Full accounts of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP) are available from official Soviet1 and Russian2 publications and in a popular book on the subject3. In this chapter the author draws solely from these official sources.1, 2 The first book examining this project was published in 1976, at a time when the ASTP mission was still topical, and was published by the main publishing house of the CPSU Central Committee (Politizdat). The second book was published as a jubilee edition by RSC Energia (formerly TsKBEM and OKB-1). This organization was the principal developer of space hardware for the Soviet component of the ASTP. Quoting from source2:
Preparation for the joint space program began in 1970. In Moscow during October of that year, and in Houston in June 1971, meetings were held between delegations from the Soviet Academy of Sciences and NASA, headed by Academician B.N. Petrov, and Robert R. Gilruth, Director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center. At the final meeting of delegations in April 1972 (Moscow, USSR Academy of Sciences), key decisions were agreed upon regarding the possibility and expedience of developing compatible equipment as well as the project’s verification during an experimental manned flight.
Taking into account these decisions, an agreement for cooperation in the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes was signed on May 24, 1972. One of articles of this agreement included the requirement for an experimental flight, which was to pave the way for ASTP.
In 1972 K.D. Bushuev was appointed ASTP technical director for the USSR (TsKBEM), and on the American side it was Glynn Lunney, NASA, Johnson Manned Spacecraft Center. Interior ASTP work was coordinated in the USSR by the Ministry of General Machine Building (Minister S.A. Afanasyev).2
Note that the acronyms OKB-1, TsKBEM and RSC Energia are mentioned in the agreement. These are alternative names that were used at different times for the organization which was the prime developer and contractor of the Soviet (and Russian) space equipment.
Originally the Apollo and Soyuz craft were not designed to dock with each other. To enable such a docking to occur, both parties had to conduct detailed preliminary work. The seriousness of its intentions can be judged by examining the manner in which each of the two countries carried out the necessary groundwork. But is it possible to do this without being an expert in space technology? Yes, by a using a simple criterion applicable to any new product, regardless of whether it is a spacecraft or any other new technological development.
Before going to market any newly-developed product is fully tested to confirm that it is fit for purpose and for its use under the conditions for which the product is designed.
This accepted approach for new developments is confirmed by the words of twice Hero of the Soviet Union – a cosmonaut and later deputy commander-in-chief of the Air Force, Air Force Lieutenant-General V.A. Shatalov:1b
Following the tradition established by us, the modified spacecraft was tested not only in its unmanned version, but also with a crew onboard who fully tested any modified systems in flight. I consider this practice to be fully justified. Complete confidence in the performance of any [space] system can only be assured by testing it in space. I think that if we had been tasked with manufacturing a docking module for a crew to transfer from one craft to another, we would have also tested it in the conditions of a real space flight. (emphasis added)
This fundamental requirement means that both the Soviet and American modified craft should be subjected to all possible and necessarily tests in the space environment, and these tests should be done well before commencing the joint mission.
If both parties carried out such necessary testing, it would mean that the component had completed all the necessary steps towards a rendezvous in orbit. If these incremental steps were not undertaken there would be no reason to assume that the component was going to perform as required when in space.
ASTP hardware preparation in the USSR
The RSC Energia Project "Soyuz" and "Apollo" describes how the hardware was prepared:2
In November 1972, it was decided to use an upgraded launcher for the ASTP, the Soyuz-U (11A511Y), this meant an increase of the spacecraft’s weight by about 200 kg… To redesign and test this new launch vehicle, seven launches of the unmanned craft, and one control launch with the first unmanned spacecraft 7K-TM were carried out.
Launch escape system (LES) upgrade
The second major change related to the rocket system, was [with] the launch escape system. In order to improve safety of the crew, taking into account the international nature of the program, K.D. Bushuev decided to improve the LES. To redesign and test the new system, two launches were planned on the experimental installation with failure simulation.
