The Soyuz-Apollo test project, which is marking its 40th anniversary, contributed a lot to international detente and improved relations between the Soviet Union and the United States, test project participant and pilot-cosmonaut Alexei Leonov said.
"The situation was much worse in 1975. We reached a Cold War peak," Leonov said, answering a question from Interfax-AVN about his opinion on the significance of the Soyuz-Apollo test project in the modern context of deterioration of relations between Russia and the United States.
In the words of Leonov, the initiative of holding the Soyuz-Apollo test project was put forward by U.S. President Richard Nixon. He invited the Soviet administration to stage the unique experiment in outer space.
Leonov said that leaders of the two countries who made the decision to stage the experiment had the following considerations in mind: "We have gone too far, we should be more careful and not allow any maniacs to unleash a war."
He said the idea to implement the test project was very clear. Two spaceships took off from two different continents, found each other in outer space, docked, and the cosmonauts and astronauts started their joint work. "And they said kind words to people on Earth. It was so. At least 6 billion [sic] people were watching the launch of the spaceships. They saw us starting to work together," the pilot-cosmonaut said.
He said that the first joint system of assistance to cosmonauts and astronauts was developed by the Soviet Union and the United States after the Soyuz-Apollo experiment.
The spaceships Soyuz and Apollo symbolically docked above the Elbe River, Leonov said.
"We were supposed to open the hatches and greet each other above Moscow but that happened above the Elbe because the program was accelerated by 20 minutes. Just imagine, our fathers met at the Elbe in 1945, and their sons met above the Elbe in 1975," Leonov said.
He said that his U.S. partner in that space flight, astronaut Thomas Stafford, adopted two Russian children after the mission. One of those boys, Michael, is a fourth-year university student, and the other, Stas, studies at West Point.
Leonov recalled a joke they made in orbit: Russian cosmonauts offered vodka to the American astronauts who came to the Soyuz spaceship.
"I wanted to bring joy to the crew. So I gave them a tube carrying labels Stolichnaya and Moskovskaya vodka. They refused at first but I told them it was a Russian tradition. They finally opened the tubes, which actually had borsch inside," Leonov said.
Stafford, who also took part in the press conference, said "Alas".
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