Category Soviet and Russian Lunar Exploration


Meantime, crews were also formed for the landing mission, to fly the LOK and the LK. This included some from the L-1 group. These were also two-person crews, the commander taking the LK down to the surface, making the moonwalk and returning, while the flight engineer circled in lunar orbit. The L-1 experience in flying out to the moon and back was considered important in shaping these selections (a similar consideration was evident in American selections). For the landing mission, the first group of six was formed on 2nd September 1966:

First group of six: Yuri Gagarin, Viktor Gorbatko, Yevgeni Khrunov, Alexei Leonov, Andrian Nikolayev and Vladimir Shatalov.

Yuri Gagarin’s appointment as leader was not as obvious as it looked. Following his flight in April 1961, he had spent several years as a global ambassador for the Soviet Union, a task he had performed with great aplomb. Soviet space chiefs also took the view that he was too valuable to be risked for further space missions. This was a decision he took badly and over 1963-5 he became a more problematical personality and his behaviour declined. In late 1966, he was allowed to resume training and was told he would get an early Soyuz mission, though not the first one. Eventually, he managed to win the assignment of backup to the first Soyuz mission, which eventually flew in April 1967. He took these responsibilities with his old seriousness, his health improved radically and his famous smile reappeared. This assignment meant that he would certainly command the next Soyuz mission.

At this stage there seems to have been a further dispute between those like Kamanin who wanted the cosmonauts to have a hands-on role during their mission; and chief designer Mishin who followed Korolev’s view that there should be a high degree of automation. These arguments were not unknown in the American pro­gramme, though they were resolved at the earliest stage, in favour of the astronauts. By the end of 1967, no progress had been made in the provision of simulators, for they had been cancelled by Mishin. He may have considered them unimportant if most of the flight to and from the moon was under automatic control. Mishin also tried to increase the role of civilian engineers at the expense of the military. In August 1967, he now nominated a group of OKB-1 engineers for the landing mission:

OKB-1 engineer group for the landing mission: Sergei Anokhin, Gennadiy Dolgo – polov, Vladimir Nikitsky (replaced by Vladimir Bugrov), Viktor Patsayev, Valeri Yazdovsky.

The first moves to form a formal moon team for the N1-L3 missions took place in October 1967. The head of the cosmonaut team, General Kamanin, had a preference for veterans and that the LK pilot should have spacewalking experience. This narrowed the field, since only one had such experience, Alexei Leonov, but more would by the time of the mission. The first landing group was selected in December 1967:

Pilots: Alexei Leonov, Andrian Nikolayev, Valeri Bykovsky, Yevgeni Khrunov, Viktor Gorbatko, Boris Volynov, Georgi Shonin, Anatoli Kuklin, Anatoli Filip – chenko, Valeri Voloshin (replaced by Pytor Klimuk).

Engineers: Konstantin Feoktistov, Alexei Yeliseyev, Vladislav Volkov, Valeri Kubasov, Oleg Makarov, Vitally Sevastianov, Nikolai Rukhavishnikov, Valeri Yazdovsky, Georgi Grechko, Vladimir Bugrov.

Training began in January 1968. Some members of the group were already involved in the L-1 Zond programme. This was not seen as presenting a problem, since the landing missions were not then due until 1970-1. The same simulator problem also affected



The moon teams: Moon Team 1: Alexei Leonov, Oleg Makarov



The moon teams: Moon Team 2: Valeri Bykovsky, Nikolai Rukhavishnikov



this group. These cosmonauts did very little training because of the lack of availability of simulators.

Eventually, a 20-person lunar landing group was agreed on 13th March 1968:

Commanders: Valeri Bykovsky, Anatoli Filipchenko, Viktor Gorbatko, Yevgeni Khrunov, Anatoli Kuklin, Alexei Leonov, Andrian Nikolayev, Georgi Shonin, Valeri Voloshin, Boris Volynov.

Engineers: Konstantin Feoktistov, Georgi Grechko, Valeri Kubasov, Oleg Makarov, Vladimir Bugrov, Vitally Sevastianov, Nikolai Rukhavishnikov, Vladislav Volkov, Valeri Yazdovsky, Alexei Yeliseyev. Also assigned: Valentin Yershov.

