Category Soviet and Russian Lunar Exploration


In contrast to Proton, the N-1’s design history has been chronicled in some detail. The N-1 programme began on 14th September 1956, when the first sketches appeared in the archive of OKB-1. Korolev gave it the relatively bland name of N-1, ‘N’ standing for Nositel or carrier, with the industry code of 11A51. The concept was brought to the Council of Chief Designers on 15th July 1957, but it did notwin endorsement. The N-1 at this stage was a large rocket able to put 50 tonnes into orbit.

This was in dramatic contrast with the United States, where the Saturn V was constructed around a single mission: a manned moon landing. The N rocket, by contrast, was a universal rocket with broad applications. Korolev kept these purposes deliberately vague and, in order to keep military support for the project, hinting at how the N-1 could launch military reconnaissance satellites. The sending of large payloads to 24 hr orbit was also envisaged.

The N-1 languished for several years. Unlike the R-7, then in development, it did not have any precise military application and as a result the military would not back it. The situation changed on 23rd June 1960 when the N-1 was approved by Resolution #715-296 of the government and party called On the creation of powerful carrier rockets, satellites, space ships and the mastery of cosmic space 1960-7. Encouraged by the success of early Soviet space exploration, aware of reports of the developments by the United States of the Saturn launch vehicle, the Soviet government issued a party and government decree which authorized the development of large rocket systems, such as the N-1, able to lift 50 tonnes. The decree also authorized the development of liquid hydrogen, ion, plasma and atomic rockets. The 1960 resolution included approval for an N-2 rocket (industry code 11A52), able to lift 75 tonnes, but it was dependent on the development of these liquid hydrogen, ion, plasma and nuclear engines, suggesting it was a more distant prospect. The 1960 resolution also proposed circumlunar and circumplanetary missions. The implicit objective of the N-1 was to make possible a manned mission to fly to and return from Mars.

Such a mission was mapped out by a group of engineers led by Gleb Yuri Maksimov in Department # 9, overseen by Mikhail Tikhonravov. This would not be a landing, but a year-long circumplanetary mission. Maksimov’s 1959-61 studies postulated a heavy interplanetary ship, or TMK, like a daisy stem (nuclear power plant at one end, crew quarters at the opposite), which would fly past Mars and return within a year. In 1967-8, three volunteers – G. Manovtsev, Y. Ulybyshev and A. Bozhko – spent a year in a TMK-type cabin testing a closed-loop life support system. A related project, also developed in Department #9 but this time by designer Konstantin Feoktistov, envisaged a landing on Mars using two TMKs. The N-1 design, although it proved problematical for a man-on-the-moon project, was actually perfect for the assembly of a Mars expedition in Earth orbit.

Siddiqi points out that the N-1 Mars project and the development of related technologies took up a considerable amount of time, resources and energy at OKB-1 over 1959-63 [3]. Were it not for the Apollo programme, the Russians might well have by-passed the moon and sent cosmonauts to Mars by the end of the decade. Ambitious though the Apollo project was, Korolev had all along planned to go much farther.

The slogan of the GIRD group, written by Friedrich Tsander, never referred to the moon at all. Instead, its motto was ‘Onward to Mars!’

The fact that the original payload was 50 tonnes, far too little for a manned moon mission, demonstrates how little a part a moon landing played in Korolev’s plans at this time. Indeed, unaware of its origins, several people later questioned the suitability of the N-1 for the moon mission. Sergei Khrushchev said it was neither fish nor fowl, too large for a space station module, too small for a lunar expedition [4]. The head of the cosmonaut squad, General Kamanin, took the view in the mid-1960s that the design, going back to 1957, was already dated. The rival and ambitious Vladimir Chelomei felt he could do better with a more modern design.

Despite approval in 1960, the N-1 made very slow progress, and early the following year Korolev was already complaining that he was not getting the resources he needed. At one stage, in 1962, the government halted progress, limiting the N-1 project only to plans. An early problem, one that was to engulf the project, was the choice of engine. Korolev needed a much more powerful engine for such a large rocket. Korolev proposed kerosene-based engines for the lower stages and hydrogen – powered engines for the upper ones. He turned, as might be expected, to Valentin Glushko of OKB-456, asking him to design and build such engines. Valentin Glushko proposed a series of engines for the different stages of the N-1: the RD-114, RD-115, RD-200, RD-221, RD-222, RD-223. None of these was acceptable to Korolev, for all were nitric-based, anathema to him [5].

The ever-resourceful Korolev then turned to Kyubyshev plane-maker Nikolai Kuznetsov, asking him to make the engines using the traditional fuels of kerosene and liquid oxygen. Although Kuznetsov had no experience of rocket engines, he and his OKB-276 design bureau were prepared to give it a try. However, he knew he had no ability to develop high-powered engines, so a large number of modest-power kerosene-fuelled engines would have to do. In fact, despite his inexperience, the en­gines came out exceptionally powerful and lightweight, achieving the best thrust-to – weight ratios of the period. The engines were called NK, NK standing for Nikolai Kuznetsov. The first stage used NK-33s, the second NK-43s. There was little differ­ence between them except that NK-43 was designed for higher altitudes and had a larger nozzle [6]. Roll was controlled by a series of roll engines. For example, on the first stage, there were four roll engines of 7 tonne thrust each, assisted by four aerodynamic stabilizers.

First-stage separation would take place at 118 sec, at 41.7-km altitude, by which time the rocket would be travelling at 2,317 m/sec. The second stage would burn for over a further two minutes, reaching 110.6 km, with speed now at 4,970 m/sec. The third stage would then burn until 583 sec, by which time the stack had reached orbital altitude of 300 km and a velocity of 7,790 m/sec. Translunar orbit injection would be done by block G. This would use a single NK-31 engine, burning for 480 sec, to fire the stack moonward. Block D would then be used three times: [3]


Mstislav Keldysh

The N-1 was originally designed to have hydrogen-powered upper stages. Research on hydrogen engines dated to 1959 in Arkhip Lyulka’s OKB-165 and I960 in Alexei Isayev’s OKB-2. The main engine design bureau was that of Valentin Glushko, but he had no time for hydrogen-fuelled stages. In May 1961, Korolev contracted Lyulka to build a 25 tonne thrust engine and Isayev a small one of 7 tonne thrust. Within two years, they were able to come back to him with the specifications of their motors, called respectively the 11D54 and 11D56. However, their progress was slow. A critical factor was the lack of testing facilities. Although both tried to get the use of the main testing facility at Zagorsk, priority was given to the testing of military rockets. In the event, they were not able to conduct the necessary tests until 1966-7. By 1964, Korolev had abandoned hope of getting hydrogen-powered engines available on time for the N-1 and went for more conventional solutions.

