Soyuz 19 was the Russian half of the Apollo Soyuz Test Project
. Launched July 15, 1975
, it was a modernised version of the Soyuz spacecraft designed to meet requirements that the Americans had set for the joint mission to take place. It docked with the last Apollo spacecraft to fly and was the first time that the two countries had met in space.
On board were Valeri Kubasov and Aleksei Leonov. Their callsign for the mission was Soyuz (Union).
The weather at launch was reported to be clear skies, light winds, and hot July sunshine. The launch was completely nominal and the spacecraft entered orbit after 530 seconds. The initial orbit was 220.8 km by 185.07 km, with an inclination of 51.80°. This was within a few kilometres of the desired orbit and well within the errors allowed.
The first problem that was enountered for the Soyuz crew was that the black and white television camera was not working. This was a blow to the Americans who would therefore not have images of their spacecraft in orbit until after the Soyuz had touched down. After a nights sleep the crew even restorted to cutting away the lining of the spacecraft in order to reach the television wiring junction box. This did not work and so there were no TV pictures of the Apollo in flight.
The first burn of the Soyuz's engines circularised the orbit into a 225 km by 225 km orbit. They the transmitted their first television pictures with their colour camera. Leonov talked of their first 28 hours in space and they even conversed with the crew of Salyut 4 (through Mission Control in Moscow). After this bit of PR they began lowering the pressure of their ship to 0.65 atmospheres.
On July 17 the two crews spotted each other for the first time. 10 minutes later they were conversing over the radio, with the American crew speaking in Russian while the Soviets spoke in English.
The two spacecraft slowing approached each other over the morning with the Apollo spacecraft performing several burns to slow the rate of approach. The two crews where in their respective descent modules for the docking in case of an accident. The Soyuz performed a 60° roll maneuver to give Soyuz the proper orientation relative to Apollo for the final approach. Finally they were down to a dozen metres. Stafford called out the range, "less than five metres distance. Three metres. One metre. Contact." The capture mechanism started to retract and the spacecraft were joined.
The docking was so spot on that the sighting reticle used by the Apollo was lined up precisely on the bolt that held the centre of the target on the Soyuz.
Before the crews met for the first time Leonid Brezhnev sent a message to the crews
To the cosmonauts Alexey Leonov, Valeriy Kubasov, Thomas Stafford, Vance Brand, Donald Slayton. Speaking on behalf of the Soviet people, and for myself, I congratulate you on this memorable event. . . . The whole world is watching with rapt attention and admiration your joint activities in fulfillment of the complicated program of scientific experiments. The successful docking had confirmed the correctness of the technical decisions developed and realized by means of cooperative friendship between the Soviet and American scientists, designers and cosmonauts. One can say that the Soyuz Apollo is a forerunner of future international orbital stations.
After this Stafford and Slayton entered the docking module and closed the hatch behind them. Because of the different types of atmospheres used in the two spacecraft the crews had to spend time prebreathing before entering the other spacecraft. Then 3 hours after docking the hatch between the Soyuz and Docking Module on the Soyuz was opened and the two Americans entered. The crews greeted each other over the French city of Metz. Kubasov, Leonov, Stafford and Slayton then conversed with President Ford. He spoke to them four nine minutes (instead of the scheduled five) and echoed the sentiments of the Brezhnev.
They then made a symbolic exchange of flags. They then 'sat down' for a meal consisting of both American and Russian food. Three hours after the first international meeting in space, the two Americans returned to the docking module and started the prebreathing required to reenter the Apollo spacecraft. The crews then started their respective rest periods.
The next morning, Brand transfered to the Soyuz. He and the crew of the Soyuz gave Americans TV viewers a tour of the Soyuz. Kubasov also gave a guided travelogue as they passed over the USSR.
Our spacecraft, Soyuz, is approaching the USSR territory. Our country occupies one-sixth of the Earth's surface. Its population is over 250 million people. It consists of 15 Union Republics. The biggest is the Russian Federal Republic with the population of 135 million people. . . . At the moment we are flying over the place where Volgograd city is. It was called Stalingrad before. In winter 1942-43, German fascist troops were defeated by the Soviet Army here. . . .
Leonov continued the commentary pointing out the Ural Mountains and the area in Kazakhstan, where the Soyuz launched from.
Brand and Kubasov also filmed various simple science experiments that would be later used to illustrate basic physics principles on Earth. Brand each commentated in their respective languages.
During this day a complicated set of transfers had gone one. Brand and Leonov had swapped places. Then Brand and Kubasov transferred to Apollo while Leonov and Stafford moved to the Soyuz.
The respective Mission Controls had collected questions from the press which were radioed up to the spacecrafts. Kubasov was asked about materials processing in space. This was because on Soyuz 5 in 1969 he had been involved in the first welding experiment in space. He predicted that in a few decades there would be whole factories in space. Stafford was asked about the expense of spaceflight and the fact that the money could be spent on fixing problems on Earth. He answered that there were long term benefits from spaceflight in science and technology but there was also the fact that it lifted the human spirit - it was just a continuing of the exploration that had gone on for thousands of years.
Leonov said about the American food that he "liked the way it was prepared, its freshness." But the best part of it was eating it with friends. He also hoped that one day he would be able to take part in another international mission.
The last transfers occurred at the end of the day. This involved Slayton and Kubasov travelling from Apollo to Soyuz. The crews bid a final farewell and Slayton and Stafford returned to Apollo.
In all Leonov was on the American side for 5 hours, 43 minutes, while Kubasov spent 4 hours 57 minutes.
During the fifth day of the mission was dedicated to experiments. The crafts undocked and the Soyuz moved away from the Soyuz in order to create an artifical eclipse of the Sun. This allowed the Russians to image the Solar Corona simultaneously with experiments on the ground.
Another experiment involved shining monochromatic laserlike beams of light at the Soyuz from various distances. These reflected off retroreflectors mounted on Soyuz and the reflections were measured by a spectrometer on Apollo. This allowed scientists to measure the quantities of atomic oxygen and atomic nitrogen at orbital heights.
The craft redocked 30 minutes after undocking. This was designed so that they didn't have to waste fuel stationkeeping. They undocked for the last time 3 hours later. A couple of hours after this the Apollo performed a burn to change its orbit. The first international mission was ended. But it was not the end of the Soyuz 19 and Apollo missions.
The sixth day of the missions were uneventful, mostly dedicated to science experiments. The crew of Soyuz 19 gave a TV broadcast for the audience in Russia. Then on the seventh day it was time to return home. This would be the first time that a Russian landing would be broadcast live. The reentry and landing was completely nominal although the firing of the braking rockets metres from the ground was a surprise to some as the Soyuz was engulfed in dust.
The craft touched down 34 km northwest of Arkalyk, Kazakhstan after a week long mission.