The cosmonaut team – indeed the whole space programme – suffered a major blow in March 1968 when its leading personality died in a plane crash. Yuri Gagarin had been devastated by the death of Soyuz commander and friend Vladimir Komarov the previous year. Yuri Gagarin had been backup to Komarov and would automatically have been slated to fly the next Soyuz mission, although that had not been decided at that time. After the crash of Komarov he was grounded again, but by the end of 1967, still pressing for a flight, he had been given permission to fly again under strict conditions. On 29th March, experienced instructor Vladimir Seregin and cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin took off on a routine training flight. It seems that their MiG-15 encountered wake turbulence from the jet flow behind an unannounced MiG-21 in the area at the same time, putting their own plane into a spin. They plunged direct into the forest, killing both men outright. His funeral was the biggest there ever was in Moscow. The loss of the young, ever-popular and globally admired Gagarin was a body blow the programme could ill afford.

On 18th June 1968, the final group for the moon landing was selected:

Final group: Valeri Bykovsky, Alexei Leonov, Anatoli Voronov, Yevgeni Khru­nov, Alexei Yeliseyev, Oleg Makarov, Nikolai Rukhavishnikov, Viktor Patsayev.

This was the ‘landing group’ for at least the following year and formed the basis of the assignment for the first two landing crews (the third is more speculative).


Luna 24 was the last moon mission by the Soviet Union or Russia. Its return cabin, along with those from Luna 16 and 20, was given to the Lavochkin Museum. Twenty – five such cabins had been built altogether, both for flight and tests. Three still rest on the moon (Luna 15, 18, 23) and five were lost in rocket explosions.

During the period September 1970 to June 1973, a series of missions was promised to build on the successes of the lunar sample return and the Lunokhod. On Luna 16’s return, the Soviet media announced that the 1970s would be ‘the decade of the space robot’. Among the missions spoken about were: [12]

• Telescopes on the lunar farside.

• Automatic static observatories on the moon.

• Use of relay satellites to control and receive information from farside moon probes.

The use of Lunokhods to deliver rocks to a sample return craft would have been impressive. For this, the Lunokhod would have been fitted with a robot arm. Such a mission was sketched in detail and the rover would have been called Sparka, Russian for ‘pair’. Further into the future, VNII Transmash envisaged a ‘heavy Lunokhod’ which looked like an armoured personnel carrier, 4.7 m long, 4.3 m wide, with eight wheels, panels and dish aerials on top, eight 1,200 mm wheels and able to traverse very extensive distances [14].

The extensive discussion of plans for future moon probes in the Soviet press came to an abrupt end in June 1973. References to rovers were now made in the context of their achievements being used to design Mars rovers, rather than future moon rovers. The Soviet media barely reported the last set of missions. It seems that the decision was taken in summer 1973 to wind down the Ye-8 moon programme over the next four years, using up most of the already built hardware. Lunokhod 3 was built and ready to fly in 1977 as Luna 25, but ended up instead in the Lavochkin Museum. Lunokhod 3 was similar to Lunokhod 2, but with an improved camera system. The Proton rocket that should have brought it to the moon was given over to a commu­nications satellite instead.

When Luna 24 returned to Earth, there was no official indication that the programme of unmanned lunar exploration had drawn to a close and, of course, the cancellation at the same time of the N1-L3M programme was not announced either. One winner from Luna 24 was Vladimir Barmin, who was now charged with developing a drill to dig into the rocks of Venus, his new machinery being carried on the forthcoming Venera 11 and 12 missions in 1978.


Lunokhods roam the moon


Lunokhod 3

When Lunokhod 3 was cancelled, the lunar team was dispersed to the Venus missions. Oleg Ivanovsky, the deputy director and responsible for lunar probes, was put in charge of building an orbiting astronomical observatory, called Astron. Once this flew, successfully, in 1983, he retired, taking up a new voluntary post as head of the Lavochkin Museum. Other staff were assigned to other probes and missions.

