‘Zero-G handshake’ 40 yrs on: Cosmonaut Leonov still friends with astronaut Stafford

Thomas Stafford (L) and Alexei Leonov © Sergei Karpukhin
Forty years since the day a joint space venture helped ease relations between the Soviet Union and the US, Russian and American flight commanders, Aleksey Leonov and Tom Stafford, reunited to give RT an exclusive interview.

The Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, which was carried out in July 1975, was the first sign of détente in the Cold War period. It was marked by a historic handshake upon the docking of two spaceships headed by Leonov and Stafford.

Marking the anniversary of the project, which is said to have put an end to the Space Race between the two nations, the two legendary spacemen recently gave an interview to RT’s reporter Manila Chan.

“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.

READ MORE: 40 years since Soyuz-Apollo: Handshakes in space as USSR, US fly together

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.”

The oft-cited handshake was followed by 46 hours of joint work and leisure, when the crews conducted joint scientific and technical experiments, exchanged gifts and signed certificates, as well as visited each other’s spaceships. The American and Soviet crews conversed both in English and Russian and dined together as well.

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.

READ MORE: ‘Every spacewalk is unique challenge’: Pioneer Leonov at #AskaCosmonaut Q&A 

The legacy of the Apollo-Soyuz mission still bonds the cooperation between the US and Russian space programs. It was the cornerstone for the future creation 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.