The handshake of Soviet cosmonaut Leonov with US astronaut Stafford during Apollo-Soyuz flight was the foundation of the international cooperation in Space. Why? We had a look.
The 17th July 1975 marks the end of the famous Race to Space. Both countries – Soviet Union and the USA – fought after the launch of the first satellite Sputnik-1 in 1957 very hard to be the strongest power in space. The nations tried to get the most “Firsts” in space as the can and saw each other as a enemy and not as a friend – even not as a partner. The first part of the race was Soviet Union in front: first satellite, the first man and woman in space and the first satellite on the Moon – but then USA over took with first docking, the first man on the Moon. But this race was not easy. Both sides lost lives and billion of dollars and rubels – and problems inside of these two huge countries got more bigger.
So it was time to stop fighting each other and come together. NASA Administrator Thomas O. Paine wrote to the Soviet Academy of Sciences president Mstislav Keldysh a letter in 1970 to ask to run a space mission together. Keldysh responded positive – and already in 1972 USSR Premier A. N. Kosygin and US president Nixon signed a contract in Moscow to develop the mission with the name: Apollo-Soyuz Test Program. It was the first time in history that scientists worked and astronauts trained together in Hoston (USA) and Starcity near Moscow (USSR).
Just only three years later two spacecrafts from two different countries launched within 7 1/2 hours of each other on the 15th July. In the soviet union spacecraft – the Soyuz capsule – was Alexei Leonov and Valeri Kubasov. Leonov was the 1st space walker. In the US capsule called “Apollo” took place Thomas Stafford, Vance Brand and Deke Slayton. Thomas Stafford went with Apollo 10 to the moon to prepare the 1st moon landing. 45 years from now – on 17 July 1975 – the two spacecrafts encounter each other and docked at 4:19pm UTC or 10:19pm Almaty time. Three hours later, the two commanders, Thomas Stafford and Alexei Leonov, exchanged the first historical international handshake in space through the open hatch of the Soyuz.
This handshake during the Apollo-Soyuz Test Program paved the way for the international cooperation in spaceflight. It continued with the Shuttle-Mir-Program in the 1990ies. The US Space Shuttle visited the Russian space station Mir for multiple times and the both countries collected experience for the biggest project of mankind in space – the International Space Station. This awesome project is now flying over 20 years above our heads and space travelers from all over the world meet their and making research to improve our lives on our blue earth – and they showed us that there are no countries: There is just one blue fragile planet for all of us. And we have to take care about it.
Read more about the historical event in space: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo%E2%80%93Soyuz