All the scientists could do was content themselves with publishing the results of their investigations, both in the Soviet press and in collaborative publications abroad.


Valeri Barsukov

Despite the heat of the moon race, scientists from the two countries were eager to share and compare the results of their analysis of the results of the moon missions. Many geologists made extensive cross-comparisons of the differences between the three Luna samples and the six Apollo samples, classifying them according to origin, type and composition. Even though the Luna samples were small, they were three distinct types: mare, highland and core. The glassy features of the Luna 16 rock were especially unusual. In the year after Luna 24’s return, NASA published the proceed­ings of the Soviet-American conference on the geochemistry of the moon and planets [15] and Soviet papers were published in other Western outlets, such as the journal The Moon. The NASA papers included the analysis of the moonrock collected by the Lunas and various articles, ranging from studies of the rocks from an individual mission to broader reviews, such as T. V. Malysheva’s The problem of the origin of the lunar maria and continents. Lunokhod 2 produced a rich seam of scientific papers, such as L. L. Vanyan’s Deep electronic sounding of the moon with Lunokhod 2, Measurement of sky brightness from Lunokhod 2 and Dolgov et al.’s: The magnetic field in Le Monnier Bay according to Lunokhod 2. Kiril Florensky’s Role of exogenic factors in the formation of the lunar surface included a series of hitherto unseen Lunokhod 2 pictures. The results of the very last mission were published by Nauka as Lunar soil from the Mare Crisium, by Valeri Barsukov, in 1980.

As for Alexander Kemurdzhian, the designer of the moonrovers, he wrote another thesis about his creations, obtaining a second doctorate and the title of professor. His STR-1 robot was involved in the investigation and cleanup of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Kemurdzhian exposed himself to so much radiation there that he had to be treated in the Moscow #20 hospital afterwards. He wrote 200 scientific works and patented 50 inventions. Almost eighty, he retired in 1998, though colleagues noticed little change in his output or energy and he was the chief speaker at the 30th anniversary of the Lunokhod meeting held in Tovstonogov in November 2000. His health deteriorated soon after this and he died on 24th February 2003 in the hospital which had treated him for radiation burns. Alexander Kemurdzhian was buried in the Armenian part of the Smolensky Cemetery in St Petersburg. Asteroid

# 5993 was named after him, and the International Biographic Centre named him one of the outstanding people of the 20th century.

Final round of moon missions

Sample return

Ye-8-5 missions

14 Jun 1969


13 Jul 1969

Luna 15 (failure)

23 Sep 1969

Failure (Cosmos 300)

22 Oct 1969

Failure (Cosmos 305)

19 Feb 1970


12 Sep 1970

Luna 16

2 Sep 1971

Luna 18 (failure)

14 Feb 1972

Luna 20

Sample return

Ye-8-5M series

28 Oct 1974

Luna 23 (failure)

16 Oct 1975


9 Aug 1976

Luna 24

Lunokhod (Ye-8) missions

19 Feb 1969


10 Nov 1970

Luna 17/Lunokhod

8 Jan 1973

Luna 21/Lunokhod 2

Orbiting (Ye-8LS) missions

28 Sep 1971

Luna 19

2 Jun 1974

Luna 22

The Ye-8 series did eventually provide the Soviet Union with some form of credible alternative to Apollo and saved some face. The two Lunokhods attracted the most public attention and probably made the most popular impact. They were sophisti­cated vehicles of exploration and it was a loss to science that Lunokhod 3 was not flown. The soil sample return mission series, although technically difficult and impressive in their own right, cannot be said to have been a great success and the gains were achieved for a disproportionate effort. Although three missions did bring lunar samples back, their haul was small at 325 g, compared with Apollo’s 380 kg, while seven missions had failed altogether. The Ye-8LS lunar orbiters may well have achieved solid results, but they were poorly publicized or disseminated. The heart seems to have gone out of the programme in June 1973 and one has the impression that permission was given to fly already-built hardware on the understanding that there would be no further missions thereafter for the foreseeable future. By the time Luna 22 flew, the N-1 programme had been suspended and there was little reason to draw attention to the lunar programme generally. It is probably no coincidence that the last mission, in August 1976, took place only months after the N-1 was finally cancelled in March 1976. It seems that both the manned and unmanned programmes were run down in parallel.