By summer 1962, the N-1 approached a critical design review. The N-1 design was studied by a commission presided over by Mstislav Keldysh for two weeks in July 1962. The Keldysh Commission gave the go-ahead for the N-1, with Korolev’s choice of liquid oxygen and kerosene engines. Siddiqi [7] points to the significance of this decision, for it forever fractured the Soviet space programme into rival camps: Korolev’s OKB-1 on one side; and on the other, Glushko’s OKB-456 and Chelomei’s OKB-52. The payload was set at 75 tonnes, merging the N-1 and N-2 design concepts (another interpretation is that the N-2 was in effect renamed and superseded the N-1). Either way, 75 tonnes was now the base line.

Two months later, on 24th September 1962, a government decree called for a first test flight in 1965. The N-1 was once again given the green light. Despite these changes, the N-1 and its engines continued to make very slow progress. Promised funding never arrived and despite seven years of design and redesign, no hardware had yet been cut. When the Soviet Union began to respond to the challenge of Apollo, Korolev saw the moon landing as an opportunity to give the N-1 the prominence he believed it deserved. On 27th July 1963, Korolev wrote a memo confirming that the N-1 would now be directed toward a manned landing on the moon. Now that the nature of American lunar ambitions had became more apparent, the N-1 was directed away from Mars and toward the moon. His first ideas for a lunar mission for the N-1 were to use two N-1s for his manned lunar expedition, employing the technique of Earth orbit rendezvous. The precise point at which Korolev moved from the Earth orbit rendez­vous profile to the lunar orbit rendezvous profile is unclear. Granted the difficulties they had experienced with getting funding for the N-1, the prospect of having to build only one, rather than two, for each moon mission must have been appealing. The favourable trajectory and payload economics of the American lunar orbit rendezvous method persuaded him that a single N-1 could do the job, but it would have to be upgraded again, this time from a payload of 75 tonnes to one of 92 to 95 tonnes, almost double its original intended payload.

When the decision to go to the moon was taken on 3rd August 1964, the N-1 was designated as the rocket for the lunar landing programme. The 95 tonne requirement had two immediate implications. First, the number of engines must be increased from 24 to 30, giving it a much wider base than had originally been intended. The 24 were in a ring and the additional six were added in the middle. Second, the fuel and oxidizer tanks would necessarily be very large. Korolev decided that spherical fuel tanks were to be used, eschewing the strapping of large fuel tanks to the side of the rocket. The diameters in each stage would be of different dimensions, making the system more complex and meaning that the rocket would be carrying a certain amount of empty space. The largest tank was no less than 12.8 m across! Korolev’s fuel tanks were so huge that they could not be transported by rail and had to be built on site at the cosmodrome. The first stage had 1,683 tonnes of propellant, of which no fewer than 20 tonnes were consumed before take-off!

Trying to get a 95-tonne payload out of a 75-tonne payload rocket design was quite a challenge. Other economies were sought and changes made:

• Setting a parking orbit of 220 km, lower than the 300 km originally planned.

• Additional cooling of fuels prior to launch.

• Thrust improvements of 2% in each engine.

• Use of plastic in place of steel in key components.

• Parking orbit inclination from 65° to 51.6° (later 50.7°).

• Reducing the crew of the lunar expedition from three to two.

Many different – and sometimes rival – branches and bureaux of the Soviet space industry were involved in the N-1 and the programme to put a Soviet cosmonaut on the moon. The N-1 was a huge industrial scientific undertaking, employing thousands

of people in Kyubyshev, Moscow, Dnepropetrovsk, Baikonour and many other locations. These were some of the main ones:

Builders of the N-l


Chief designer



Korolev, then Mishin

Overall management, block G and D, engines for D, LOK


Nikolai Kuznetsov

Engines for blocks A, B, V



LK (spacecraft and engine)



LOK propulsion systems


Viktor Kuznetsov

Guidance systems for block D, LOK and LK



Guidance system for LOK



Radio-telemetry systems



Launch complex


Archip Lyulka

Engines for blocks G, V

The overall designer was Sergei Kryukov, a graduate of the Moscow Higher Technical School, one of the experts sent to Germany in 1945 and a collaborator with Korolev on the R-7.

Around the moon

The moon race between the Soviet Union and the United States climaxed in summer 1969 when the first men landed on the moon – but there was an earlier, dramatic climax six months earlier at Christmas 1968. That time the battle was to see which country would be the first to send people around the moon and return. Although, in retrospect, there was less and less chance that the Russians would beat the Americans to a moon landing, the chances of the Russians sending cosmonauts around the moon first were very real.

By late August 1968, the Russians were still trying to achieve a successful mission of the L-1 Zond around the moon. The continued troubles with the Proton rocket must have been deeply disappointing. It was then going through its most difficult phase of development and none could have imagined that it would become, much later on, one of the world’s most reliable rockets. Although L-1 Zond missions had started as far back as March 1967 with Cosmos 146, none since then had been entirely successful. In August 1968, the Russians began to realize that time was no longer on their side. The first manned Apollo, redesigned after the Apollo fire, was due to make its first flight in October. Word came out of Washington that NASA was considering sending the second Apollo around the moon before the end of the year. It would be only the second Apollo flight and the first crew on the huge Saturn V rocket. The Russians had considered four unmanned lunar flights as essential before a manned flight: now the Americans were planning a manned flight on only the second Apollo mission, without any unmanned flights around the moon first.

As luck would have it, the same launch window that might take Apollo 8 to the moon opened for America on 21st December but much earlier in the USSR – from 7th to 9th December. This was entirely due to the celestial mechanics of the optimum launching and landing opportunities.


The government decision of 8th January 1969 to reorientate the space programme around unmanned lunar exploration and space stations did lead to a successful


Salyut – an alternative programme

programme of unmanned lunar exploration (Chapter 7: Samplers, rovers and orbiters). More important in the long term, it propelled the Soviet Union into becoming the leading country in the development of space stations. In January 1969, at the reception for the Soyuz 4-5 cosmonauts, Mstislav Keldysh had announced that space stations would be the main line of development of the programme. In October 1969, advocates of the programme cunningly slipped into a speech by Leonid Brezhnev the declaration that they were now the main line of development.

Space stations had always featured in Soviet space thinking, back to the time of Tsiolkovsky. Korolev had brought forward outline designs of a manned space station in the early 1950s, to be launched by his N-1 rocket. The first space station programme to win approval for development was a proposal put forward by Vladimir Chelomei’s OKB-52 and approved as the Almaz military space station programme (1964). This complex design made slow progress and by 1969 was still some two or three years distant. Accordingly, the decision was taken in early 1970 to combine the Almaz design of OKB-52 with Soyuz hardware developed by OKB-1 so as to construct a space station as soon as possible. Despite these hasty and makeshift origins, not to mention Chelomei’s opposition, the space station was actually built quite quickly, in only a year. It was launched in 1971 as Salyut and duly became the first manned orbiting space station, a full two years before America’s Skylab. As the moon programme encountered ever more difficulties, the Russians gave their space station programme ever more retrospective justification.