In the summer of 1974, the launch of the experimental installation for testing the new LES was carried out. The detachable head unit was launched, powered by the LES propulsion system. That particular take-off ended in failure. But after completing failure analysis, improvements were made, and the second launch to prove the LES passed with flying colours.
Redesigning the Soyuz spacecraft into the Soyuz-M
In the fall of 1972, work on the design of the ASTP began. The craft received designation 7K-TM, which was confidential. The open name Soyuz was used, and later the name Soyuz-M was assigned as a designation for the modified space vehicle. (Below the name for the modified craft Soyuz-M is used – A.P.). In TASS the announcements of launches of manned craft sequential Soyuz numbers were used, and unmanned vehicles were assigned designation Kosmos.
On December 15, 1972, the outline design of the Soyuz-M spacecraft for the ASTP program was released and key requirements for the space system were determined. The craft had a launch weight of up to 6,790 kg, a crew of two people, and a life-support system resource of 15 man-days.
The rocket system and the craft itself for the Apollo-Soyuz project were substantially modified. Due to the large number of craft modifications (35-40%), it was decided to carry out two unmanned flight tests and one or two manned launches. Therefore, six craft were ordered (factory numbers No.71-76), of which two were for joint flights. The manufacturing of the spacecraft and their experimental development began during the middle of 1973.
The first flight tests began with the Soyuz-M unmanned spacecraft (No.71) named Kosmos 638 (April 3-13, 1974). The vehicle was tested in all automatic modes with positive results. But re-entry of the craft into the atmosphere was unexpectedly ballistic instead of controlled.
This turned out all right, but it was important to know the reason of the automated switch into this mode. The root cause was promptly discovered by the mission control center (MCC). The craft had a T-shaped nozzle used to relieve pressure from the orbital module before its separation for re-entry. Next to it a docking target was installed, in accordance with compatibility requirements, which received pressure from air discharge, and the craft received an unpredicted perturbation. The craft control system detected a loss of orientation before separation and switched the descent module into ballistic re-entry.
After this Kosmos 638 mission the necessary technical measures were taken, which prevented any reoccurrence of the described situation.
Just one poorly-located component, weighing only a few kilograms, had diverted an unmanned craft into a ballistic re-entry. If the craft had been manned, the cosmonauts would have experienced very dangerous g forces. This example emphasizes the fact that when developing space technology, everything new must be thoroughly tested in space. No amount of computer simulations, no technical meetings can predict every possible emergency situation as This design error was totally missed by all the technical experts and the unintended consequences again confirm the words of V.A. Shatalov:
Complete confidence in the performance of any [space] system can only be assured by testing it in space.
The second unmanned Soyuz-M flight (No.72), named Kosmos 672 was successfully carried out from August 12 to 18, 1974.
The third, and this time, final Soyuz-M test flight (No.73) took place on December 2-8, 1974. Called Soyuz 16, it had a crew of A.V. Filipchenko and N.N. Rukavishnikov. This launch completed all flight tests of the spacecraft.
On the day of the Soyuz 19 launch (July 15, 1975) the technological plan predicated almost parallel work on two craft, Nos. 75 and 76. These fully implemented all fire safety measures. Craft number 74, where some measures were taken according to the repair plan, was held in reserve.
Figure 1. Soyuz-M was developed from the Soyuz spacecraft specifically for the ASTP [1c]
By way of contrast, the USA offered just one Apollo spacecraft to participate in the test project.1,2 This decision created major difficulties on the Soviet side.
The US simulation of its ASTP hardware preparation
According to the agreement the Apollo aspect of the ASTP included a large and basically new additional part: a docking module – an airlock and an adapter for docking the two modules and enabling the transfer of crews between the craft (weight: 2 tons, length: 3m, Figure 2).
Figure 2. Apollo component of the ASTP [1c] – docking module on the right of the illustration
It is important to remember that first test, when a small component installed in a poorly-chosen place, derailed a controlled re-entry of Kosmos 638 and diverted it into a ballistic trajectory. Therefore considering that the Apollo ASTP was refitted with a new three-meter module weighing two tons, it is worth recalling V.A. Shatalov’s statement: "I think that if we had been tasked with manufacturing a docking module for a crew to transfer from one craft to another, we would have also tested it in the conditions of a real space flight.”
