Three ISS Crew Members Launch as ASTP is Remembered
UPDATE: The launch took place as scheduled at 10:40 pm EDT.
Three new crew members for the International Space Station (ISS) are getting ready to launch in a few hours from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Launch time is 10:40 pm on July 14, 2012, Eastern Daylight Time (EDT), but it will be 8:40 am July 15 at the launch site. That means the launch coincides with the 37th anniversary of the launch of the first international human spaceflight mission -- the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP).
ASTP was a hallmark of an era of detente between the Cold War superpowers -- the United States and the Soviet Union. Three Americans (Tom Stafford, Deke Slayton, and Vance Brand) on an Apollo spacecraft docked with two Soviets (Alexei Leonov and Valeri Kubasov) aboard a Soyuz spacecraft for two days of joint operations. A watershed event in the history of international space cooperation, it unfortunately also marked the end of the Apollo program. Six more years would pass before the United States launched another astronaut into space on the inaugural mission of the space shuttle program.
The Soviets, however, were just ramping up their space station program, which had gotten off to a shaky start in 1971. By the mid 1970s, however, their Salyut space stations were performing well and eventually led to the modular Mir space station. The core Mir module was launched in 1986 and functioned as the heart of the evolving structure until the entire facility was deorbited in 2001.
When ASTP was launched, hopes were high that it immediately would lead to additional human spaceflight cooperation with Americans on space shuttles docking with Soviet space stations. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 cooled U.S.-Soviet relations significantly, however, and such joint missions had to wait two decades. The demolition of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 allowed U.S.-Russian space relationships to flourish, leading first to the shuttle-Mir missions of the 1990s and then to the interdependent relationship we have on ISS today.
At 10:40 pm EDT tonight, Russia's Yuri Malenchenko, America''s Suni Williams and Japan's Aki Hoshide will launch to the ISS, joining two Russians (Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin) and an American (Joe Acaba) already aboard. The even broader cooperation among the 15 partners in ISS is a fitting tribute to and successor to ASTP, which launched international human spaceflight cooperation 37 years ago.
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