The Soviet Union’s space station programme in the early to mid-1970s was cursed with difficulties, and these certainly contributed to Mishin’s downfall as much as the moon race. The first crew to reach Salyut was able to link to the station, but not dock properly or enter the station and had to make an emergency return. In the worst-ever disaster to affect the manned programme, the three cosmonauts who flew to Salyut in June 1971 perished on their return, when a depressurization valve opened at high altitude. The next Salyut crashed on launch in July 1972.

The racing days of the moon programme echoed again in spring 1973 as the Americans at last prepared to launch their space station, Skylab. To match Skylab, the Russians prepared two space stations for launch, planning to have both of them operational and occupied at the same time. The first, which was also the first Almaz station, suffered an on-orbit engine explosion and had to be abandoned before it was manned. The second accidentally exhausted all its fuel on its first orbit and also had to be abandoned. It must have galled the Russians that America’s Skylab then went on to become such a stunning success.

The first successful space station occupation did not take place until July 1974, when Pavel Popovich and Yuri Artyukin occupied the second Almaz station. This was the first flight after the dismissal of Mishin and the first to take place on Glushko’s watch. Even then, the space station programme was to suffer many setbacks and disappointments. Soyuz 15, 23 and 25 had to come down early when their docking manoeuvres failed. The space station programme did not reach maturity until Salyut 6 (occupied 1977-82) and 7 (occupied 1982-6). Here, Soviet cosmonauts learned to live in space, pushing back the frontiers of long-distance flight to 96,139,175,185,211 and 237 days. Salyuts received regular visitors: unmanned refuelling craft and visiting missions from the socialist countries. With Mir (occupied 1986-2000), the Soviet Union built a permanent orbital station. Mir became to the Soviet programme what Apollo had been to the Americans. Only by returning to its roots in the writings of Tsiolkovsky and the other early visionaries did the programme at last find its true vocation.


The second moonbase proposal was the Zvezda one developed for Valentin Glushko by Ivan Prudnikov in 1974. The crew for the moon base would be brought there by a 31 tonne lunar expeditionary craft, or LEK in Russian. This would use direct ascent, not lunar orbit rendezvous. Once their lunar visit was complete, the three cosmonauts would blast home in their 9.2 tonne upper stage. The reentry vehicle was small, weighing 3.2 tonnes. The initial crew of the base would be three, but this would be doubled as more equipment was ferried up from Earth by Vulkan rockets. The total weight to be transported to the moon would, in the end, be around 130 tonnes, involving up to six Vulkans.

The moon base itself would have three elements: a habitation module, laboratory module and lunar rover. First, there would be a lunar habitation module, or LZhM in Russian. This was a non-returnable 21.5 tonne living and scientific area, 9 m tall, 8 m wide and with a volume of 160 m3. It would deploy solar panels able to generate 8 kW of electricity. Next was a laboratory production module, the LZM in Russian. Weighing 15.5 tonnes, this would stand 4.5m tall and have a volume of 100m3 for oxygen generation, biotechnology and physics experiments, operated by a single
cosmonaut at a time. As was the case with the Galaktika proposal, a lunar rover was an essential element. The Lunokhod would measure 4.5m wide, 8 m long and 3.5 m high, weigh 8.2 tonnes and could transport two cosmonauts up to 200 km distant at a speed of up to 5 km/hr. The rover would be able to drive on expeditions for up to twelve days at a time (a full lunar day), carrying drilling and other scientific equipment.

Подпись: Russia’s moon plans 1964-71 N1-L3 1972-4 N1-L3M 1974-6 Vulkan
Подпись: Korolev and Mishin Mishin Glushko

Valentin Glushko did not give up easily and attempted to resurrect it as Zvezda II in the 1980s. It was a scaled-down proposal, using two Energiya rockets rather than the much larger Vulkan [3]. Designed along lines similar to the N1-L3M plan of his deposed rival Vasili Mishin, two Energiyas would place a 74-tonne complex with five cosmonauts on board into lunar orbit. Three would descend to the surface for a twelve-day surface stay. Preliminary designs of the Zvezda II mothership and lander were done, both being significantly larger than the LOK and the LK. However, even Glushko must have realized that there was no prospect, at this time, that they would receive serious consideration.


moon base plans






Zvezda II


Glushko and Prudnikov Glushko


The revised 95-tonne N-1 design was frozen and signed off by Korolev on 25th December 1964. There was far from unanimity on the design and several knowledge­able engineers insisted that the original 75 tonne N-1 design had been pushed beyond its natural limits, with a consequent risk of failure. The piping was a plumber’s nightmare. The launch mass was an enormous 2,700 tonnes. Although the N-1 was to be the same size as America’s Saturn V, its less efficient fuels produced a smaller payload. Even though the N-1 would follow a profile identical to Saturn V and Apollo, N-1 had the capacity to send only two cosmonauts into lunar orbit and only one down to the surface.

Although the project had first been mooted in 1956 and approved in 1960, sig­nificant resources did not begin to flow into the project until late 1964. Now the N-1 had to catch up for time lost. In his effort to do so, Korolev took two important decisions: [4]


Spurring people on – Korolev in 1964

Korolev’s philosophy was to fly rockets at the first available opportunity, so that whatever flaws might be there revealed themselves early on during a rocket’s devel­opment (most rockets were happy to oblige). Under the intense pressure to get the N-1 programme under way, Sergei Korolev and his successor Vasili Mishin minimized the ground-testing segment, a mistake the Americans did not make with the Saturn V (nor the Chinese in their programme). Korolev sometimes said in his defence that the government would not pay for proper ground-testing facilities and they would have held him up too much. Khrushchev does not agree and says that the government would never have denied Korolev proper ground-testing facilities had he asked for them – ‘especially a chief designer of Korolev’s calibre’ [8]. Chelomei’s Proton, though, presents a counter-argument. It was extensively ground-tested, but its flight record until 1972 was no better than some of Korolev’s rockets.


The N-1 engine system

In an effort to compensate for possible first-stage problems, a special control system was introduced by Vasili Mishin. There was a real danger that the failure of an individual engine could jeopardize the whole mission. Accordingly, Mishin designed an engine operation control system, called KORD (Kontrol Roboti Dvigvateli) in Russian, which would shut down any badly performing engine automatically and a good engine immediately opposite, so as to preserve the symmetry of the vehicle’s thrust. KORD would also re-programme the burn so as to make up for the lost thrust. The system could tolerate the loss of four first-stage and two second-stage engines and still achieve orbit.

