Friday, July 17, 2009

Remembering the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project

I’ve got this really neat pocket watch. Its was made by Molnija, a watch factory based in Chelyabinsk, Russia. Molnija (pronounced “MOHL-nee-ya) is the Russian word for lightning. The factory was founded in 1947 to create various kinds of watches, clocks and timepieces for Soviet military vehicles, including aircraft, tanks and submarines. In the late 1950’s the factory’s focus shifted to making mostly nickel-plated 18-jewel pocket watches. To those of you born in the digital age, that’s a kind of wind-up mechanical watch. One of the things that make the watch so special is the graphic imprinted and enameled on the hunter case—a stylized globe overlaid with a depiction of an Apollo spacecraft and Soyuz spacecraft docked in space. This is the insignia of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP), the first joint space mission of the United States and the then-Soviet Union. Added to the original insignia design are the numbers 1975, the year of the historic flight. I remembered this unique watch because this Friday, July 17, marks the thirty-fourth anniversary of the first docking in Earth orbit of the two crews and the first international handshake in space.

The U.S. crew of ASTP included Thomas P. Stafford (Commander), Vance D. Brand (Command Module Pilot) and Donald K. “Deke” Slayton (Docking Module Pilot). The Soviet crew included Alexi Leonov (Commander) and Valeri Kubasov (Flight Engineer).

The crew of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. Left to right: Slayton, Stafford, Brand, Leonov, Kubasov. Image Credit: NASA

Stafford was a three-time veteran, having flown on Gemini 6, Gemini 9 and Apollo 10. The other two U.S. astronauts were technically “space rookies.” Though Brand had trained as backup on Apollo 15 and was a backup/rescue pilot for the Skylab missions, he had never actually flown. Even Slayton, who was one of the original Mercury astronauts, had never flown because of a diagnosed irregular heartbeat. Following a comprehensive medical review in 1972, Slayton was re-certified for space flight and became eligible for ASTP. Leonov had been the first human to walk in space, in 1965 on Voskhod 2. Kubasov had previously flown on Soyuz 6 in 1969. Both cosmonauts had originally been slated to fly on Soyuz 11, the first mission to a space station (Salyut 1), but they were grounded because doctors suspected Kubasov of having tuberculosis. Sadly, the replacement crew was lost when the Soyuz 11 capsule depressurized during preparations for re-entry.

The U.S. side of the joint mission featured the last of the Apollo-era equipment to fly, including a Saturn IB rocket and an Apollo Command Service Module (CSM). Added to this was a docking module built especially for the mission, which allowed the two differently made spacecraft to dock.

Both the U.S. and Soviet missions launched from their respective complexes on July 15, 1975, and docked in Earth orbit on July 17. Three hours later, Stafford and Leonov exchanged the first international handshake in space. The combined Apollo-Soyuz crews conducted joint scientific experiments (including multiple docking and undocking procedures), exchanged national flags and gifts (including tree seeds which were later planted in the two countries), signed certificates, visited each other's ships, ate together, conversed in each other's languages, and presented radio and television broadcasts. About two days later, after all of the planned events were completed, the two spacecraft undocked for the last time on July 19 and each crew continued on its separate mission. The Apollo crew returned to Earth on July 24, splashing down near Hawaii.

On an astronomical note, there is a main-belt asteroid which commemorates the mission, called Asteroid 2228 Soyuz-Apollo. It was discovered on July 19, 1977 by Soviet astronomer Nikolai Stepanovich Chernykh at the Crimean Astrophysical Observatory. The body has an absolute magnitude of 10.9, rotates once every 6.12 hours, and orbits the sun once every 5.54 years. While the minor planet was named after the historic mission, the two names were flipped so as not to confuse the body with Asteroid 1862 Apollo. The latter having been discovered in 1932 by Karl Reinmuth and named after the Greek god Apollo (not the U.S. lunar program which, of course, took place many years later).

To see the Apollo command module flown on ASTP (CM-111), visit the California Science Center in Los Angeles <http://www.californiasciencecenter.org/Exhibits/AirAndSpace/HumansInSpace/Apollo-Soyuz/Apollo-Soyuz.php>.

To the the Soyuz capsule flown on ASTP (Soyuz 19), visit the RSC Engergia Museum in Korolev, Russia <http://www.energia.ru/english/energia/history/museum/museum.html>.
Full-scall mock-ups of the docked Apollo and Soyuz spacecraft may be seen at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum, National Mall Building, Washington D.C. <http://www.nasm.si.edu/> and at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, Russia <http://www.ras.ru/>.
To learn more about solar system bodies, check out the NASA/JPL Solar System Dynamics web site <http://ssd.jpl.nasa.gov/>.

To learn more about the Crimean Astrophysical Observatory, check out this observatory mirror site, hosted by Stanford University <http://quake.stanford.edu/~crao/>.

To learn more about Molnija watches and other Russian-made watches, check out the Solod watch company <http://www.molnija.ru/>.

Broken Guitars and YouTube Videos

By now you have probably heard about the struggles of Dave Carroll, member of the Halifax, Nova Scotia folk-pop band Sons of Maxwell. While traveling with the band last year on United Airlines to a concert, he watched in horror from his seat while baggage handlers below tossed musical instrument cases and, in the process, broke his $3500 Taylor guitar. After nearly a year of effort attempting to get satisfaction from the airliine, United finally informed Carroll that nothing could be done, Carroll then informed United that he would make a music video about the incident and post it on YouTube. In fact, he told United he would post three videos in all.

True to his word, Carroll posted on July 6 a music video called "United Breaks Guitars," portraying the painful events in song and humor. The video soon "went viral," as they say, and has been viewed well over three million times as of this writing. The support for Carroll was strong. One musician posted a video in solidarity with Carroll and stated that he would not fly United on future trips. Carroll was even contacted by the founder of Taylor Guitars who offerred to replace the damaged instrument.

Sometime after the video's debute, Carroll was contacted again by representatives of United Airlines who said they wanted to "make good" on the damage. Carroll had spent $1200 to have a local shop repair his guitar so that it was sturdy enough to play, though not trustworthy enough to travel for concerts. United offered to reimburse the repair bill, but Carroll asked instead that United give the money to a worthy charity. Carroll then posted on July 10 a video explaining United's response and thanking the YouTube viewership for their support. United Airlines has since donated $3,000, in Carroll's name, to support music education through the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. In addition, United has also announced that it would be using Carroll's music video in its internal program to improve customer service.

I found this story particularly interesting since we are a bit of a musical family and we have traveled on airlines before with valuable instruments. Specifically, my wife Marian's bassoon. Thankfully, we have been able to treat the bassoon as a carry-on in most cases. I also must confess that I have become a fan of this group. I find their mix of celtic instrumentain and down-home fun to be very contageous and enjoyable. If you get a chance to check them out, I hope that you will enjoy them as well.

To see the “United Breas Guitars” video for yourself, go to this link <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YGc4zOqozo>. And here are a couple of songs from Sons of Maxwell: "Oceanside Again" <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d1zibvLvHbk> and "Queen of Argyle" <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dJVSNLTdJWY>. To learn more about Dave Carroll and Sons of Maxwell, go here: <http://www.sonsofmaxwell.com/>.

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