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Apollo-Soyuz crew member Donald K. "Deke" Slayton was one of NASA's 
"Original Seven" Mercury astronauts.

Apollo-Soyuz Test Project
An Orbiting Partnership is Born

Astronaut Donald K. 'Deke' Slayton and Cosmonaut Alexei A. Leonov For 
more than a decade, 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. This 
international partnership is the hallmark of modern space exploration, 
the backdrop for President Bush’s declaration that humanity’s future 
explorations of the cosmos must be “a journey, not a race" (+ Vision for 
Space Exploration).

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 indeed been a Space Race, with the U.S. and then-Soviet Union 
driven more by competition than cooperation. When President Kennedy 
called for a manned 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-70s 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, 
Deke Slayton and Vance Brand in an Apollo Command and Service Module to 
meet a 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.

"We were a little of a spark or a foot in the door that started better 
-- Astronaut Vance Brand
The training leading up to the mission exposed the two crews to each 
other’s nations, helping to break down cultural and language barriers. 
As Brand said in a 2000 interview, amid the Cold War tensions, “we 
thought they were pretty aggressive people and … they probably thought 
we were monsters. So we very quickly broke through that, because when 
you deal with people that are in the same line of work as you are, and 
you’re around them for a short time, why, you discover that, well, 
they’re human beings."
In a 1997 interview, Stafford described how they got around the language 
problem. “Each crew would speak his own language, and the other would 
have to understand,” he said. It just wasn’t working, until Stafford and 
the Russian backup commander had the idea to speak in the other’s 
language. “So we started,” he said, “and boy, it worked slick as a whistle."

‘Hello, Darlin’

On July 17, 1975, the five explorers and the two craft – launched two 
days before -- approached each other for docking. As Stafford guided the 
Apollo forward, Soyuz commander Leonov quipped “Tom, please don’t forget 
about your engine.” Just after noon EDT, with a live TV audience 
watching, the two craft finally met. “Soyuz and Apollo are shaking hands 

Apollo Soyuz Test Project crew from left: Slayton, Stafford, Brand, 
Leonov, Kubasov Image above: The Apollo-Soyuz crew, from left: American 
astronauts "Deke" Slayton, Tom Stafford, Vance Brand, Russian cosmonauts 
Aleksey Leonov, Valeriy Kubasov Click for Full Resolution Image. Photo 
credit: NASA.

A few hours later it was the crew members who were shaking hands, 
exchanging hugs and ceremonial gifts, including U.S., Soviet and United 
Nations flags, commemorative plaques, medallions, certificates and tree 
(Photo of Plaque: + Full Resolution | + Browse Resolution)

The crews received a congratulatory message from Soviet premier Leonid 
Brezhnev and a phone call from President Ford, who joked with astronaut 
Slayton about being the “world’s oldest space rookie.”

The 51-year old Slayton had been one of the “Original Seven” Mercury 
astronauts, but was grounded due to a heart condition. Finally cleared 
to fly on Apollo-Soyuz, Slayton reported, “it's been a great experience. 
I don't think there's any way anybody can express how beautiful it is up 

Apollo Commander Stafford had another unique cultural exchange for the 
cosmonauts. He’d gotten country music star Conway Twitty to record 
“Privet Radost,” a Russian version of his hit “Hello, Darlin.’” About an 
hour before the two craft undocked, the song was played from orbit and 
heard all over the world. Mission Control quipped that it “sounded like 
it was from far Western Oklahoma, around Kiev.

The Apollo crew returned to Earth on July 19, their Russian counterparts 
two days later. It would be two decades until the countries teamed up 
again with the Shuttle-Mir program, but the seed was planted. As Brand 
said, “I really believe that we were sort of an example … to the 
countries. We were a little of a spark or a foot in the door that 
started better communications.”

With Apollo-Soyuz and the cooperation that followed, the race was over. 
But the journey will go on.
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