Compared with the Gas Dynamics Laboratory, Kuznetsov’s OKB-276 was poorly resourced and lacked any rocket engine testing facilities when it was awarded the contract for the moon rocket. Korolev was adamant about all-up testing and would never launch dummy upper stages, which he regarded as wasteful (the

Americans took a different view). Korolev argued that there was a high degree of commonality between all the NK engines and if they were tested properly individually, they should work in stages. The KORD system should be able to cope with any problems arising and the redundancy built in should protect against catastrophic failure. Against that, all engine designers will argue that exhaustive ground-testing will reveal old flaws, new flaws and be worth the investment. The preparation of the N-1 was such a huge event that the programme could not survive repeated catastrophic failures (indeed, it didn’t).

There were no ground tests of all the first-stage engines together, with or without the KORD system. But it is wrong to say that there were no ground tests at all. To the contrary, the main rocket-testing centre in the Soviet Union, at Zagorsk (now Sergeev Posad) was used for otherwise exhaustive engine tests over 1967-8. The first engine tests began in September 1967. The NK engines were erected on stands and tested for long periods. The second, third, fourth and fifth stages were tested as stages there, but not, of course, the full first stage. Granted the commonality between the engines, they may reasonably have hoped that mastering the first stage should not present serious difficulties. By the time of the first flight of the N-1, the engines had been tested for 100,000 sec on the ground.

At last, with the government resolution of August 1964, there was a sudden surge of momentum. Construction of the first N-1 pad began the next month in September. After blueprints were agreed on 30th December 1964, the government issued a decree for the construction of 16 N-1 rockets on 26th January 1965. Construction of a second, adjacent pad began in February 1966. The first N-1 hardware appeared in Baikonour in November 1966. The first pad was completed in August 1967. A mockup of the N-1 was rolled out there on 25th November 1967. This was a wise precaution, for there were many problems in trying to integrate the model with the launch pad and its fuelling systems. These took a year to sort out. Two weeks later, on 11th December, it was spotted by an American Corona photoreconnaissance satellite. The model threw a shadow across a quarter of a mile that late afternoon and set alarm bells ringing in Washington DC [9].

These pads were the largest project ever made at Baikonour. Concrete pads were built, with flame trenches gouged out of the ground underneath. Two pads were built, 500 m apart. Each had a 145 m tall rotating servicing tower and 42 m deep flame trenches. Propellants were supplied to the towers by a fuel area in between the two. To get the N-1 rocket to the pad, two railway lines were constructed from the hangar. Two diesel engines moved the empty N-1 down to the pad in parallel. Once it reached the pad, a giant crane erector moved the rocket to the vertical. The N-1 was assembled in what must have been the largest structure built at Baikonour to that point, the final assembly building. This was a huge hangar 240 m long and 190 m wide, its height ranging from 30 m to 60 m, with two high bays and three low bays [10].

The promised Lunar Exploration Council or LEK now set about its business and the N-1 passed a further design review under Keldysh on 16th November 1966. The government resolution on the moon programme of 4th February 1967 laid down a schedule for the first twelve flights of the N-1. The schedule was ambitious, to the point


N-l pads under construction, as seen by American intelligence

of being wholly unrealistic. The plan specified an unmanned test in September 1967 (about the same time as the American Saturn V), leading to a manned lunar landing in September 1968.


Подпись: N-l Length Diameter Liftoff weight dry Liftoff weight fuelled Payload First stage (block A) Thrust Engines Thrust (each) Fuels Total thrust Height Diameter Weight Burn time Second stage (block B) Height Diameter Engines Thrust (each) Total thrust Fuels Burn time Weight Third stage (block V) Height Diameter
Подпись: 105m 17m 281 tonnes 2,750 tonnes 95 tonnes
Подпись: 154 tonnes each 30 NK-33 154 tonnes Liquid oxygen, kerosene 4,620 tonnes 28 m 17m 1,875 tonnes 118 sec
Подпись: 12m 6m

The first complete N-1 rocket began construction in Samara in February 1967. Two flight models reached an advanced stage by September 1967. The first N-1 was rolled out to the pad on 7th May 1968. By then, the first N-1 launch was scheduled for later that year. Cracks were then spotted in the first-stage tanks and the whole rocket was removed over 10th-12th June. This was quite a setback to the schedule and meant that the N-1 would not fly in 1968. To continue the momentum of the programme, a mockup N-1 was at the pad from August to October for launchpad tests. To the snooping American satellites, this provided a prolonged opportunity to photograph the target during a period of good sunlight and enable the Americans to model the launcher. But even with their advanced photography, from their altitude of 150 km, the difference between a mockup and the real thing may not have been obvious.

Fifth stage (block D)

Подпись: One Melinkov RD-58 Liquid oxygen and kerosene

Подпись: Fourth stage (block G) Engines Fuel Height Diameter Total thrust


Подпись: Engines Thrust (each) Total thrust Weight Fuels Burn time Подпись: Four NK-39 41 tonnes 164 tonnes 185 tonnes



Few people have made direct comparisons between the Saturn V and the N-1. One who has is Berry Sanders [11]. His findings were that:

• The Saturn V had a steeper trajectory than the N-1, which rolled on its side sooner.

• The Saturn V was bigger and more powerful. The first stage of the Saturn V had a fuelled weight of 2,244 tonnes, compared with the 1,875 of the N-1. On the Saturn V, the main effort at lifting was done by the hydrogen-powered second stage, while on N-1 the burden was spread evenly between the three stages. Hydrogen gave the Americans a definite advantage.

• Saturn V could put 117 tonnes into orbit, compared with 95 tonnes for the N-1. However, the N-1 paid a considerable penalty for launching into a 51° orbit from a launch site as far north as Baikonour. Had the N-1 been launched from Cape Canaveral, the N-1 could have put 104 tonnes into orbit.

Evaluating the N-1 is a difficult undertaking. At first sight, it was a disastrous rocket, for it exploded four times out of four. By comparison, the Saturn V was an engineer’s dream, for it flew 13 times and succeeded 13 times (not that all launches were incident – free, but they all made it into orbit). After the programme was over, Kuznetsov continued work on his NK-33 engine at his own expense. He decided on a duration test of 20,360 sec on a test stand. It ran perfectly. Fourteen engines logged up to 14,000 sec in other tests. Chief designer Mishin considered it the best rocket engine ever made.

Kuznetsov’s engineers received the orders from Valentin Glushko to destroy the engines in 1974, but they could not bring themselves to do it. Instead, they hid them in a shed and put a big nuclear skull-and-crossbones warning sign over them, believing that would keep prying eyes away, which it did. There the engines gathered dust for 20 years and were rediscovered, almost by accident. Visiting American engineers saw
them on a visit to Samara and could not believe their eyes: hundreds of moon rocket engines in mint order! The American Aerojet company at once bought 90 of them for $450 million and in 1995 sent them off to its Sacramento, CA plant for testing and evaluation. They worried if there would be any problems in relighting motors that had been in storage since 1974. They ran two tests – of 40 sec and 200 sec – and there were not. Aerojet’s evaluation of the engine found that it could deliver over 10% more performance than any other American engine and enthused over its simplicity, light­ness and low production costs. The hydrogen upper stage, originally planned for a later version of the N-1, became the upper stage of the Indian GSLV launch vehicle more than 25 years later.