The failure of the first Lunokhod was disappointing, for the year had otherwise started well. In mid-January, two spacecraft had been launched to Venus, Venera 5 and Venera 6, using the now-improved Molniya rocket. More important, Soyuz had flown again, rehearsing key techniques that would be used during the lunar landing mission: rendezvous, docking and spacewalking.

A rendezvous and docking of two manned Soyuz was a natural progression from Soyuz 2 and 3 the previous October and indeed the roots of the mission went back to the ill-fated Komarov flight of 1967. It was a mission absolutely essential for the manned moon landing and that was why it was in the programme. The spacewalk would simulate the transfer of the mission commander between the LOK and the LK lunar lander. However, mindful of the additional new objectives of the space pro­gramme, the mission would now be hailed as an essential step towards an orbital station instead. It was a convincing explanation for Soyuz 4 and 5 and it took in everyone at the time – except for the chiefs of NASA and one of the populist British dailies, the savvy Daily Express, which ran the headline ‘Moon race!’ the next day.

Soyuz 4 was launched first, on 14th January, with Vladimir Shatalov on board. The mission was carried out under exceptionally demanding weather conditions, in temperatures of —22°C and snow around the launchpad. During mid-morning on the 15th, Vladimir Shatalov turned his Soyuz 4 towards the launch site to try and spot


Yevgeni Khrunov, Alexei Yeliseyev prepare for mission, lunar globe beside

Soyuz 5 rising to reach him. The new spaceship blasted aloft with a full complement of three men aboard: Boris Volynov, Yevgeni Khrunov and engineer Alexei Yeliseyev.

The two spacecraft approached one other during the morning of the following day. Like seagulls with wings outstretched as they escort a ship at sea, Soyuz 4 inserted its pointed probe into 5’s drogue. Latches clawed at the probe, grabbed it tight, and sealed the system for manoeuvring, power and telephone. Moment of contact was 11: 20 a. m. over Soviet territory. Ground controllers listened with anxiety as the two ships high above came together and met. The Soviet Union had achieved the first docking between two manned spacecraft: a manoeuvre which, it was hoped, could one day soon take place when the LK returned to the LOK in lunar orbit.

No sooner had the cosmonauts settled down after their triumph than Khrunov and Yeliseyev struggled into their Yastreb spacesuits. This external crew transfer was an essential feature of the moon-landing profile, being required before the descent to the moon and again on the LK commander’s return. It was a slow process that could not be rushed. For his spacewalk, Leonov had already been dressed and ready to go,


Yevgeni Khrunov, Alexei Yeliseyev don spacesuits to rehearse lunar transfer

but Khrunov and Yeliseyev had to put their suits on in the orbital module cabin – as the moon-landing commander would. There was layer upon layer to put on, inner garments, outer garments, heating systems, coolant, helmets, vizors and finally an autonomous backpack. Valves were checked through, seals examined. It was not that they had not practised it enough, it just had to be right this time of all times.

Khrunov pulled a lever and the air poured out of the orbital compartment. Vladimir Shatalov had already done the same in his orbital compartment, from the safe refuge of his command cabin. The pressure gauge fell rapidly and evened off to 0. Khrunov described what happened next:

The hatch opened and a stream of sunlight burst in. The Sun was unbearably bright and scorching. Only the thick filtering vizor saved my eyes. I saw the Earth and the black sky and had the same feeling I had experienced before my first parachute jumps.

The spectacle of the two docked craft was breath-taking, he recalled. He emerged, Yeliseyev following gingerly behind, moving one hand over another on the handrails. They filmed one other, inspected the craft for damage and watched the Earth roll past below. Within half an hour they were inside Soyuz 4. They closed the hatch and repressurized the cabin. The hatch into the Soyuz 4 command cabin opened, turned like a ship’s handle on a bulkhead. Vladimir Shatalov floated through and it was hugs and kisses all round. Now the Soviet Union had tested external crew transfer.

