[FPSPACE] A Candid Retrospective of ASTP

bmuniz at constellationservices.com bmuniz at constellationservices.com
Tue May 1 16:57:14 EDT 2007

At 11:26 AM 19-04-07, LARRY KLAES wrote:
>Now this is when the Web does good:

The article says:

"The  ASTP Universal Docking Module ... would 
test the compatibility of rendezvous and docking 
systems for American and Soviet spacecraft in 
order to open the way for future Joint Missions. 
"Joint" meaning both planned and unplanned - 
read: rescue - missions; In 1969, the space 
disaster movie Marooned  saw world-wide release, 
and in light of the events of  Apollo 13, 
officials on both sides of the Iron Curtain began 
to show concern as to how one side could assist 
the other to rescue a crew stranded in orbit."

In trying to get us back on-topic for this email 
list (FPSPACE "was founded in 1994 as a means of 
encouraging informal exchanges between people 
interested in Russian space programs and 
international cooperation in space."), I have a 
long comment about the past, and future, of APAS development.


Unknown to many in the space community, even 
historians, the movie "Marooned" did actually 
play a key role in the creation of the 
Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP) and one of its 
key achievements that is still in use today -- 
the Androgynous Peripheral Attachment System (APAS) docking mechanism.

"Marooned" was originally a 1964 science fiction 
thriller novel by Martin Caidin about an American 
Mercury astronaut stranded in space and rescued 
(in part) by a Russian cosmonaut.  It was the 
basis for the 1969 Oscar- and Hugo-winning movie 
of the same name about an Apollo crew rescued (in 
part) by a Russian cosmonaut.  The movie just 
happened to be released 6 months before Apollo 13.


That ironic timing lead some people to start to 
think about docking mechanism standards to allow 
US/Russian spacecraft to dock to each other in 
case of emergencies (which the movie showed could 
not happen due to the different mechanisms in use):

 From Time Magazine, Apr. 7, 1975:
"When an Apollo spacecraft links up with a Soviet 
Soyuz above the earth this summer, Writer Martin 
Caidin, author of nearly 90 science and adventure 
stories, will have a greater feeling of 
involvement than most Americans. Caidin learned 
recently that the movie version of his popular 
1964 space novel Marooned, which describes how 
American astronauts stranded in orbit are saved 
by a Russian spaceship, helped persuade the 
Soviets to take part in the historic joint 
mission. In the spring of 1970 the new movie 
Marooned was shown at a benefit in Washington.  . 
Among those in the audience was ***Philip 
Handler,...*** [emphasis mine.  BM]" 

 From NASA SP-4209 The Partnership: A History of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project:
"A less formal discussion of this same topic had 
been undertaken ten days earlier by ***Dr. Philip 
Handler*** of the U.S. National Academy of 
Sciences during his visit to the U.S.S.R.

Handler later recounted how he became involved in 
the Soviet-American space dialogue. "My personal 
introduction to the possibility that I might play 
a useful role with respect to Soviet-American 
cooperation began when I accompanied Tom Paine 
and Jim Webb to President Johnson's ranch" on 2 
November 1968 for the presentation of NASA awards 
to outgoing Administrator Webb and the Apollo 7 
crew. On the flight to Johnson City, Texas, 
conversation turned to the need for greater 
international cooperation. Handler recalled, "I 
pointed out that among my other goals as the new 
President of this Academy was the development of 
closer scientific ties between our Academy and 
that of the Soviet Union." Both Paine and Webb 
gave him encouragement but warned him not to 
become discouraged if he did not meet with early 
success. These men were aware of the long and 
unfruitful efforts in which NASA had been engaged with the Soviets.31

Before he had an opportunity to talk with the 
Soviets, ***Handler saw a movie that influenced 
his thinking concerning manned space flight.***

In the early spring of 1970, . . . I saw a 
special showing of the film Marooned in which . . 
. an American astronaut is marooned in orbit, 
unable to return to earth, and has a relatively 
limited oxygen supply remaining. While 
preparations are made on earth for rescue by 
NASA, a Soviet spacecraft is caused to change its 
course so as to closely approach the helpless 
American craft. A Soviet cosmonaut then 
undertakes a space walk and delivers some tanks 
of [10] oxygen to the marooned American 
permitting him to survive until the American rescue is possible.#

About a week before Handler's departure for the 
Soviet Union, he saw Tom Paine; Marooned was 
still in the back of his mind. During their 
conversation, Paine and Handler reviewed various 
possibilities for cooperation with the Soviets. 
Paine told him of his correspondence with Keldysh 
and urged Handler to press the discussion of this 
subject with the Soviets. Handler later 
reflected, "it was my clear intention to catalyze 
the process knowing full well that if I could 
secure agreement with the Soviet Academy to begin 
cooperative ventures seriously, from then on the 
negotiations would have to be directly with NASA."32

