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40 Years After Historic Flight, Apollo-Soyuz Astronauts, Cosmonauts Reunite In Oklahoma

Oklahoma native Gen. Thomas Stafford (foreground) and Soviet cosmonaut Aleksei Leonov shake hands as they open the hatch between the Apollo command module and the Soyuz 19 spacecraft in July, 1975.
NASA
Oklahoma native Gen. Thomas Stafford (foreground) and Soviet cosmonaut Aleksei Leonov shake hands as they open the hatch between the Apollo command module and the Soyuz 19 spacecraft in July, 1975.

The two commanders of an historic 1975 space flight that helped improve U.S.-Soviet relations during the Cold War gathered in Oklahoma Monday to mark the 40th anniversary of the mission.

Weatherford native and former astronaut Gen. Thomas Stafford led the U.S. crew of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. He and two other Americans met in space with two Soviet cosmonauts, including Gen. Aleksei Leonov, in July 1975 to conduct experiments over a two-day period. After the two spacecrafts docked, Stafford and Leonov opened the hatches, reached through the tunnel, and shook hands.

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Stafford said Monday during a press conference at the air and space museum in Weatherford that bears his name many of the practices the two nations enacted four decades ago continue today.

“The International Space Station – they still have the same working group types, situations, procedures, and even a modified docking station of what we worked out on Apollo-Soyuz," Stafford said.

The crew of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. Front row, left-to-right: Donald K. Slayton, Vance Brand, Valeriy Kubasov. Back row, left-to-right: Commander Thomas Stafford, Commander Aleksei Leonov.
Credit NASA
The crew of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. Front row, left-to-right: Donald K. Slayton, Vance Brand, Valeriy Kubasov. Back row, left-to-right: Commander Thomas Stafford, Commander Aleksei Leonov.

Stafford received both the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Space Medal of Honor for his career with NASA. He also commanded the 1969 Apollo 10 mission that served as a dress rehearsal for the July 20 moon landing. That mission did everything except touch down on the lunar surface.

Leonov was the first man ever to walk in space, and he celebrated another milestone earlier this year – March 18 marked the 50th anniversary of his extravehicular activity during the Voshkod 2 mission.

Stafford was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for the cooperative mission at the height of the Cold War. He said Monday international relations in space still progress smoothly today.

“The international climate as far as working together, is working very, very well,” Stafford said. “Every time we’ve got problems, we get them solved. We work things out together.”

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Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
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