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Shuttle-Mir Stories - Engle on Cold War Thaw

U.S. Air Force General (ret.) and former shuttle commander Joe Engle served on a task force with Apollo astronaut General Tom Stafford, helping to set up U.S.-Russian cooperation for the Shuttle-Mir Program.

In his Oral History, Engle relates a "humorous incident," which revealed much about how U.S.-Russian relations had changed. According to Engle, he and General Stafford were in Star City, talking with Academician [Vladimir] Utkin. The plan was for them to go from this office to the Mission Control Center, to watch a docking of a Progress supply vehicle with Mir.

During Apollo-Soyuz, General Stafford had been to both Utkin's office and to Mission Control. "But at that time," says Engle, "it was a wholly different ... atmosphere between the two countries, and a very, very deep communist, Soviet-controlled space program. Everything was very secretive. . ."

Engle says that Stafford started "looking at his watch and fidgeting." According to Engle, Stafford "leaned over to me and said, 'We're not going to see this docking. We're not going to get there in time.' And Academician Utkin kept on serving us tea and . . . being very polite, very cordial...

"Tom, you could tell, was kind of irritated, because although he knew what his duty was - It was to talk to Academician Utkin - he also wanted to see this docking.

"Finally, Academician Utkin looked at his watch and said . . . that perhaps we should start toward the Mission Control Center so we could observe the docking...

"So we walked out of Utkin's office and turned left and walked down this hallway," while Gen. Stafford "was mumbling and grumbling. . ."

And Utkin opened the door at the end of hallway, and as Engle says, "Here was Mission Control."

During Apollo-Soyuz, the Russians had driven Stafford around in a car for three hours, so he wouldn't have any idea of where Mission Control was.

Related Links:
Joe Engle Oral History (PDF)
Apollo-Soyuz
Cultural Background
History

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Curator: Kim Dismukes
Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty