FORMER ASTRONAUT RECALLS HISTORIC APOLLO-SOYUZ MISSION
July 21, 2000
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Decades before work began on the International Space Station, a rendezvous 140 miles above the Atlantic Ocean saw two then-confrontational nations, who were locked in the middle of the Cold War, make history as partners.
It was 25 years ago that Vance Brand and his fellow Apollo astronauts docked with the Soviet Union's Soyuz, forging the framework for future partnerships and alliances and the spaceship airlock configuration that still is in use.
On the 25th anniversary week of that mission, Brand, who now is the Deputy Director of Aerospace Projects at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards, Calif., retold the tale of that mission.
"It was a positive experience from beginning to end. It was the middle of the Cold War and they probably saw us as monsters and vice versa before we started training," said Brand, who was the Apollo command module pilot.
"We opened a crack in the door regarding communication between the two superpowers," Brand said. "Apollo-Soyuz was the first for this kind of cooperation."
In 1972, the United States and Russia entered into an agreement for a docking mission in space. Following years of training and refining the details of the mission, the American astronauts lifted off on July 15, 1975. The American astronauts included Brand, spacecraft commander Tom Stafford and Donald "Deke" Slayton.
The docking happened two days later on July 17, 1975 and the Americans landed in the ocean near Hawaii on July 24, 1975. The Russians landed three days earlier on July 21 in Central Asia's Kazakhstan.
Brand recalled that the docking was carried out as if in slow motion.
"We came together at a slow rate and we felt a little gentle bump when we docked. We looked through an optical sight to line it up. There was some relative movement between the spacecraft and then it quickly stopped," Brand said.
About three hours later, Stafford and Russian commander Alexei Leonov exchanged greetings. Stafford offered his greeting in Russian and Leonov gave his in English.
"It was a joke among us that the Russians would have a Vodka toast in space. In orbit they had a tube with Vodka written on the side. It was really a Russian soup, called borscht. They had a good sense of humor," Brand said.
Although the political environment was volatile, the Americans and Russians had two years of training and resources invested in the mission, Brand said. On board were 28 experiments, five of which were joint projects. Information about physics and astronomy, biological studies and measurements of the upper atmosphere were gained.
"The mission had two purposes. One was technical-to build a docking system that is still used today-and the other was diplomatric-to improve communication between the two Cold War adversaries," Brand said.
There were risks in space, but "the launch was spectacular, the re-entry was spectacular and seeing the Earth from space was spectacular," Brand said.
The Russians and Americans cooperated in space again in 1995 when the Space Shuttle Atlantis visited the Russian Mir space station.
The cooperative efforts of the United States and Russia during the Apollo-Soyuz mission showed that international cooperation could achieve much and built the framework for projects like the International Space Station, Brand said. "The International Space Station involves so many countries. With such broad involvement countries can pool money and the best engineering and other specialties in the world," he said.
In fact, the International Space Station marked a full circle for Brand. He returned to Russia earlier this month for the first time since the end of the Apollo-Soyuz mission in 1975 to witness the successful launch of the Russian service module as part of the most recent international space mission.
"I returned to Russia to commemorate the event 25 years ago and at the same time to see the Zvezda service module launch on the Proton rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan," he said.
"It was a great pleasure to return. After the Apollo-Soyuz mission I toured the then-Soviet Union and there are amazing differences today. It appears there is more freedom. It is more relaxed overall. I know there are economic problems in Russia, but I think things have changed for the better," he said.
NASA selected Brand as one of 19 astronauts in 1966. In addition to Apollo-Soyuz, he also flew three Space Shuttle Missions. He came to Dryden in 1994 as Assistant Chief of Flight Operations, and has also served as Acting Chief Engineer in addition to his current post.
His honors include two NASA Distinguished Service Medals, two NASA Exceptional Service Medals, Federation Aeronautique International (FAI) Yuri Gagarin Gold Medal, three NASA Space Flight Medals, the Harmon Trophy, induction into the International Space Hall of Fame and U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame and Meritorious Executive, U.S. Senior Executive Service.
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