The Spacecraft Tarot: Apollo-Soyuz

The Lovers share harmony.

They could obviously refer to a romantic relationship, but they could also represent a different type of partnership, such as a business relationship or a very strong friendship. The Lovers remind us of the importance of commitment. Commitment to any partnership strengthens the possibility of it being successful.

In the early days of spaceflight, the United States and the Soviet Union competed fiercely with one another in what was dubbed the “Space Race.” Although the Soviet Union was the first to launch a satellite successfully into orbit with Sputnik I, as well as the first to fly a person in space with cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the United States and its space agency NASA succeeded in landing the first astronauts on the Moon with the Apollo 11 mission in 1969. The race to the Moon was considered the most important accomplishment of the time — but the Soviet Union was not bitter. In fact, the Soviet Union was one of many nations to offer its congratulations to NASA, which proved to be the beginning of a slow process to smooth over past hostilities and broaden the possibility of a future partnership.

The joint U.S.- Soviet Union crew for the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project pose for a portrait. Image Credit: NASA

Teams merged to design a compatible docking system that would combine Apollo spacecraft with Soyuz spacecraft. There were many differences between the United States and Soviet Union that needed to be reconciled. There was an obvious language barrier. In addition, the entire philosophy of spacecraft design had been developed independently of one another. Both the early designs of the Apollo and Soyuz spacecraft had suffered catastrophic failures — such as the Apollo 1 fire and the Soyuz 1 Disaster. The risk of human spaceflight had never more clear. Both teams had to agree to compromises within their different engineering approaches in order create compatible hardware.

The Saturn IB rocket lifts off from Kennedy Space Center on July 15, 1975. Image Credit: NASA

On July 15, 1975, two spacecraft launched from two different locations: Apollo launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and Soyuz launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Two days later, a global audience watched on television as the two spacecraft docked together and the hatches opened between them.

The astronauts greeted each other warmly with handshakes, exchanged gifts, and shared a meal together: signifying that the former rivalry had successfully evolved into a cooperative partnership.

The Apollo-Soyuz Test Project demonstrated the importance of international cooperation and preceded a long and healthy collaboration that continues to this day with the success of the International Space Station.

Astronaut Deke Slayton embraces cosmonaut Aleksey Leonov. Image Credit: NASA

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