The basic problem with the N-1 was the lack of thorough ground-testing. It was here that the much smaller resources of the Soviet Union and poor organization told against its moon programme. Rocket designers continued to underestimate the prob­lems associated with the integration of engines on stages and the resulting problems of vibration, sound, fuel flow and control. Testing engines individually, however good they are, can be a poor guide as to how they behave collectively. Even where this is done, there is no guarantee of success, as the thoroughly prepared Proton proved. The world’s space programmes are full of histories of rockets that proved extraor­dinarily difficult to tame: the American Atlas and Centaur, the Chinese Feng Bao, Europe’s Europa and India’s SLV. Even programmes that have built on the experi­ence of all that has gone before can suffer nasty surprises, like Europe’s Ariane. Having said all that, it is hard to believe that thorough ground-testing would not have stacked the odds much more in favour of the N-1. The four flight failures all had their roots in problems that could have been identified in thorough ground-testing. The real issue is not that the N-1 was a bad rocket, but that the Saturn V was so exceptionally good.

Were the rival UR-700 and R-56 proposals better? The UR-700 scheme developed by Chelomei might well have worked. In promising exhaustive ground-testing first, Chelomei rightly hit on one of the great weaknesses of Korolev’s approach. Chelomei was a superb designer but he was also slow: his Almaz space station was approved in 1964 but he did not get it ready for its first flight until 1973 and there is no reason to believe he could have built his moon rocket any sooner.

In retrospect, the Russian moon programme might have been better to go for the large RD-270 engines which Glushko began to develop. Korolev probably correctly judged that the development of the RD-270s would have required an extensive range of ground facilities and taken too long. With time against him, he calculated that it was better to go with a tried-and-tested system, even if it meant 30 engines. Korolev was always battling time to get his N-1 airborne, struggling with government depart­ments for budgets and travelling endlessly to Samara, Leningrad and Baikonour to keep things moving. Korolev may have reckoned that he had to be lucky with only one successful N-1 launch and he would then get, from the political bosses, the resources he needed to bring the project to fruition.

If the N-1 had eventually worked, then a Russian moon landing would definitely have been possible at some stage. Alternatively, if the Russians had decided not to pursue a moon landing, then they would have had available to them a large rocket able

to launch a very big space station. Several such designs were even sketched during this period. Instead of the smaller, Mir-class space station of 1986-2001, the Russians would have been able to put in orbit a large space station block long before 1980, something as large as the International Space Station. The cancellation of the N-1 not only marked the effective end of the Soviet man-on-the-moon programme but had a profound effect on the subsequent development of cosmonautics.

L-l ZOND 5

Autumn was well in the air and the nighttime temperatures were cool once more when at midnight on 15th September 1968, Zond 5 rose off the pad at Baikonour and its Proton launch vehicle silhouetted the gantries, masts and assembly buildings for miles around. It all went effortlessly well, all the more remarkable after the frustrating 18 months which had passed since Cosmos 154 had triggered off so many frustrations. Sixty-seven minutes later, Zond 5 was moonbound, right on course. Its cabin con­tained two small turtles, fruit flies, worms and 237 fly eggs. The spacecraft weighed 5,500 kg. The plan was to recover Zond on Soviet territory after a skip trajectory, but failing that in the Indian Ocean on a ballistic return. Ten ships, equipped with three helicopters, had been sent as a recovery task force and spread out at 300 km intervals. Cameras were carried to take pictures of the close approach to the moon. Designed by Boris Rodionov of the Moscow State Institute for Geodesy and Cartography, they appear to have been developed from mapping cameras rather than from the earlier lunar missions. The standard camera for the Zond missions was a 400 mm camera taking 13 by 18 cm frames. Publicly, the official announcement said even less about the mission than usual.

Chief designer Vasili Mishin flew from Baikonour to follow the mission at the control centre in Yevpatoria. Everything was going well and the control team partied into the night. Then news came through that the stellar orientation had failed. Alexei Leonov recalled how Vasili Mishin, despite having more than enjoyed the party, analysed the problem correctly right away and had it fixed. He had good intuition, noted Leonov.

On 17th September at 6: 11 a. m. Moscow time, after one failed attempt, Zond 5 successfully corrected its course at a distance from Earth of 325,000 km. At Jodrell Bank Observatory in Manchester, Sir Bernard Lovell quickly pointed his radio dish to track the enigmatic Zond 5. He picked up strong signals at once, receiving 40 min bursts on 922.76 MHz. On 19th September he was able to reveal that the spacecraft had been around the moon at a distance of about 1,950 km and was now on its way back. This information was based on the signals he had received. But nobody really knew. The Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs categorically denied that Zond 5 had been anywhere near the moon.

If the mission planners had been as inept as the Soviet news service, the flight would have failed at this stage. As it was, Zond 5 had seen the Earth disappear to the size of a small blue ball in the distance. Any cosmonaut then on board would have been treated to the fantastic spectacle of the moon’s craters, deserts and rugged highlands sweep below him in stark profusion. Zond soared around the moon’s farside and then, nearing its eastern limb, a nearly full Earth rose gently over the horizon, a welcoming beacon to guide the three-day flight home. Would a cosmonaut soon see and feel this breathtaking vista?

Early 20th September. A belated Russian admission that Zond 5 had indeed been ‘in the vicinity of the moon’ (as if any spacecraft happens to find itself ‘in the vicinity’ of the moon) was eclipsed by new, even more startling news from Jodrell Bank. A human voice had been picked up from Zond 5! Was this a secret breakthrough? Had a

L-l ZOND 5

Zond 5

man been aboard all along and would the Russians then announce an historic first? Not likely, said Sir Bernard Lovell. It was a tape-recorded voice, designed to test voice transmissions across deep space (one of the voices was Valeri Bykovsky’s). He expected the next flight would have a cosmonaut aboard. Some 143,000 km out from Earth, Zond 5 corrected its course to adjust the entry angle. Jodrell Bank continued to track the probe till it was 80,000 km from the Earth and picking up speed rapidly. Zond 5 took its last pictures of Earth as it filled the porthole.

Zond 5 was indeed returning to the Earth. One of the reasons for Moscow’s reticence was that the mission was not going well. The astro-navigation sensor had broken down, this time for good and then the gyro-platform had failed, making it impossible to restart the main engine. As a result, the two small orientation engines had to be used to set up the craft for reentry. Chances of recovery were considered slim and the gyro failure meant that a skip reentry would now be impossible. Zond 5 would now reenter steeply, ballistically.

