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6 Jul, 2009 06:56

Soyuz-Apollo and two little girls that changed the world

The idea of the first international space flight in history became a symbol of improving relations between the USSR and the US in the late 1960s and early 70s, and the Soyuz-Apollo Test Project was born.

The first international handshake in space on July 17, 1975 was broadcast worldwide and days of comfortable camaraderie followed.

“Our first joint meal was a lunch. It actually took place in the middle of the night, but we still had Tom and Deke over, and we all ate together. It was really funny, Tom Stafford kept shouting ‘Aleksey, Valery – come over!’, and we kept saying ‘No, you're scheduled to visit us first – so YOU come over…’” said Valery Kubasov, cosmonaut of 1975 Soyuz-Apollo expedition, who remembers perfectly the stress, the work and the fun of that historic mission.

But this tale of two space programs was not so simple, because one space flight just was not enough.

As time went by, the leaders changed. In the USSR, Leonid Brezhnev was replaced by Yuri Andropov and Ronald Reagan was the man in the White House.

By this point, the easing-off policy was no longer working, and international media drew scary pictures of the man in charge of the USSR – until one short missive changed everything.

“Dear Mr. Andropov, my name is Samantha Smith. I am ten years old. Congratulations on your new job. I have been worrying about Russia and the United States getting into a nuclear war. This question you do not have to answer, but I would like to know why you want to conquer the world, or at least our country?” American girl Samantha Smith wrote in her letter to the head of the Soviet Union.

10-year-old Samantha Smith from Maine never thought her letter would have such consequences.

In a short while, she got a personal reply from the Soviet leader that invited her to see Russia for herself.

With the visit a huge success, the Soviet side followed suit.

In 1986, 12-year-old Katya Lycheva headed for the bright lights of the big American cities.

She traveled the country, made friends with dozens of kids – and had a meeting with President Reagan.

“She had the chance to do something so incredible. I mean, we were Soviet kids – and here was my friend and classmate, who had spoken to the American President!” says Katya’s friend Olga Sinischenko.

Katya and Samantha inadvertently affected the course of relations between Russia and the US, paving the way for more understanding open dialog between the two Super Powers.