Triumph nearly turned to tragedy two days later. Soyuz 4, its crew now swollen to three, returned to Earth the following morning, coming down on hard snow in whistling winds laced with fine icy particles. The following morning was the turn of Soyuz 5 where Boris Volynov flew on, alone. First, Volynov missed his first landing opportunity due to a problem orientating the spacecraft. This was only the beginning of what could have been a very bad morning for the Soviet space programme [5]. When he did fire his retrorockets, the service module failed to separate from the descent module and Volynov’s cabin instead began to go into reentry head-first, the worst possible way. Without the benefit of heatshield protection, Volynov could feel the temperature rising in his cabin. He could smell the rubber seals burning off at the top of the capsule. Knowing the end was near, he radioed details of his predicament to ground control and hastily scribbled some last notes in his log should any parts of the cabin make it to the ground. Mission control was appalled at what had happened and faced the prospect of a second Soyuz reentry fatality in less than two years. One man broke the ice a little by passing around his military hat to collect some roubles for his prospective widow, Tamara.


Awaiting his return, Tamara Volynova


Boris Volynov

Back in space, Volynov heard a sudden but welcome thump as the service module finally separated. His burning descent cabin quickly spun round and at last faced the right way, heat shield forward, for reentry. Because there had been no time to orientate the spaceship properly to use its heatshield to generate lift, he was making a steep, 9 G ballistic descent, far from the normal landing site in the southern Urals. He landed in the dark in snow, miles from anywhere, where the local temperature was —38°C. Spinning partly tangled his parachute lines and then the touchdown rockets failed to fire, so the Soyuz hit the ground with great force, breaking some of the cosmonaut’s teeth. Clambering out of his still sizzling cabin, Volynov was afraid of freezing there, so he set out across the snow in his light coveralls in the direction of smoke on the horizon. The helicopter rescue crews soon found the cabin, but to their alarm, the cosmonaut was now missing! Thankfully, they were able to follow the trail of blood from his broken teeth across the snow and located him in an outhouse of local farmers. He couldn’t walk for three days.

If Volynov thought his ordeal was over, he was mistaken. His next challenge was to survive a political assassination. When he and his colleagues were welcomed back to Moscow the following week in a motorcade, a young lieutenant in uniform brandish­ing a gun started firing at the cavalcade. He was aiming at Leonid Brezhnev, but so wildly was he firing that he got the cosmonauts’ limousine instead. Its driver slumped over his wheel, dead, bleeding profusely. Beregovoi’s face was splattered with blood and glass. Nikolayev and Leonov pushed Valentina Tereskhova down onto the floor to protect her. The lieutenant was grabbed by the militia and taken off to an asylum, and that was where he spent the following 20 years. The awards ceremony went ahead as planned. Putting the memory of the afternoon behind them, Russia’s scientists bathed in the glow of their achievement. Mstislav Keldysh promised:

The assembly of big, constantly operating orbital stations, interplanetary flights and advances in radio, television, and other branches of the national economy lie ahead.

A few Western reporters still needled him about the moon race. There was no plan to go to the moon at the moment, he said, but when asked to confirm that Russia had abandoned plans to go the moon altogether, the ever-honest Mstislav Keldysh would not. Soyuz 4 and 5 had successfully ticked off three key elements of the Soviet lunar plan – manned docking, external crew transfer and a new spacesuit – but adroit news management portrayed the mission as part of a plan for a space station instead. As for Volynov, he took a year to recover and the doctors told him he’d never fly again. But they midjudged this brave man: he was back in training by 1972 and he did fly again.

Подпись: Early Soyuz missions after 27 Oct 1967 Cosmos 30 Oct 1967 Cosmos 14 Apr 1968 Cosmos 15 Apr 1968 Cosmos 28 Aug 1968 Cosmos 25 Oct 1968 Soyuz 2 26 Oct 1968 Soyuz 3 14 Jan 1969 Soyuz 4 15 Jan 1969 Soyuz 5 SOYUZ 4-5 REHEARSE LUNAR DOCKING, SPACEWALKING
the first Sovuz






(Georgi Beregovoi)

(Vladimir Shatalov)

(Boris Volynov, Yevgeni Khrunov, Alexei Yeliseyev)


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.