At 6: 53 p. m. Moscow time, 21st September, the L-1 cabin reached the limb of the Earth’s atmosphere over springtime Antarctica, met its 10 km by 13 km reentry frame dead on, slammed into the atmosphere at 11 km/sec and burned red hot to a temperature of 13,000°C. Gravity forces built up to 16 G. After 3 min, the ordeal was over. A double sonic boom, audible over the nighttime Indian Ocean, signified survival. Still glowing, parachutes lowered the simmering Zond 5 into the Indian Ocean at 7: 08 p. m. Beacons popped out to mark the location of the bobbing capsule, some 105 km distant from the nearest tracking ship. The naval vessel Borovichy moved in the next morning, took Zond out of the water and hoisted it aboard: in no time it was transferred to a cargo ship – the Vasili Golovin, en route to Bombay – where it was brought to a large Antonov air transport and flown back to the USSR. The capsule was intact, the two turtles had survived, some fly eggs had hatched and there were pictures of the Earth from deep space.

In one sweet week, all the reverses of the past 18 months had been wiped out. The moon could be Terra Sovietica. The first glimpse out of the porthole, the historic descriptions, the joy of rounding the corner of the moon – these could yet be Soviet successes. Zond 5 had become the first spaceship to fly to the moon and return successfully to the Earth. It was a real achievement.

All NASA could do now was cross its fingers and hope against hope that the Russians would not somehow do a manned mission first. They now knew they could. Before long the Russians released information which confirmed NASA’s worst fears. They announced that Zond was identical to Soyuz, but without the orbital compart­ment. It had air for one man for six days. It carried an escape tower. The Soviet Encyclopaedia of Spaceflight, 1968 rubbed it in: ‘Zond flights are launched for testing and development of an automatic version of a manned lunar spaceship,’ it said.


Conventional wisdom about why the Russians lost the moon race is that their technology was inferior and simply could not match the sophistication of Apollo. During the 1970s and 1980s, most Western observers took the view that the Soviet Union never had the technical capacity to send cosmonauts to the moon or land them on it.

Examination of the two paths taken to the moon by the space superpowers shows that this is not the case. The Soviet Union: [10]

• Successfully tested out its lunar lander in Earth orbit (T2K: Cosmos 379, 398, 434).

• Built and flew a manned spacecraft for the moon mission that continues to fly to the present day (Soyuz).

• Tested out the key manoeuvres for landing on the moon (Cosmos 382).

• Built high-performance first-stage rocket engines, the RD-270; and the hydrogen – powered upper stages developed by the Lyulka and Isayev bureaux.

• Flew a sophisticated programme of unmanned lunar exploration, with three sample return missions (Luna 16, 20, 24), two rovers (Lunokhod 1, 2) and two orbiters (Luna 19, 22).

• Developed and tested (Soyuz 4/5) a successful spacesuit, now the Orlan.

• Built a worldwide land – and sea-based tracking network.

• Pioneered the sophisticated high-speed skip reentry technique.

It is true that the N-1 was not flown successfully. However, the balance of probability is that it would have flown successfully in 1974. The N-1 was the first rocket to have a fully digital computer control system, far ahead of its time. The engine developed for the N-1, the NK-33, was tested in the 1990s and shown to be one of the best in the world, not just then but 30 years later. There are very few rocket programmes where a rocket has not been eventually tamed. Ironically, one of the few others was Europa, cancelled at almost the same time as the N-1 (April 1973) after six failures in a row. Likewise, the roots of that cancellation were political rather than technical.

Students of history therefore cannot explain the Soviet failure in terms of techno­logical shortcomings alone, but must look deeper. The failure of the Soviet Union to reach the moon was, at its heart, a political and organizational failure, not a technical one. Writing about these events years later, Chief Designer Vasili Mishin blamed under-investment, lack of financial control, the dispersal of effort between design bureaux and poor management of the 26 government departments and 500 enterprises involved. The investment was only 2.9bn roubles or $4.5bn compared with Apollo’s $24bn. ‘They underestimated the technical difficulties involved and should have done ground-testing,’ he said.

These judgements, although some might criticize them as self-serving, probably come quite close to the mark, and it may be useful to deal with each in turn. First, the Soviet Union probably had only half the national resources to draw on in mounting a moon expedition than those of the United States. Throughout the moon race, the Soviet Union’s gross national product (GNP) was about half that of the United States. In 1957, the United States’ GNP was $450bn, the Soviet Union’s $210bn, 46.6% of the former. In 1969, the year of the moon landing, the United States’ GNP was $930bn, the Soviet Union’s $407bn, a slight relative disimprovement at 43.7% [25]. Even if the Soviet proportion of GNP spent on space was more, it was still much less than the American spending, on a dollar-for-dollar basis. American estimates are that the USSR spent about 1.25% of its GNP on the space programme during its peak years, 1966-70. Central Intelligence Agency estimates are that Russian spending rose from $1bn in 1962 to $5bn in 1966, levelling off at $5.5bn during the peak of the moon race [26]. Of this, the N-l accounted for about 20% of spending, or $4.8bn (quite close to Mishin’s figure).

A lower rate of spending was not necessarily an overwhelming problem, if those smaller resources had been very carefully spent. During the early days of the space programme, later and romantically called ‘the golden years’, the Soviet Union had clearly punched far above its weight through the astute deployment of limited resources. From the early 1960s, the Soviet Union began to squander its limited resources. The decision of 1964 authorized not one, but two moon programmes, the N-l and Chelomei’s UR-500K. It was actually much worse than that, for by the mid-1960s Russia was not only running two moon programmes, but – if space station, spaceplane and other military programmes are taken into account – no fewer than seven manned space programmes at the same time. As so many of these programmes were being run by different bureaux, few economies of scale could be achieved. The dispersal and duplication of energies was something which the Soviet economy could afford even less than the American.

The squandering of resources was exacerbated by the rivalry of the different design bureaux and the inability of the Soviet political system to cope with them. Whilst Western analysts imagined a space programme run by a centrally directed command system in which orders were given and bureaux snapped to attention, the opposite was the case, with rival bureaux relentlessly seeking the patronage and support of networks of party and government coalitions. Not only that, but the warring factions constantly sought to have decisions revised and remade, like the UK-700 project which managed to get back on the agenda several times after it was supposedly killed off. The command economy was unable to overcome these problems and command its participants to work effectively together. The spectacle of Khrush­chev trying to get his designers Korolev and Glushko into his dacha to make peace – and failing – was one never contemplated in Western understandings of how the Soviet system worked. Although its effects can never be measured, the diversion of energies into such rivalry must have exerted a huge toll on the programme.

A further political failure was the gross misjudgement of American intentions. There is no doubt that the Soviet Union failed to appreciate the significance of President Kennedy’s speech in May 1961. The documentary record shows that its implications only began to dawn on the Soviet decision-making system from mid-1963 onward. Even then, the Soviet decision to go to the moon was not made until August 1964, three years after the American one. The actual method was not confirmed until the meeting of the Keldysh commission in November 1966 and the subsequent government decision of February 1967 – when the Americans were less than 30 months away from a landing. It was ironic that the Russians, who had provoked the Americans to competing in a moon race, realized too late that there was a real race under way.

