Interlude : Report to Congress
Interlude : Report to Congress
- Soviet Space Programs 1971-75, Staff report prepared for the Committee on Aeronautical and Space Sciences, United States Senate, August 30, 1976.
B. Soviet Political Uses of Space
1. The climate in 1971
In 1971, the Russians in their media seemed more devoted to attacking U.S. policies related to Vietnam than in recognizing successes in the Apollo program. The unmanned Lunokhod rover was touted as a better approach than the high cost and risky manned Apollo flights. An earlier theme of attacking the American space program on the grounds of its militarization had largely disappeared. The Soviet space program was still described in terms suggesting its high degree of perfection. Apollo was described as a risky aberration, while the true path to further progress was linked to Soviet successes in Earth orbit and a gradual expansion into deep space using their new Groza rocket. Soviet leaders gave high visibility to the Soviet space program and their personal links with it. Emphasis was put on the practical benefits which would flow from the program. The achievements of the Almaz space station missions, with a public emphasis on the monitoring of Earth’s environment from orbit, played into this narrative.
2. The Climate in 1975
In 1975, the climate was quite different. The Apollo-Soyuz Test Project received tremendous attention and was heralded as a building block to further improvement in relations between two partners of similar capabilities in space. Of necessity, there was some easing of space secrecy on the part of the Russians as a condition of the co-operative effort. At the same time, the political uses of space to glorify achievements of the Soviet system continued, and there were sharp limits to the amount of openness.
2. Characteristics of Space Relations
a. Absence of familiar Soviet themes and actions
(1) No downgrading of American space effort. - Discretion was the most significant characteristic of Soviet space relations with the United States during January-July 1975. Absent were some of the familiar themes and political actions characteristic of Soviet space politics during the most intensive periods of the Cold War. There was no downgrading of American space programs or activities. Allegations of American critics that the Soviet Union gained more from the joint mission than the United States appeared to be met by and large with studied restraint. Such assertions were politely rejected with reminders of the difficulty in getting sufficient congressional appropriations for carrying on the American manned space program, and experience not shared by the Soviet Union, and that the one-sidedness in going forward with ASTP, therefore, really benefited the American side. However, Soviet interests would not suffer, it was said. Both sides would really be the beneficiaries from a joint enterprise that furthered the cause of detente, cooperation, and peace. American space officials were cited to dispute the charge of an uneven technological transfer to the Soviet Union.
Sharper rebukes to this allegation took the shape of counter-charges that the critics were opponents of detente. Yuriy Zhukov, a leading Soviet publicist, referred to such critics as “demagogues in the U.S. who stand against scientific cooperation with the U.S.S.R.” In reply to such critics, he said: “It is not accidental that U.S. firms are buying ever more licenses for inventions from us.”
(2) Easing of restrictions on secrecy. - Evidence of an improving Soviet attitude in space relations was apparent in the easing of restrictions on secrecy. In the course of preparations for the Apollo-Soyuz mission the Soviets admitted, albeit reluctantly, American officials and astronauts to areas of space work heretofore held in the greatest secrecy. Preparations had apparently gone smoothly until the Apollo crewmen insisted on touring the Tyuratam Cosmodrome, inspecting the Soyuz launch pad, and visiting the Soyuz spacecraft. Air Force General Thomas P. Stafford, commander of the Apollo spacecraft, said: “I never fly on a spacecraft I haven’t been in on the ground.” Reluctantly, the Soviets agreed to the visit, in conformance, it might be added, to the principal contained in the April 6, 1972 agreement on the joint flight. NASA project officials had uniformly insisted and gained agreement that American crews had to be familiar with the actual Soyuz that would participate in the mission.
On their four visits to the Soviet Union the astoronauts also visited Star City, the cosmonaut training center 30 miles outside Moscow. Americans also spent hours touring and working at the space control center at Kaliningrad, near Moscow. As Astronaut Donald K. Slayton said in Moscow, “We have seen everything we need to see to fly this mission effectively.”
Such openness along with a willingness to permit “live” TV coverage of the mission stirred favorable comments in the West. One optimistic Western diplomat in Moscow contended that the mission as a whole was significant. “This whole system has been built on a threat - a threat from outside to destroy the country,” he said. “It’s a major step to take away the enemy.” He argued that the decision to let down the secrecy barriers and open up the Soviet space program as much as the Soviets did could have wider effects in this “very cautious, bureaucratic system.” “When the genie gets out of the bottle,” he suggested, “it’s very hard to put it back.”
One Soviet science writer was similarly optimistic. “This secrecy… bothers us too,” he said, adding, “But I think this will change. As cosmonauts train with your astronauts, as our people go more and more and see how you do things… I think they will begin to loosen up.” Another prophesied: “I cannot be sure. But I begin to see a few green shoots in the frozen ground… If we cultivate these, if we don’t expect too much but cherish each sprout, I think eventually we will have a garden.” The Apollo-Soyuz information flow, said Robert C. Cowen, science writer for The Christian Science Monitor, “may be the first flowering of that garden.”
