45 years ago: Apollo-Soyuz — Passages

Which way is up: Tom Stafford (left) Alexi Leonov (upside down) and Deke Slayton (right) aboard the Russian Soyuz.

            It’s July 18, 1975, the fourth day of our flight, and the only full day we are linked with the Soviet Soyuz in the world’s first international space mission.  Not as dramatic as the day before, which saw the historic rendezvous and link up of Apollo and Soyuz, with Alexi Leonov calling, “Soyuz and Apollo are shaking hands,” today marks day of more passages and handshakes, a respite from rivalries.  

            — Passages back and forth through the airlock between the two spacecraft:  Three transfers are made between the linked spaceships.  In the first, Command Module Pilot Vance Brand, going to Soyuz, crosses paths with Alexi Leonov headed for Apollo.  Entering Apollo, Leonov greets Deke Slayton with “Howdy partner, how are you?”

            — Passages and TV: Soyuz Flight Engineer Valeri Kubasov calls the joined spacecraft, “Your Soviet/American TV Center in space.”  

            — Passages and tours: Each crew gives the earth a TV tour of the their spacecraft.  

            — Passages and joint activities:  Brand and Kubasov lunch in Soyuz, then film a science demonstration of the effects of weightlessness for school children of both countries.   

            Kubasov gives a TV travelogue of the Soviet Union, starting by saying, “Dear American TV people, it would be wrong to ask which country is more beautiful.  It would be right to say there is nothing more beautiful than our blue planet.”  And he describes “what flows below the spacecraft” — “Right now we are flying over the place where Volgograd city is . . .”  As they pass over the Siberian plain at Karaganda, he says, “We are going to land here after the end of the mission.”

            Flying over the Ural Mountains, the narration is picked up by Leonov in Apollo, who says, “It looks like today is a very beautiful day over the Soviet Union.”  He points out Kazakhstan from whence they launched.   Later, Brand reciprocates with a travelogue along the East Coast of the U.S., which he carries forward blithely despite the fact that most of the coast is obscured by cloud cover.  

            Later Stafford and Leonov transfer to Soyuz while Brand and Kubasov join Deke Slayton in Apollo.

            –Passages and public relations:  The astronauts hold a joint press conference.  Stafford upon first opening the hatch between the spacecraft, he thought, we’re opening the possibility of a new era on earth.  That would depend on “the determination, the commitments, and the faith of both countries and of the world.”

            When asked how he liked American food, Leonov tread diplomatically around the question, saying, “I’d like to say that space food is not the same food which is eaten by people on earth, no.  But as an old philosopher says, the best part of a good dinner is not hat you eat, but with whom you eat.  Today I have dinner together with my very good friends, Tom Stafford and Deke Slayton, because it was the best part of my dinner.”

            — Passages and ceremonies:  Brand, Slayton, and Kubasov assemble a medallion commemorating the flight, each half carried aloft on their respective spacecraft.  Then they exchange tree seeds.

            In the final transfer, Kubasov and Stafford return to the docking module.  Kubasov returns to Soyuz and through the open hatch Stafford and Leonov exchange one last handshake.  Stafford says in Russian, “I’m sure we have opened up a new era in the history of man.  Our next meeting will be on the ground.”

            The two ships will remain linked overnight, but the passages are complete.  For the record books, Stafford spent 7 hrs. 10 min. aboard Soyuz; Brand clocked 6 hr. 30 min. and Slayton just 1 hr. 35 min.   Leonov spent 5 hr. 43 min. aboard Apollo, and Kubasov totaled 4 hr. 57 min.

            The start of a new era? Russians and Americans will not fly together again until 1994.

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