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ISSUE 40 - November 2008
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By Sergei N. Stepanenko, Contributing Editor
St. Petersburg, Russia

In the dramatic history of the rocket rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union, there have been some humorous moments.

Among them is a story regarding the first docking of U.S and Russian spacecraft in orbit. A momentous occasion to be sure, but an occasion which was to become mired in the minutia of appearances.

As simple an issue as the diameters of the two spacecraft became an issue of great political significance within the Soviet Union; and for the bureaucrats of the Department of Propaganda of the Central Committee of the Communist party of The Soviet Union, a source of much heartache.

It happened in the year of 1975. The date for the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (or ASTP) was rapidly approaching. This project would involve the first joint flight of United States and Soviet Union spacecraft. The United States Apollo spacecraft would dock with the Soviet Soyuz 19.

But why were those within the Soviet Propaganda Ministry so concerned? What better opportunity to laud the praises of Soviet space technology than a joint space flight and docking manuever with the United States? Would not the entire world be watching this manifestation of the Soviet’s new policy of détente?

But as it happened, the Apollo spacecraft’s diameter of 12.8 ft. was much wider then the Soyuz craft’s 7.22ft. To the minds of those working within the Department of Propaganda of the Central Committee, it meant that the Apollo booster rocket must be much wider and therefore much more powerful then the Soyuz booster. As communist Propaganda for years had espoused to the Soviet citizenry the idea that the Soviet Union had the most powerful rockets in the world, this would put their claims in question. People would see the pictures of the spacecraft together and compare.

What to do. The answer would turn out to be a traditional one - simply distort the real size ratio of the two spacecraft. No problem.

Characteristic examples of this solution are found on the commemorative badges minted by the government for the occasion.

Distortion is found on the entire series of these badges as the spacecraft are shown with similar diameters.

The Soyuz is even seen to have a greater diameter in some of the badges.

Occasional mistakes slip by and you may by chance come across a representation of the real ratio such as:

For my taste, the badge below is the best.

By Sergei N. Stepanenko
Contributing Editor

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