‘Zero-G handshake’ 40th Anniversary : Cosmonaut Leonov still friends with astronaut Stafford

The cold war between the US and Russia was a relentless era when joint ventures by both countries was a complete no-no, until space travel brought the two nations together. The Apollo-Soyuz Test Project – conducted in July 1975 – was the first thaw in the icy cold War period – marked by a historic handshake upon the docking of two spaceships headed by cosmonaut Leonov and astronaut Tom Stafford.

Now the two inspirational spacemen got down to an interview with RT after forty years, marking the anniversary of the project which brought the space race to an end.

“In July 1975 the two spacecraft rendezvoused, and we worked together, and it proved to the world that two countries with different languages, different units of measures and vastly different political systems could work together to achieve a common goal that could help things here on the Earth even,” Stafford said.

The US astronaut added that “when we flew Apollo-Soyuz in 1975, it was the height of the Cold War. Yet, for what we did in space, politics never entered into it.”

Interestingly, it was not just a handshake – the two sides worked together for the next forty six hours, conducting scientific expertise, exchanging gifts and signing certificates. The American and Soviet crews even conversed in both English and Russian and dined together to mark the historic occasion .

The ships’ commanders have remained close friends ever since, with Stafford even having his grandson named after Leonov – Aleksey.

“We talk on the phone almost every day. And sometimes we meet each other in America or in Russia. My home is Tom Stafford’s home,” Leonov told RT.

The legacy of the Apollo-Soyuz mission still bonds the cooperation between the US and Russian space programs. It set a benchmark for the future establishment of the International Space Station (ISS) that currently hosts two Russian cosmonauts and one US astronaut. The current Expedition 44 crew aboard the ISS is anticipating the arrival of additional members from Russia, the US and Japan. They are set to travel to the ISS on the Soyuz TMA-17 craft, which is scheduled for launch on July 22.

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