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
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. …