Samplers, rovers and orbiters

When Luna 15 was smashed to pieces in the Sea of Crises in July 1969, Russia’s plan to upstage Apollo by the first automatic recovery of lunar soil came unstuck. But the Soviet Union permitted the programme to continue, for two reasons: first, because the series could produce a credible automatic programme for the exploration of the moon; and, second, because the series was important if the Soviet man-on-the-moon pro­gramme were to be completed after all. Such hopes still existed in reality up to the summer of 1974 and on paper for another two years.

Luna 15 was the first of the Ye-8-5 soil sampler missions to leave the Earth, one earlier mission having failed on launch. Some considerable work was still required for such a mission to be successful. A number of lessons had arisen from the troubled experience of Luna 15. There had been considerable difficulties controlling the craft. Luna 15’s original orbit had been far from that intended. The radar had presented problems. Despite delaying the final landing manoeuvre, the final burn had not proved to be sufficiently precise. In the months that followed the loss of Luna 15, the Lavochkin engineers made the adjustments that they felt sure could guarantee success the next time.

The Lavochkin engineers were convinced that the basic design was sound. Although the three missions had been launched hastily, the basic Ye-8 design, origin­ally intended for lunar rovers, had a lengthy and careful design over many earlier years. The sample return spacecraft consisted of three parts: a descent stage, ascent stage and return cabin.

Ye-8-5 lunar sample return spacecraft

Height 3.96 m

Weight on launch 5,750 kg

on moon 1,880 kg

KT descent stage

Подпись: One 11D417

Samplers, rovers and orbiters Подпись: 520 kg 245 kg 2m 1.92 tonnes Nitric acid and UDMH


Return cabin

Подпись: 39 kgПодпись: 50 cmWeight


For radio communications, the lander carried a cone-shaped antenna on a long boom, working on 922 MHz and 768 MHz. Uplink was received on 115 MHz. A dish-shaped radar was located on the bottom of the spacecraft.

The Lavochkin bureau still had another three sample return spacecraft available. All were duly launched in the period following the Apollo 11 landing, on 23rd September 1969 (Cosmos 300), 22nd October 1969 (Cosmos 305) and 6th February 1970. On Cosmos 300, there was a leak in the oxidizer tank of block D, which depleted the entire supply during Earth orbit injection and could not fire out to the moon, leaving the spacecraft to crash back to Earth four days later. On Cosmos 305, the attitude control system failed and block D did not get into the right attitude to fire to the moon, crashing back near Australia. With the February 1970 launching, Proton’s first-stage engines were erroneously turned off at 127 sec and it cratered downrange.

Of the first five attempts, only one had left Earth orbit. A second batch of sample return spacecraft was now constructed and there was a delay until the first of the new spacecraft could be available. In the meantime, concerted efforts were applied to attempt to fix the appalling record of the Proton rocket. Proton’s unreliability had not only cost the moon programme dearly, but dogged the interplanetary pro­gramme, destroying two of a new series of Mars probes in March 1969. Eventually, Georgi Babakin persuaded the minister responsible for the space programme, Sergei Afanasayev, to introduce a requalification programme. This took place over spring and summer 1970, culminating in a suborbital test on 18th August 1970. This led to a swift and radical improvement in performance, but Soviet space histories might have been happier, had these changes been introduced sooner.


Prime landing crew: Leonov (commander, LK), Oleg Makarov (flight engineer, LOK).

Second landing crew: Valeri Bykovsky (LK), Nikolai Rukhavishnikov (flight engineer, LOK).

Third landing crew: Pavel Popovich (LK) and Vitaly Sevastianov (flight engineer, LOK).

Reserves: Yevgeni Khrunov (LK), Viktor Patsayev, Anatoli Voronov, Alexei Yeliseyev (LOK).


First landing mission: Alexei Leonov.

