How the Space Race Worked

An Era of Cooperation Begins

After the completion of the space race, it became clear that both space-faring nations might need to cooperate in some manner.  To this effect, a joint mission with the Soviet Union was proposed, the Apollo Soyuz Test Project.  An Apollo spacecraft carried a special docking module that would enable it to link up with a Soviet Soyuz spacecraft and transfer crewmembers.  In 1975, an Apollo spacecraft carrying three astronauts rendezvoused and docked with a Russian Soyuz spacecraft containing two cosmonauts.  The crews spent two days together conducting experiments.  The flight demonstrated that the two countries could work together in space and set the groundwork for cooperation in the Shuttle/Mir program and in building the International Space Station two decades later.

Soyuz, Apollo
Photo courtesy NASA
The crews photographed the Soyuz spacecraft (left) and Apollo spacecraft (right) as they approached each other during the Apollo Soyuz Test Project flight.

Today, the United States and Russia cooperate to build and operate the International Space Station.  Part of this cooperation stems from the success of the Apollo Soyuz Test Project and from the realization that, with the Russian Mir space station, the Russians had accumulated a vast amount of experience in long-duration spaceflight (crews on Mir had endured over a year in space).  With the International Space Station, crews consisting of Russian cosmonauts and American astronauts permanently inhabit the space station and switch out on a rotating basis.  Crews can be launched aboard the U.S. space shuttle or the Russian Soyuz spacecraft.  The space station is re-supplied by the space shuttle and by automated Soyuz and Progress supply ships.  Also, a Soyuz spacecraft remains permanently docked at the station as an emergency escape vehicle.

While the Russians and the Americans work together on the International Space Station, another space race is heating up. Find out who’s in the running in this 21st century race.