There was one particular misjudgement for which it would be harder to fault them. The American decision to move up Apollo 8 for a moon-orbiting mission clearly took the Russians aback. Contrary to Western notions of Russian recklessness with human lives, they took a cautious approach, insisting on four successful around-the – moon missions before they would put a cosmonaut on board. Yet here the Americans

decided, in 1968, to send an Apollo into orbit around the moon on the first manned flight of the Saturn V. Although the gamble paid off, it was nevertheless a risky move. Years later, some of those closest to the decision still recoil at just how risky it was [27]. Despite all the failures of Proton and N-1 on launch, it is some consolation that the launch escape system functioned every single time and no cosmonaut would have been lost on launch. Despite pressure from the Kremlin, the people running the space programme never gave serious consideration to rushing a manned Zond around the moon over 7th-9th December 1968, largely because they felt further testing was required. This must have been a difficult decision, but it was the right one.

Two other factors were also important in the outcome of the moon race. The decision to skip intensive ground-testing for the first stage of the N-1 was a bad mistake and ultimately fatal to the programme. However, some comments should be entered in mitigation. Chelomei’s Proton did have the benefit of intensive ground­testing but its miserable development history cost the Russians the first around-the – moon flight and squandered countless payloads. Korolev probably calculated that getting the ground-testing systems for the N-1 built would delay him at least a further year, possibly two, and this was time and money he did not have. Better to take a calculated risk that the problems could be overcome quickly enough, as they had been in the past. In reality, all rocket designers seem to have underestimated the problems of integrating powerful rocket engines and they continued to so do for many years. The development histories of the N-1 and UR-500K were not exceptional: but the Saturn V was.

The second factor was of course Korolev. His loss came at a crucial juncture in the moon race. The way in which he held the Soviet space programme together in its early years and his ability to organize people, bureaux, politicians and talent was legendary. The N-1 could never have got as far as it did without Korolev. The verdict of most of those who knew him was that – with Korolev – the Soviet Union might well have gone around the moon first. The USSR would probably not have landed on the moon first, but he would have given the Americans ‘a darn good run for their money’. All agree that he was the only person who could have pulled it off. Mishin, by his own admission, was never able to tame the other design bureaux the way Korolev did. Mishin: ‘If Korolev had lived, we would have made more progress.’ Though capable in his own ways, he lacked the same drive, organizational ability, relentlessness or capacity to knock heads together. Valentin Glushko had an ambition to match Korolev, but was less able to manage his political masters and flawed by a preparedness to settle scores rather than see projects on their merits. The chief designer system, which served the Soviet Union so well in some respects, was ultimately less successful than American teamwork and its clinical division between political and administrative leadership.

At its heart, the Soviet Union lost the moon race because it misjudged American intentions and resources, mobilized its fewer resources too late and failed to control its competing empires of designers and rocket-builders. Ironically, the Americans won the moon race by showing that they could professionally run a rigorously managed, state-led programme of the type that the Russians were supposed to have but which we now know they did not. Whatever the causes, the winning of the moon race by the

Americans may have had profound political consequences. Despite the Vietnam War, despite many domestic difficulties, the United States reasserted itself, through the moon landing, as the leading technological nation in the world. To John F. Kennedy, this had been the imperative of his era. Kennedy had taken the view that if the United States were to lead what he called the free world, it must prove that it was more capable than its rival. The developing countries, especially, looked to whichever country would be most successful in the mastery of space. The United States went on under the subsequent presidency of Ronald Reagan to rise to a military dominance to become, by the 21st century, the only superpower in a unipolar world. Did the moon victory play a part in this?

By contrast, the loss of the moon race became, in the eyes of subsequent histor­ians, a symbol of the Brezhnev period (1964-82), formally labelled during the time of perestroika ‘the years of stagnation and decline’. During the period 1957-64, Nikita Khrushchev was able to portray the Soviet Union abroad as an energetic, socially progressive, even liberalizing country able to demonstrate how state-led planning and space-led investment could be an instrument for modernization. Yuri Gagarin’s flight became, in the broad canvass of the Soviet years 1917-91, the absolute zenith point of the communist project. But what if Alexei Leonov had been first to step upon the moon? This was an interesting exercise explored by the British Broadcasting Corpora­tion [28]. The moon landing might well have given the Soviet system a new lease of life, a new military and political confidence. The Russians might have gone on to establish lunar bases (Brezhnevgrad?) and carry out the Mars missions originally projected by Tikhonravov and Korolev in the 1950s, bringing the hammer and sickle with them. How the Americans would have responded is difficult to predict. Unlike the case in the 1950s, they would have lost a contest in which they had specifically set down the goals. Various scenarios are possible, but it is much less easy to see the United States as the unchallenged empire it subsequently became. The moon landing may indeed have been the crucial turning point in 20th century history.


Some time before the cancellation of Luna 25, references to future Soviet lunar exploration had already dried up in the Soviet press. In July 1978 it was briefly reported that a lunar geochemical explorer was under consideration and due to fly by 1983, but nothing more was heard of this project. At around that time, NASA was trying to persuade Congress to fund a lunar geochemical polar orbit – with equal lack of result.

The moon was now relatively well known and Keldysh made the argument to the political leadership that the USSR should no longer try to directly compete with the United States. Both he and the director of the Institute of Space Research (IKI in Russian), Roald Sagdeev, argued that the USSR should concentrate on what it was good at, had proven expertise and did not compete directly with the Americans. This pointed the Soviet Union in only one direction: toward Venus. Here, the Soviet Union had parachuted probes through Venus’s atmosphere in 1967 and 1969 (Venera 4, 5-6), soft-landed simple probes on its surface in 1970 and 1972 (Venera 7, 8) and put down sophisticated landers in double missions in 1975, 1978 and 1985 (Venera 9-10, 11-12,
13-14, Vega 1-2). Venera 13 and 14 drilled Venusian soil and analyzed it in an onboard laboratory. Balloons were dropped into the Venusian atmosphere (part of the Vega project). Orbiters first circled the planet in 1975 (Venera 9, 10) and then in 1983 radar-mapped its surface (Venera 15-16). By the end of the Vega programme in 1986, Venus’s surface, atmosphere and circumplanetary space had been well characterized.

Mars took second place in the Soviet programme for interplanetary exploration. The Russian Mars 3 probe became the first spacecraft to soft-land on the Red Planet and sent a picture from its surface in December 1971. The Soviet Union obtained a full profile of the atmosphere right down to the surface during the descent of Mars 6 into the Mare Erythraeum in March 1974. After a gap of many years, the USSR went on to organize an imaginative mission to Mars’s little moon, Phobos, in 1988-9 (the first probe failed, the second achieved limited success). The Americans began a wave of missions to Mars in the 1990s, each one revealing more and more of what an interesting planet it was.