The two days that Handler spent in Moscow, 11-12 
May 1970, were filled with talks on a broad range 
of topics relating to the whole realm of 
cooperation between the two scientific 
communities. At one point, Handler found an 
opportunity to discuss the question of space 
cooperation with President Keldysh, Dzhermen 
Mikhaylovich Gvishiani (Premier Kosygin's 
son-in-law and Deputy Minister for Science and 
Technology), and a group of younger Soviet 
scientists. Handler's approach was less tactful 
than that which had been pursued by NASA 
officials; "I confronted them with copies of a 
recent article in the New York Times and in 
Science magazine recounting the rather 
disgraceful history of their failure to react to 
the many initiatives offered by NASA."  *** 
Handler urged closer cooperation by describing 
the basic scenario of the film Marooned. The fact 
that "an American film should portray a Soviet 
cosmonaut as the hero who saves an American's 
life came to them as a visible and distinct shock."***

In response to Handler's general comments that 
surely the time had come for joint space ventures 
"for reasons of economy, for reasons of the 
symbolism it might offer humanity, and to 
accelerate the pace of space exploration," the 
Soviets said they were preparing a set of replies 
to Dr. Paine. Handler understood that the 
proposals would center on three specific areas. 
First, the Soviets would suggest a more vigorous 
program for the exchange of scientific data from 
space experiments. Second, they would recommend a 
unified system of communication with spacecraft 
and ground stations. Finally, they would suggest 
wider exploitation of both nations' meteorological satellites.33

***According to Handler, the suggestion that the 
two nations work toward the development of a 
"mutually acceptable single docking mechanism on 
[11] space stations planned by both groups" 
caused considerable discussion.*** After some 
private conversation in Russian in which some of 
the young scientists appeared to urge favorable 
consideration of this idea, Gvishiani and Keldysh 
quietly told Handler that they were not in a 
position to give a definitive reply at the 
moment; they were sympathetic, but would have to 
refer the matter to higher authorities. The two 
Soviet officials asked Handler if he could wait 
for a reply and further if he planned to discuss 
this proposal with the American press upon his 
return home; Handler indicated that he would 
remain silent until he had their reply. The 
Soviets promised to direct a response to either 
Paine or Handler at an early date.34"

The joint program that followed was called the 
Apollo-Soyuz "Test Project".  What they tested 
was APAS: "Ambitious plans for use of Skylab or 
Salyut space stations were not approved. Instead 
it was decided to develop a universal docking system for space rescue."

IIRC, for ASTP the U.S and Russia both developed 
h/w for APAS-75.  After ASTP, the RSC Energia 
went on to develop an improved model, the 
APAS-89, which became the basis of the APAS-95 
active/passive pairs used for Shuttle docking to 
Mir and ISS.  But the U.S did not follow suit in 
its APAS development after ASTP.


As we move forward in space development, it would 
seem that the utility of international 
androgynous docking, illustrated by 1960's 
science fiction and then made fact in the 1970's, 
should be a capability to maintain and expand.

In March 207, NASA/JSC undertook a survey of the 
commercial space industry with regard to a 
potential commercialization of it's Low Impact Docking System (LIDS).

In part, CSI's response asked NASA "If the US & 
the Soviet Union could jointly build APAS at the 
height of the Cold War, why is that not possible today?"

CSI recommended that there should be multiple US 
& foreign suppliers for future standard docking 
systems.  CSI's primary stated concern is that if 
a single company is chosen as the manufacturer of 
LIDS, that company could potentially use the 
license to create barriers to entry in space 
operations, resulting in restraint of trade.  CSI 
suggested that one way to prevent this is to 
arrange for multiple-license agreement would 
allow compatible h/w to be built in the US, 
Russia, and other countries.  NASA, other space 
agencies, and commercial companies would then 
each be free to buy h/w that meets their needs.

Similar to ASTP development of APAS-75, CSI 
suggested that a "consortium" of US & foreign 
companies & NASA work together to agree on the 
docking standards (hatch diameter, latch pin 
geometry, etc.).  We noted that a U.S. 
non-profit, the AIAA, has in part already done some of this work.

Benigno Muñiz Jr.
Chief Technical Officer
Constellation Services International, Inc.

PS  At one point, LIDS development seems to 
include ESA participation with the "International 
Berthing and Docking Mechanism."  However, I do 
not know the current status of that program.  If 
anyone has info they can share, please reply here 
or send me an off-line email.  Thanks much. Ben.

More information about the FPSPACE mailing list