B. Presence of familiar Soviet themes and actions
(1) Exaggerated claims for Soviet space efforts. - Despite the respect shown regarding American space achievements, characteristic exaggerated claims for Soviet space efforts continued to be made. The successful 58-day orbital flight of Soyuz 16-Zarya in April-June, the longest Soviet manned space flight, was a major triumph, and media coverage was extensive and positive. American observers opined that the flight would further bolster Soviet self-confidence following successes with their Almaz program.
Soviet pride must have been further encouraged by the sending in June of two automatic space stations, Venera 9 and Venera 10, in the direction of Venus. Space specialists in Moscow believed that at least in part the stepped-up Soviet activity in space (in addition to these major launchings, the Soviets orbited numerous smaller satellites) was intended to demonstrate competence in a broad range of space systems and dispel the impression that the Soviet space program was in trouble. The Venus probes, the first in three years, served to remind the world that the Soviet Union had made the only successful landing on Venus.
That the Soviets were gaining in self-confidence by these achievements prior to the Apollo-Soyuz mission was evident by the tone of confidence and satisfaction that marked their reports on the Soyuz 16 mission, and the strong implications by Soviet specialists that Zarya would be used by many successive crews manning the orbital station in shifts ranging from a few weeks to months. To the discerning observer the Soviets could also be seen to draw confidence from the belief that by participating with the United States in a joint mission on the scale of Apollo-Soyuz they were able to demonstrate effectively that they had achieved parity in space.
Thus, solid and highly visible achievements in space had made it possible for the Soviets to again flaunt their successes as they had done in the past, although in keeping with the spirit of détente and the style of the Brezhnev regime, the emphasis was placed on demonstrating Soviet competence in space and parity with the United States.
3. Political Significance
c. Soviet gains in prestige. - That the Soviet Union gained in prestige as a result of the successful joint flight is apparent from reactions at home and abroad. To have the demonstrated technical and scientific capability of participating in such a complex operation with a space power so advanced in space science and technology as the United States cannot have escaped the attention of an attentive world. What no doubt added to the global popular appeal of the mission was the visual proof that the two superpowers with basically conflicting social systems and many diverging national interests could indeed cooperate in such a dramatic undertaking on a common basis of detente.
d. Intensity and depth of Soviet space commitment. - Finally, Soviet space activities in this period suggest the depth and intensity of the Soviet commitment to space exploration. On visiting the Soviet space center near Tyuratam, Astronaut Stafford reported that from the amount of construction under way, the Soviets were “dedicated” to pursuing the goals of their space program.
The American astronauts said that they were impressed by the “tremendous effort” the Soviet Union was putting into its space effort.
Despite restrictions placed on their movements by the security-conscious Russians, American space specialists had seen enough, in the words of one report, “to convince them that the Soviet Union is continuing to put vast resources into its space effort.” Referring to assembly sheds that the visiting party saw scattered throughout the area near the Baykonur cosmodrome, as well as work evident on the launch pads of their Groza heavy rocket, Astronaut Slayton said, “I’d be surprised if they weren’t working on some advanced technology… but we didn’t see it.”
Moreover, published statements by Soviet space scientists and cosmonauts suggest extension rather than retranchement of the Soviet space commitment.
Given the Soviet inclination to view such scientific enterprises in a political context, all of this suggests the high political value that the Soviet leadership places on space exploration.
D. FUTURE PROSPECTS FOR SPACE COOPERATION
Thus, consideration of future prospects for Soviet-American space cooperation logically begins within the parameters of political relations and a determination of the durability of detente. As Chapter One suggests, detente is now being put to a great test as 1975 comes to a close: the Soviet Union and the United States have come to grips with the issue that lies at the very heart of the concept; namely, military detente and efforts to resolve differences in SALT II and MBFR negotiations. Aggravating the environment of relations is also Soviet intervention in Angola. Still, a more fundamental and discordant element working against the purposes of detente, in addition to the inner dynamics of the great power conflict that underlay Soviet-American relations, is Soviet insistence that there can be no detente in ideology and that the “struggle” against world capitalism (i.e. the United States, its allies, and non-Communist countries), perceived in multiple ways, must continue. (Figure 4-1 graphically portrays the presently existing adversarial relationship between the Soviet Union and the United States; a handshake in space - ASTP - becomes an arm-wrestling match on Earth). Accumulating evidence by the end of 1975 suggests to some observers of the Soviet political scene that an internal debate is now taking place on the merits of detente and the desirability of changing that policy to a more aggressively oriented revolutionary line. Advocates of this approach urge taking political advantage of what they perceive to be a “weakened” international capitalistic system.
Placed in the context of growing American disenchantment with detent which has been fed by a durable distrust of the Soviet Union, these developments suggest that detente in Soviet-American relations is heading for trouble. A countervailing factor to this tendency is the belief that both sides, faced with the common danger of nuclear war in an environment of deteriorating relations and judging relationships from the position of realism, would want to pursue a policy of negotiation, not confrontation.
It is, therefore, in the continuation of détente that advocates of space cooperation must seemingly place their hopes for the future.