50 years ago, the U.S. and U.S.S.R. joined forces to ensure astronauts could survive in space

There is a paradox that the United States’ most important partner in early space science is also its enemy – the Soviet Union. However, 50 years ago on May 24, 1972, the two nations signed a landmark agreement: Agreement Relating to Cooperation in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space for Peaceful Purposes.

This document laid the foundation for modern space exploration and research. It also illustrates a fading world order, where nations work together in space toward common scientific goals despite their political differences.

Signed on May 24, 1972 by President Richard Nixon and Prime Minister Alexie Kosygin of the Soviet Union, the agreement led to the first international crewed space mission, the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz Test Project.

John Logsdon, a space policy expert and emeritus professor at George Washington University, explains that Nixon’s actions were informed by the ideas of then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Kissinger had big ideas about the future of international relations, and along with Nixon, he believed that an agreement toward mutual aid between the United States and the Soviet Union would ultimately help the United States wield greater influence. on the world stage.

Why did the US and the Soviet Union cooperate in space?

An artist’s idea of ​​Apollo and Soyuz crafts bound together in space. NASA

In 1969, the Apollo 11 mission successfully landed on the Moon and established the US as a powerhouse in the field of space research and exploration. But on Earth, America is more uncertain: the Cold War breaks out and the unpopular Vietnam War resumes. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union was facing its own problems after its invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and intervention in the Middle East during Israel’s Six-Day War.

Somewhat oddly, popular culture offered a different vision for the future of the United States and the Soviet Union: In the 1969 film Marooned, starring Gregory Peck, three American astronauts stranded in space. On the verge of death, they are saved by an astronaut who comes with an oxygen tank capable of supplying water to the astronauts until a rescue vehicle arrives to find them. Released in the midst of the Cold War, the film’s ending feels both predictive and poetic.

Kissinger is willing to bet a similar kind of teamwork in space could help relieve some of the real geopolitical tensions between the two countries.

Logsdon explains: “The main idea of ​​the symbolic project was to point out the data-sharing relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union, which was a foreign policy goal of Kissinger.

“Also, technically, it was meant to show that the United States could dock with the Soviet Union and rescue the stranded people one way or another,” he added.

What does the agreement say?

Soyuz as seen from the Apollo spacecraft.NASA

The May 24, 1972 bilateral space exploration agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union had a less subtle end goal: peace on Earth. The fourth article of the agreement states:

“The Parties shall encourage international efforts to address issues of international law in the peaceful exploration and use of outer space with the aim of enhancing the legal order in space and further develop international space law and will cooperate in this area.”

Logsdon says the deal marks a turning point for the two global powers after the Apollo missions reached their zenith.

“The United States competed with the Soviet Union for leadership in space until the time of Apollo,” he said.

“Back then, the way to exercise leadership was to do something first, in this case land on the Moon. With the United States in the back, you can move into an era where space cooperation can be symbolic of peaceful relations on Earth, but only symbolic,” he explained.

In addition to the grand goal of world peace, there are two more immediate goals of the bilateral agreement:

First element is to establish cooperation in many areas of space exploration and research including, the paper says, “spatial meteorology; research on the natural environment; explore space near the Earth, Moon and planets; and space biology and medicine. ”

It also states the aim “to carry out such cooperation by means of scientific communication and mutual delegations, through meetings of scientists and experts of both countries, and also in other ways as both parties may agree. Joint working groups may be established. “

Second factor of the agreement is that each country will undertake respective missions to develop an Apollo-type spacecraft compatible with the Soyuz-class spacecraft. This means that astronauts from each country can visit spacecraft from the other. This is what laid the groundwork for the first international crewed mission into space, the ASTP.

First international crewed space mission

Joint Apollo-Soyuz crew.NASA

On July 15, 1975, a NASA Apollo spacecraft carrying three astronauts was launched, and two days later it met a Soyuz spacecraft carrying two astronauts. This is the first successful international joint venture of its kind.

The two ships docked for 48 hours, and the astronauts on board conducted a number of joint experiments that would later be useful for international collaborations such as the International Space Station.

After the two ships separated, the Apollo spacecraft navigated in such a way to host an artificial eclipse, allowing the Soyuz astronauts to photograph the solar eclipse.

The Apollo-Soyuz Test Project was the last US Apollo mission. It would be six more years until the United States launched another manned mission – NASA’s Space Shuttle program, which took off on April 12, 1981. But the 1972 agreement was only the beginning of the plans. international space mission.

“It turned out to be the first step in a long process,” says Logsdon. “But there have been a lot of delays along the way.”

Importantly, the initial harmonization of the 1972 executive agreement did not guarantee the continuity of the agreement when it was renewed in 1977. Logsdon explained that then-US President Jimmy Carter wanted to let the agreement go. lapsed agreement to punish the Soviet Union for their intrigues in Afghanistan. The agreement was not renewed until Reagan became president in 1987 when Mikhail Gorbachev was head of the Soviet Union.

Then, in 1993, a post-Soviet Russia was invited to help the US design the ISS. That partnership has continued to this day – but the war in Ukraine threatens its future.

https://www.inverse.com/innovation/ussr-us-space-agreement-fifty-years-anniversary 50 years ago, the U.S. and U.S.S.R. joined forces to ensure astronauts could survive in space

Emma James

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