In the light of the genuine progress made in the successful exploration of Venus and the sustained interest in Mars, it is little wonder that the further scientific exploration of the moon became a low priority. Eventually, though, coinciding with a reforming political leadership in the Soviet Union, some plans were advanced. In 1985, the idea of a lunar polar orbiter was resurrected. In 1987, the Institute for Space Research (IKI) in Moscow gave this mission a target gate of 1993, with a lunar farside sample recovery in 1996 and an unmanned laboratory on the moon, with rovers, in 2000. In its last plan for space development published in 1989 (The USSR in outer space – the year 2005), the Soviet Union proposed a lunar polar geophysical orbiter, but few details were given and only a sketchy illustration was published, suggesting it would use the Phobos spacecraft design. At one stage, the project acquired the name Luna 92, indicating a 1992 launch date, but it never got beyond the preliminary design stage and the money originally set aside for it was used for the Mars 96 planetary mission instead.


The original around-the-moon programme was designed by Tikhonravov’s Depart­ment #9 of OKB-1 in 1960-1, and this became the Soyuz complex of 1962-4. In August 1964, the around-the-moon programme was transferred to Vladimir Chelo – mei’s OKB-52 design bureau. He planned to send a spacecraft, called the LK (Luna Korabl) directly around the moon on his Proton rocket, then nearing completion. The idea that the Soviet Union might attempt to send a man around the moon first was one familiar to Western analysts. The around-the-moon mission required much less rocket power, hardware and testing than a landing. The psychological effect of going around the moon, the excited commentaries, in Russian, of the lunar surface at first hand, would have a considerable effect on world public opinion. Chelomei probably realized this.

Not much is known of Chelomei’s LK design. A design published in the Tsiol – kovsky Museum in Kaluga shows a bullet-shaped cabin with two solar wings at the base, eight aerials and a service module of some kind behind. It resembled a scaled- down Apollo-type command-and-service module, 5.2 m long with 7.27 m wide solar panels and X-shaped antenna system, possibly 4 tonnes in weight. The small, 2.7 m long 2 tonne cabin would have carried one person around the moon. Fitted to the top of the UR-500K, the entire space vehicle would have been 46.7 m tall. The design, completed in July 1965, seems to have made little progress, and it is possible that Chelomei, like Korolev, was severely overstressed with other projects, in Chelomei’s case the development of the Almaz orbital space station. Vladimir Chelomei was an original and imaginative designer who came up with many ingenious designs and solutions and it is possible that his LK might have been one of them. Even today, many years after his death in 1984, his influence is still apparent. His design, the Proton, is still flying, a new version being introduced, the Proton M. The first module in the International Space Station, the functional control block or Zarya, is originally a Chelomei design.

Chelomei’s LK design was to become an academic matter. In October 1964, only a few months after the August governmental resolution, Nikita Khrushchev was overthrown. Khrushchev had been a big supporter, largely because of Chelomei’s success in delivering a fleet of operational ballistic missiles for the Soviet rocket forces.

Korolev devoted considerable energies during 1965 trying to push Chelomei out of the moon programme altogether and instead for OKB-1 to run an integrated pro­gramme for around-the-moon voyages and landing, which he argued made more economic and organizational sense. Eventually, on 25th October 1965, Korolev managed to wrest the LK moonship back from the Chelomei design bureau. Korolev was able to offer a stripped-down Soyuz spacecraft as his alternative, which he called the 7K-L-1. The government must have been persuaded that a design that was already at an advanced stage was preferable to one that had barely got beyond the drawing board. Korolev was not able to remove Chelomei altogether, for the government decided that the UR-500 would continue to be used. Korolev also persuaded the government to use, as upper stage for the Proton, the block D upper stage then being fitted out for the N-1 rocket. On 31st December, Korolev and Chelomei formally signed off on the deal.

It would be wrong to overstate the rivalry between Chelomei and Korolev, for they seemed able to work together when it mattered, albeit sullenly on Chelomei’s part. This was not the case between Korolev and Glushko, whose relationship seems to have become truly venomous. With the man-around-the-moon project using the same block D upper stage and a related cabin, the 7K-L-1, the Soviet moon pro­gramme was at last achieving some economies of scale. The December 1965 agreement specified the construction of no fewer than fourteen L-1 spacecraft, of which seven would be for unmanned tests and four for manned circumlunar missions.

Both the Russian moonships, the L-1 Zond and the LOK, were derivatives or relatives of the Soyuz spacecraft, which in turn was rooted in the designs of the Soyuz complex, 1962-4. The missions of the L-1 Zond and LOK were closely, even inti­mately, linked to the development of Soyuz.


The managers of the Zond programme followed closely the requalification of the Soyuz programme, grounded since Vladimir Komarov’s fatal mission in April 1967.


Zond 5 in the Indian Ocean


Zond 5’s turtles

A successful flight of Soyuz would give much confidence that the closely related L-1 Zond could be flown out to the moon and back, manned, that autumn. Cosmos 238 flew a four-day profile that August to pave the way for the first manned Soyuz flight for 18 months. Selected for the mission was 47-year-old wartime combat veteran and test pilot Georgi Beregovoi.

Soyuz was ready to go on 25th October, a month after the return of Zond. So close were the American and Soviet programmes to one other at this stage that Soyuz 2 flew only three days after the end of the first test of America’s new Apollo. The Americans had returned to space with Apollo 7, which orbited the Earth from the 11th to the 22nd of October, crewed by veteran Walter Schirra and novices Walter Cunningham and Don Eisele. It was technically such a perfect mission that, for the Americans, nothing now stood in the way of sending Apollo 8 around the moon. NASA’s new administrator Tom Paine confirmed that Apollo 8 would fly to the moon, would make ten lunar orbits and gave the date for launch as 21st December. But he could not be certain whether his team of Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders would be the first to report back from there.

Soyuz 2 was launched first, on 25th October, unmanned. Soyuz 3, with Georgi Beregovoi on board, roared off the pad the next day into a misty drizzling midday sky. Half an hour later he was close to the target, Soyuz 2. Then things began to go wrong. Several docking attempts were made but, it later transpired, the craft had been aligned the wrong way up. Excessive fuel was used. Sensors failed on both spacecraft. The planned docking was abandoned, Soyuz 2 was brought down and after four days Georgi Beregovoi came home. Thick, early snow lay on the ground and the tempera­ture was — 12°C. Helicopters were in the air looking for him and villagers were outside their houses on the lookout too. Strong winds blew the capsule sideways into a snowdrift and the impact was so gentle that Georgi Beregovoi barely noticed it. Villagers waded through the snowdrifts and, amidst flecks of snow, the grinning flier had his picture taken before being whisked away for debriefing. But he had returned alive from the first successful manned orbit test of the Soyuz. Now Zond had flown automatically around the moon and a manned spaceship like Zond had circled the Earth for four days, both returning safely. A manned circumlunar mission could not be far away.