The song, "Hello Darlin'", already a big number one country hit by the late Conway Twitty in 1970, achieved a recognition unlike any other song in history. It was re-recorded in Russian and played in space.1
It happened during the summer of 1975. If not exactly a summer of love, it could be considered the summer of détente and a growing optimism. Approximately one year before the U.S. Bicentennial, America was recovering from Watergate and the space program seemed to be on the upswing. In one of the first important tests of the future Space Shuttle, a one-third scale model was put through its paces in an Ames Research Center wind tunnel on June 5,2 and the Mars Viking probes were scheduled to be launched that August.3 It almost seemed that these events framed the scheduled mid-July launch of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project or ASTP like bookends.
From the name alone, ASTP might have sounded to some like a static rocket test in the desert. On the contrary, it was the culmination of the scientific agreement signed by Richard Nixon and Premier Kosygin three years before.4 Two crews, one Soviet and one American were to dock in Earth orbit, shake hands, and exchange gifts. The entire event was to be broadcast on television worldwide. It would be the first time that Moscow had announced any of its launches in advance. It would also be the first time a Soviet mission would be broadcast live on Soviet television. Hundreds of Russians jammed into the TV showroom at GUM, a Moscow department store to witness the Soyuz 19 blast-off on July 15.5
So the stage was set for the global meeting when Thomas Stafford, the commander of the American spacecraft, contacted his favorite singer, and fellow Oklahoman, Conway Twitty in March 1975 to ask a favor.6 Stafford thought it would be a great idea to present cassettes to the Russians when the crews exchanged gifts in space and he called Twitty in Oklahoma to see if he would be willing to record them.7
At first Conway thought it was a joke. Someone suggested recording a song in Russian and when Stafford heard about it he was excited. He asked if Conway could do "Hello Darlin'". Fortunately the artist had done a few things like that in other languages than English when he was a rock artist so he agreed.8
"When I discovered it was for real, I immediately got busy...Fortunately I found Prof. Gurij Chemelev at Oklahoma University to teach me enough Russian to get by."9
Conway Twitty tells the rest of the story in his autobiography:"So he came down to the studio and he sat on a stool right there beside me. I thought it would take maybe an hour. But it took a long time. The professor would say No, no, no, when I got the accent wrong. Having told me that the title translated into 'Privet Radost' in Russian, first problem was that I'd say the words softly and he would shout more no-nos at me. We went around and around, and it took him forever to understand that you don't just holler 'Privet Radost' at a woman.
" 'In Russia they do,' he replied.
"Anyway, I finally got it all finished and sent the tape to Stafford. A short time later I was out in L.A. doing a show, and I was back in the dressing room watching Walter Cronkite. On this particular day all the astronauts and cosmonauts were up there in the same space capsule. The camera was focusing on them, and out the window you could see the earth spinning below. It was July 17, 1975.
"All of a sudden, the talking stopped and the song started playing: 'Privet Radost.' That song was played in Russian all around the world. I don't know how many millions of people heard it--the only time anything like that had ever happened! It was a tremendous experience."10
Though Conway Twitty was impressed, he was wrong about the day. According to the Mission Commentary, "Privet Radost" was broadcast not on July 17 but on July 19 at 9:25 PM Central Daylight time. By this time the famous handshake between Stafford and Alexei Leonov and the formal exchange of gifts were over. It was approximately 52 minutes before the two spacecraft undocked.
CapCom in Houston remarked, "That sounded like it was from far Western Oklahoma, around Kiev."
Tom Stafford replied, "No that was Conway Twitty in Russian for the Soyuz crew and the people in the control center."11
The magic of the moment was fleeting, however. The Soviets had long been deferring any plans for future joint missions and the hoped-for follow-up never occurred.12 The next time that the U.S. and U.S.S.R would meet in space would be twenty years later during the STS-63 mission in February of 1995 when the Space Shuttle Discovery rendezvoused with the Mir space station.
Author: Colin Fries, Archivist
1. Wilbur Cross and Michael Kosser, The Conway Twitty Story: An Authorized Biography (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1986) 138.
2. Jack Viets, "Space Shuttle Undergoes Tests in Wind Tunnel," San Francisco Chronicle, 6 June, 1975.
3. Dan Partner, "Mars Probe Seeks Clues," The Denver Post, 17 June, 1975.
4. Edward Clinton Ezell and Linda Neuman Ezell, The Partnership: A History of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (Washington, D.C.: National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 1978) 192.
5. Hal Piper, "Moscow Shops Filled for Space Launchings," The Sun, 16 July, 1975.
6. New York Times, 18 July, 1975, 12.
7. Wilbur Cross and Michael Kosser, The Conway Twitty Story: An Authorized Biography (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1986) 138-139.
8. Ibid, 139.
9. New York Times, 18 July, 1975, 12.
10. Wilbur Cross and Michael Kosser, The Conway Twitty Story: An Authorized Biography (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1986) 139-140.
11. ASTP Mission Commentary, MC351.
12. Edward Clinton Ezell and Linda Neuman Ezell, The Partnership: A History of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (Washington, D.C.: National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 1978) 352.