But, incredibly, NASA did nothing of the sort.
Notes: *The US allocated only one craft, supposedly left over from an Apollo mission. ** There is no information on the US launcher upgrade, but it is known that after the ASTP the Saturn IB rocket was never used again, which indicates its poor capability and inefficiency.
For anyone accepting the Apollo Moon landing myth, this "old" Apollo service module inferred reliability. A left-over asset following closure of the Moon program, "old" in this case implies "proven in space". But this "old" Apollo component wasn’t fit for purpose for the ASTP program. After all, the addition of an airlock for crew transfer between the two craft made it necessary to reconfigure the Apollo CSM by installing a very cumbersome and complex aggregate of additional length, and with a two-ton mass.
Why didn’t the Americans flight test NASA’s newly-adapted vehicle in space, and why didn’t the US space agency provide any backup measures for the craft?
Either 1, NASA had the equivalent of a magic wand enabling the agency to manufacture totally reliable space technology which didn’t require any testing in space whatsoever. Or 2, the US space agency was never intending to actually launch this newly-produced piece of technology into space.
Facts refute the myth of the super-reliable US space technology used during the Apollo Moon missions. The later space shuttles were designed and built by the same corporations that previously engineered Apollo. Alas, Apollo’s "super-reliability" evaporated when the US came to design and manufacture equipment destined for actual human space missions. A total of 14 American astronauts (Figure 3), perished in the disasters of the two US shuttles Challenger and Columbia4. Whereas in the USSR, only four people have ever died on space missions, and those were in the early days.5
Therefore on what grounds can anyone accept the reliability of NASA’s engineers to supplement an Apollo module with a new docking-airlock component that was untested in its space environment? Surely there are none.
Figure 3. What would members of the crews of shuttles Challenger and Columbia say about the reliability US space technology?
The content of the table above indicates that the Soviet team was preparing for a real space mission of the Soyuz-M craft while the American party was intending to simulate an Apollo flight, and simulate its participation in a planned joint mission.
For such a simulation one Apollo mock up was apparently all that was required and was aggressively promoted – its design was discussed with Soviet specialists. On the ground it could dock with anything; say with the very same docking module, and then undock. It was possible to carry out numerous ground tests, and simulate training sessions. Additionally, multiple meetings were held along with discussions with Soviet ASTP partners. In general, plenty of planning activity was observed and reported.
Carrying out any tests in space with something that will never actually fly in space would appear to be a pointless exercise.
Aulis Publishers, September, 2018
English translation from the Russian by BigPhil
Internet links validated January 10, 2018
- a. Collection of Articles edited by ASTP project manager of the Soviet side, the Hero of Socialist Labor, Laureate of Lenin and State prizes, Corresponding Member of the USSR Academy of Sciences K.D. Bushuev, IPL, M., 1976, 271c
b. ibid. Part 4. V.A. Shatalov, twice Hero of the Soviet Union, USSR pilot-cosmonaut, Lieutenant-General of Aviation, On the Orbit of Cooperation, chapter "Cosmonautics for the ASTP", later "The fourth crew" - Yu. Romanenko and A. Ivanchenkov
c. ibid. Part 1, V.A. Timchenko, V.N. Bobkov, V.V. Vasiliev. "Soyuz" and "Apollo" Space Vehicles, chapters "Soyuz for ASTP" and "Apollo for ASTP"
- RSC Energia named after S.P. Korolev (former OKB-1, later TsKBEM, the principal developer of space equipment for the Soviet part of the ASTP), Jubilee edition, 1946-1996. Here referenced: Project Soyuz and Apollo
- Enclyclopedia Cosmonautics, Science Editor acad. B.E. Chertok, Draft M: Avanta +, 2004, p.128, 341