Stafford's Book Details Evolution of Space Relations with Russia

Article excerpt

Maybe I was naive or just young back in the 1960s and 1970s, but I never realized how many overwhelming problems the astronauts had to face and solve in preparing for space flights to the moon, to rendezvous in space and to work there.

Oh, I remember what we saw on television all right -- especially the heroic return of Apollo 13 (probably because of a movie about that flight), but those were just the visible effects. Astronauts also had to work directly with space industry firms to correct flaws in spacecraft, and they had to overcome numerous problems within the National Aeronautics and Space Administration -- including conflicts with each other.

At the same time, Soviet Union cosmonauts were grappling with similar and often greater pitfalls with a bureaucracy that was divided. We knew even less about them because of Soviet secrecy, but American astronauts began to learn about their counterparts as the two countries began to work together.

These constant struggles within both programs are presented in extensive detail by Oklahoma's extraordinary astronaut Gen. Thomas P. Stafford in his recent book, We Have Capture. Published by the Smithsonian Institution Press of Washington, D.C., and London, it was written clearly by Stafford with Michael Cassuitt, despite the tremendous technical nature of space exploration and spacecraft.

Stafford will present a special slide show on his adventures at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the Oklahoma Historical Society and will be available to sign his books at 11 a.m. While I must disclaim that I work for the Historical Society, I can honestly say Stafford's book is significant for anyone who wants to understand what it took to pioneer space exploration and its impact on improving relations with Russia.

Even the title is symbolic, because it boils the whole book down to that dramatic moment at 11:30 a.m. (Oklahoma time) on July 17, 1975, when Stafford and Aleksei Leonov of the Soviet Union met for the famous "Handshake in Space." As the American Apollo and Soviet spacecraft Soyuz 19 edged closer to each other, Stafford called out the ranges in Russian -- five meters, three meters, one meter, contact. "Capture," Stafford reported.

"We have capture," Aleksei repeated.

With his Oklahoma sense of humor, Stafford knocked on the hatch and asked: "Kto Budet tam? (Who's there?").

While the world watched on live television, Leonov swam through a tangle of cables, smiled and said: "Ah, good to see you." Stafford replied: "Ochen rad (Very good)."

That one moment reflected years of preparation by the two space programs to solve technical and human problems. Stafford sketches the development of Leonov from his boyhood and the Soviet program. …