On July 17, 1975, something momentous happened: two Cold War rivals met in space. When their respective spacecraft rendezvoused and docked, a new era of cooperative ventures in space began.
For more than two decades, American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts have been regularly living and working together in Earth orbit, first in the Shuttle-Mir program, and now on the International Space Station. But, before the two Cold War-rivals first met in orbit in 1975, such a partnership seemed unlikely. Since Sputnik bleeped into orbit in 1957, there had been a Space Race, with the U.S. and then-Soviet Union driven more by competition than cooperation. When President John F. Kennedy called for a crewed Moon landing in 1961, he spoke of “battle that is now going on around the world between freedom and tyranny” and referred to the “head start obtained by the Soviets with their large rocket engines.”
But by the mid-1970s things had changed. The U.S. had “won” the race to the Moon, with six Apollo landings between 1969 and 1972. Both nations had launched space stations, the Russian Salyut and American Skylab. With the space shuttle still a few years off and the diplomatic chill thawing, the time was right for a joint mission.
The Apollo-Soyuz Test Project would send NASA astronauts Tom Stafford, Donald K. “Deke” Slayton and Vance Brand in an Apollo Command and Service Module to meet Russian cosmonauts Aleksey Leonov and Valeriy Kubasov in a Soyuz capsule. A jointly designed, U.S.-built docking module fulfilled the main technical goal of the mission, demonstrating that two dissimilar craft could dock in orbit. But the human side of the mission went far beyond that.
Image Credit: NASA
二十多年来，美国宇航员和俄罗斯宇航员经常在地球轨道上一起生活和工作，先是在航天飞机和平号项目中，现在是在国际空间站。但是，在这两个冷战对手于1975年首次在轨道上相遇之前，这样的合作似乎不太可能。自从1957年人造卫星（Sputnik）进入轨道以来，美国和当时的苏联就开始了一场太空竞赛，竞争多于合作。1961年，当约翰·F·肯尼迪(John F. Kennedy)总统呼吁载人登月时，他提到“现在世界各地正在进行的自由与暴政之间的战争”，并提到“苏联人用他们的大型火箭发动机取得了领先地位”。
阿波罗-联盟号测试项目将把NASA的宇航员送上太空。斯雷顿(Deke Slayton)和万斯·布兰德(Vance Brand)在阿波罗指挥服务舱与俄罗斯宇航员列奥诺夫(Aleksey Leonov)和库巴索夫(Valeriy Kubasov)在联盟号太空舱会面。一个联合设计、美国建造的对接模块完成了这次任务的主要技术目标，证明了两艘不同的飞船可以在轨道上对接。这项任务的人性方面远远不止于此。