The United States and Russia have a long and productive history of civil space cooperation dating back to a significant time in the history of our respective nations. On July 17, 1975, NASA astronauts Thomas Stafford, Vance Brand, and Deke Slayton broke free of Cold War tensions and Earth’s gravity to shake hands with Soviet cosmonauts Alexey Leonov and Valery Kubasov in a moment forever associated with peaceful cooperation in space. More than the first time two spacecraft from different nations docked together in orbit, this mission symbolized the potential of what could be achieved when nations work together to further mutual objectives.
Who could have foreseen that this “handshake in space” would lay the foundation for the tremendous accomplishments of the subsequent decades? From Apollo-Soyuz to the Shuttle-Mir program in the 1990s – from decades-long cooperation on scientific exploration of the Moon and Mars to the International Space Station – together our nations have pushed the boundaries of technology and undertaken new challenges on behalf of humanity.
NASA and the Russian space agency Roscosmos are key contributors to one of the world’s greatest technological achievements, the International Space Station. Together with space agencies from Europe, Japan, and Canada, we built an unprecedented research laboratory in low-Earth orbit. For more than 20 years, U.S. and Russian crews have lived and worked shoulder-to-shoulder aboard the International Space Station. Greater still, more than a hundred countries have used the space station’s capabilities to conduct research and increase the scope of human knowledge.
Space exploration has become a global endeavor that yields advances in science, technology, innovation, and diplomacy for the benefit all of humanity. Nations around the world have navigated complex relationships to achieve unprecedented accomplishments together in space. Although it has not always been easy, the shared experiences of astronauts, cosmonauts, scientists, and engineers working toward a common goal have created indelible bonds and life-long friendships.
Our nation believes in exploration because it is an investment in the future – not just in space, but here on Earth. History has shown us that achievements in space inspire young people to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. By exploring space, we increase humanity’s knowledge and understanding of our planet, our solar system, and our universe – all while inspiring the next generation to make their own giant leaps. Despite challenges here on Earth, we remain focused on future lunar exploration activities under the Artemis program, which will leverage the largest and most diverse international space exploration coalition in history. However, today we look to the past to celebrate the “handshake in space” that made our present and future plans for international cooperation possible.