far-reaching results not only in terms of exploring the heavens. Each contact between East and West brings greater understanding and with it better prospects for maintaining peace on earth.

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