Androgynous Coupling and the Engineering of Peace: A Cold-War Romance in Space

Andrew Jenks
2021 Journal of Russian American Studies  
the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project presented a unique opportunity and challenge for a group of space engineers. By designing a docking system for Soviet and American capsules, the engineers were well aware that their task went beyond the normal technical challenge of aerospace design and involved integrating political goals into their technological blueprints. In effect, their mission was to create a technological fix in the form of a docking mechanism that would link the superpower space systems
more » ... e Apollo and Soyuz capsules), and in so doing reduce superpower tensions and perhaps even avert Mutual Assured Destruction. This article examines the technopolitics of the Apollo-Soyuz mission and whether or not the docking design actually worked, both in the narrower technical sense (as a functional space-docking system) and for Détente's broader goal of making superpower relations more peaceful and mutually-beneficial. The term "technological fix" was coined in the 1960s by the Director of Oakridge National Laboratories, Alvin Weinberg. The basic idea was hardly new. Modern faith in technology had produced a mania for technological fixes, a belief that, "solutions founded on technological innovation may be innately superior for addressing issues traditionally defined as social, political, or cultural." 1 The main attraction of the technological fix is that it promises to bypass the cultural and political challenges of changing behaviors and attitudes by shifting the problem to the supposedly objective realm of technical problem solving, and to the experts and engineers who supposedly have only technical rather than partisan goals. For example, advocates of nuclear power in the 1960s, like solar or wind power today, presented it as a solution to the economic and political dilemmas of fossil-fuel dependence. If it worked as planned, politicians would avoid the hard work of changing deeply entrenched behaviors of energy consumption, providing a cheap way to produce and consume power that would also protect the environment. It was a case of having your cake (energy independence and a cheap power source) and eating it too (blissfully tapping into the electric grid without destroying the environment). ASTP was a technological fix designed to make superpower relations less 1.
doi:10.17161/jras.v5i2.16029 fatcat:tpcu2g6e4rd55k2hy2mrqq3aia