In July of 1975, 40 years ago, a U.S. Apollo spacecraft ran into a Soviet Soyuz spacecraft. Crew members of both ships, doing the polite thing, took the opportunity to introduce themselves. The two spacecraft commanders, Alexey Leonov and Tom Stafford, shook each other’s hands. What may be just a natural gesture to us was known as the “handshake in space,” which represented something quite symbolic: a coming together of the world’s 2 superpowers, America and Russia – the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project – the last of the Apollo missions and the first international human space flight.
THE REUNION OF TOM STAFFORD AND ALEXEY LEONOV
Stafford, Leonov, and others met this Monday June 8 in Weatherford, Stafford’s hometown, a little over 60 miles from Oklahoma City. The two decade-long friends hugged and re-created the legendary handshake that made history 40 years ago. Both men were wearing suits that did not resemble what they wore decades ago.
“We worked together, and it proved to the world that two countries with different languages, different units of measurement and vastly different political systems could work together to achieve a common goal,” Stafford said. He also recalled the comments his friend gave during a pre-mission news conference when someone asked the cosmonaut what language he would speak in space.
“In space, we speak three languages,” said Stafford, who was imitating the response of Leonov. “We speak English. We speak Russian. We speak Oklahoman.”
The APOLLO-SOYUZ MISSION
Ben Keppel says that the mission will forever be significant, due to the fact that the Space Race began as a competitive race between the States and the Soviet Union, while the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project was a friendly partnership between the two countries. Keppel is an associate professor in the history department at the University of Oklahoma.
Keppel goes on to add that the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project also was a big positive symbol for America and Russia, as it represented the tension dying away, a long-term process of cultural diplomacy between the 2 powerhouses.
THE FRIENDSHIP OF STAFFORD AND LEONOV
Another positive outcome of that historic Apollo-Soyuz handshake that took place decades ago in space, is that Alexey Leonov and Tom Stafford have remained incredibly close friends ever since. Both have traveled several times to their respective homelands, as well as joined one another on hunting trips.
Leonov aided Stafford and his wife Linda in their adoption of two sons from Russia 11 years ago in 2004. Leonov himself has a granddaughter that he named after one of Stafford’s daughters, while Stafford has a grandson who he named after Leonov, Andrew Alexi.