On This Day: Russia and the US Shake Hands... in Space!


For two days the Russian and American space capsules orbited the Earth, making minor adjustments before heading straight towards one another. 

This wasn't the first celestial charge in a space war, but a friendly meeting of two superpowers who, back on Earth more than 140 miles straight down, were otherwise embroiled in the Cold War.

Two days earlier on July 15, 1975 two Russian cosmonauts and three American astronauts blasted off from Kazakhstan and Florida, respectively, on a mission to meet up in the heavens. The practical point of all this was to practice docking interoperability, but the encounter made for an incredible moment in history. From NASA's account:

Hard-dock was achieved July 17 at 12:12 p.m. as the two craft soared above the Atlantic Ocean. A global audience watched on television as the historic event unfolded. Hatches between the vehicles were opened at 3:17 p.m. and the two space crews warmly greeted each other, officially beginning joint activities. The astronauts and cosmonauts took congratulatory calls from Soviet Communist Party General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev and U.S. President Gerald Ford, exchanged commemorative gifts and shared a meal before closing the hatch for the day.

In his call to the astronauts and cosmonauts, Ford called the operation "a momentous event and a very great achievement, not only for you, but also for the thousands of American and Soviet scientists and technicians who have worked together for three years to ensure the success of this very historic and very successful experiment in international cooperation."

"It has taken us many years to open this door to useful cooperation in space between our two countries, and I am confident that the day is not far off when space missions made possible by this first joint effort will be more or less commonplace," he said.

Ford congratulated the Russians and, in response, Col. Aleksei Leonov said, "Mr. President, I am sure that our joint flight is the beginning for future explorations in space between our countries. Thank you very much for very nice words to us. We will do our best."

The two capsules remained docked for nearly two days as each team explored the others' vessel and conducted experiments. After undocking, the Russian capsule came safely down to earth, followed by the American capsule a few days later.

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