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Science & Technology

Marking 40 Years Since Apollo-Soyuz Mission And The First Handshake In Space

ARUN RATH, HOST:

I'm Arun Rath.

(SOUNDBITE OF APOLLO-SOYUZ TRANSMISSION)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Moscow is go for docking. Houston is go for docking. It's up to you guys. Have fun.

RATH: This week marks the 40th anniversary of the Apollo-Soyuz mission, the first time spacecraft from different countries docked in space.

(SOUNDBITE OF APOLLO-SOYUZ TRANSMISSION)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Apollo is go for dock, also.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Russian).

RATH: It was a triumph over problems both technical and political. In 1975, right in the middle the Cold War, the U.S. and the Soviet Union decided to blast into Earth orbit for an international high-five.

(SOUNDBITE OF APOLLO-SOYUZ TRANSMISSION)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: They're looking forward now.

RATH: This giant leap from Cold War enemies to space bros was rooted in the very Earth-based code of the sea.

GLYNN LUNNEY: Somebody's really in trouble, then another ship will not go by, even if they're from a different country.

RATH: That's Glynn Lunney. He was the technical director for the Apollo-Soyuz mission. The Apollo team was coming off incredible accomplishments - six successful moon landings. But as the near total disaster of Apollo 13 demonstrated, space remained dangerous, even for experienced explorers. So Lunney and his team started working with their Russian counterparts to build a docking system. The Apollo-Soyuz mission would be that test run.

(SOUNDBITE OF APOLLO-SOYUZ TRANSMISSION)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Three, two...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: Two, one, zero.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Engine sequence start. One, zero. Launch, come in. We have a lift off.

RATH: On July 17, 1975, astronaut Thomas Stafford and cosmonaut Alexey Leonov opened up their ship's hatches and shook hands, 135 miles above Earth.

(SOUNDBITE OF APOLLO-SOYUZ TRANSMISSION)

THOMAS STAFFORD: Glad to see you.

ALEXEY LEONOV: (Speaking Russian).

STAFFORD: (Unintelligible) Soyuz.

RATH: This was a big deal, and the smart folks at NASA and their Russian counterparts were already dreaming much bigger.

LUNNEY: Can we cooperate together well enough to think that we could do bigger things than we did on Apollo-Soyuz?

RATH: Apollo-Soyuz was the first step to building an international space station, a floating science vessel built to benefit every nation.

(SOUNDBITE OF NASA TRANSMISSION)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #6: And lift off. On their way towards the International Space Station.

RATH: Now at this very moment, U.S.-Russia relations aren't so good, but cooperation still continues in space. You still need Russia's rockets. In turn, they really need money from the U.S. and private companies. And Glynn Lunney says that if we want to get to Mars, we're going to have to work together.

LUNNEY: If we want to leave the planet and we want to go explore what this solar system has out there for us, I think we would be well advised to think of it in terms of a global effort.

RATH: A global effort that began 40 years ago with a handshake in orbit. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.