From what I understand, the planned landing areas for Apollo command modules were pre-programmed beforehand and happened in the South Pacific.

Was there any remote possibility of an emergency splashdown happening in the USSR controlled waters and what procedures were in place for that event?

  • $\begingroup$ The Black Sea is probably the most southerly body of water controlled by the Sovs, and I doubt whether a ground landing would have been survivable. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Dec 25, 2018 at 2:50
  • $\begingroup$ More interesting would have been a touchdown in China, North Vietnam or North Korea. $\endgroup$ Jan 1, 2019 at 22:36

2 Answers 2


The planned landing areas for Apollo command modules were pre-programmed beforehand and happened in the South Pacific.

Often the South Pacific, but sometimes the North Pacific or the Atlantic. Both Pacific and Atlantic recovery zones were established for each mission, with multiple ships allocated to each.

Was there any remote possibility of a splashdown happening in the USSR controlled waters and what procedures were in place for that event?

There's relatively little USSR-controlled water per se on the planet's surface, so that would be an extremely unlikely occurrence. Slightly more likely would be landfall on USSR-controlled soil (simply because there's much more of that), but as Uwe points out, the ground track of the usual Apollo parking orbit never reached the high latitudes of the USSR; Apollo 11 for instance inserted into a 32.5º inclination orbit; the southernmost point of the Soviet Union was Kushka (now Serhetabat) in Turkmenistan at 35º north.

In general, landing somewhere unexpected was very unlikely. An abort prior to getting into orbit would leave the command module somewhere in the Atlantic. Once in orbit, any abort would be performed to land near one of the established recovery zones if at all possible. If the abort wasn't now-now-now urgent, the worst case scenario would be maybe 30 minutes from the abort decision (say, over north Africa on a northerly leg) to the point at which the CM could reenter over a big ocean.

But let's say the worst happens, and the CM has to do a prompt emergency reentry without any choice about where to land. I don't know exactly what contingency plans NASA and the rest of the US government had for this situation, but I would expect that American astronauts crash-landing in USSR territory would not be mistreated even during those Cold War years. The Apollo missions were well-publicized, clearly scientific rather than military, and "the whole world was watching". The astronauts probably wouldn't be invited to tour any sensitive facilities nearby, obviously, and the command module might get impounded, inspected and dismantled before eventually being returned, but the crew would almost certainly get home safely.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ The plane of the Earth orbit after launch as well as the plane of return trajectory from the Moon had low inclinations. A high inclination crossing USSR territory had a very low probability. $\endgroup$
    – Uwe
    Dec 24, 2018 at 21:37
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Yeah, good point -- looks like Apollo 11's parking orbit was at 32º inclination, well south of any of the USSRistans. A poorly chosen return-from-moon trajectory, maybe? ;) $\endgroup$ Dec 24, 2018 at 22:03
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ Cuba would have been...interesting. $\endgroup$ Dec 24, 2018 at 22:13
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @OrganicMarble Yeah, I'd think that would be worse than USSR proper in some ways. $\endgroup$ Dec 24, 2018 at 22:22
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ An emergency landing on chinese territory was more likely than on the USSR or Cuba. $\endgroup$
    – Uwe
    Dec 24, 2018 at 23:04

By way http://www.allempires.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=5321 http://www.astronautix.com/a/apollosovieapollocapsule.html

The picture that clinched it. Tamas Feher discovered this photo of the 'recovery of an Apollo capsule' in a Hungarian space history book. It actually depicts Apollo BP-1227 being lowered to the deck of the USCG Southwind in Murmansk, USSR, 1970.

  • 6
    $\begingroup$ Could you add a bit more information from the linked page? As it stands now, the quoted text does not make sense without reading the linked page. $\endgroup$
    – Hobbes
    Dec 25, 2018 at 10:21
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ This answer refers to a lost Apollo boilerplate capsule used to practice recoveries. The capsule was lost at sea, the Russians recovered it and handed it over to an American vessel. This was training hardware, not flight hardware. $\endgroup$
    – dotancohen
    Dec 25, 2018 at 11:42
  • $\begingroup$ Nothing is impossible – some things are just less likely than others. aulis.com/images_odyssey_apollo/handover_murmansk.png aulis.com/odyssey_apollo.htm $\endgroup$
    – A. Rumlin
    Dec 25, 2018 at 18:21
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ If an Apollo boilerplate capsule was recovered by an USSR ship in international waters far away from a coast, USSR controlled territory was not involved. $\endgroup$
    – Uwe
    Dec 25, 2018 at 21:39

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.