Second: Valery Bykovsky.

Third: Pavel Popovich.

By now, the training situation had at last improved. Leonov and others had flown adapted versions of the Mil-4 helicopter (variously called the Mil-9 and the V-10) for simulated lunar landings. These were quite hazardous, for they had to learn to land the Mils with the helicopter blades barely rotating. They would bring the Mil down to 110 m, the hover point for the lunar landing. At this stage, they would cut the engine, adjusting the blades to smoothen the touchdown. Normally, Alexei Leonov pointed out, this was a completely prohibited manoeuvre and a risky one. Bykovsky practised on a Mil-8 for several years, but hated it. A camera blister was fitted in the nose to record these landings and the film used for indoor simulations. Viktor Gorbatko alone built up over 600 hours flying helicopters. A second purpose of the helicopter landings was to test out the S-330 digital computers to be used on the LK, a test they quickly passed. A hovering vehicle, called the Turbolets, designed by Aram Rafaelyants, had been developed to test Soviet vertical take-off and landing planes like the Yakovlev 36. There was apparently some discussion about adapting the Turbolets as a lunar landing flying simulator. It may have been considered too dangerous for the cosmonauts – Neil Armstrong nearly lost his life when the temperamental American equivalent crashed – although the Turbolets never crashed and can still be seen in a museum today [26].

The cosmonauts went to Zagorsk to watch LK tests. Here, a full-scale model of the LK was used over a hundred times for what were called swing-drop tests: it was


Viktor Gorbatko: 600 hours of helicopter tests


Soyuz trainer

thrown against a mockup lunar surface at various angles to see whether it would topple or not and the limits of its tolerance. Many times they went to Baikonour to watch Proton launches (though they cannot always have been heartened by what they saw). EVAs were practised in the Kretchet suit, both on the ground and on adapted Tupolev 104 aircraft. The moonwalk was practised on the quasi-lunar landscape around the volcanoes of the Kamchatka peninsular in the Soviet far east. A large gymnasium in Moscow’s central park was converted for the practice of moonwalks, harnesses being fitted to simulate one-sixth gravity. Two expeditions of cosmonauts went into the deserts of Somalia so that they could familiarize themselves with the southern constellations that would be their main stellar point of reference during their return to Earth – mainly unflown cosmonauts were sent there so that they could not be recognized and attract American attention. They practised splashdown procedures in the Black Sea, presumably in anticipation of a water landing in the Indian Ocean (such training eventually became routine). However, the full landing simulator was not available until May 1970. Although the commanders and flight engineers trained together for many aspects of their mission, much of their training was also separate. Because only the commander would fly down to the moon and do the moonwalk, commanders did a lot of training as a group on their own. Similarly, the flight engineers had their own training programme.


Although the Soviet Union lost the race to the moon, a considerable body of knowl­edge of the moon was accumulated by the Soviet space probes that flew there over the years 1959-1976. The following is a broad outline of the type of scientific information collected:

• Maps of the farside and limbs of the moon were compiled on the basis of photographs taken by the Automatic Interplanetary Station, Zond 3 and the Zond 5-8 missions. Mapping of selected areas of the nearside was carried out by Luna 12, 19 and 22.

• The environment of near-moon space was characterized by the orbiting missions: Luna 10-12, 14, 19 and 22. Data were obtained on the levels of solar and cosmic radiation, cosmic and solar particles and gravitational fields. The moon’s surface was studied from orbit by instruments on Luna 10, 11, 12 and 18.

• The moon’s gravitational field was first mapped by Luna 10, then in detail by Luna 14 and refined by Luna 19 and 22.

• Attempts to identify and then measure the moon’s magnetic field were made by the First and Second Cosmic Ships.

• The chemical characteristics, composition and density of moonrock were deter­mined in situ by Lunokhod and Lunokhod 2 and through samples brought back to Earth by Lunas 16, 20 and 24. The lunar samples, although small, were shared internationally.

• The physical properties of the surface were determined by Luna 13 and the two Lunokhods (RIFMA).

• Precise distances between Earth and the moon were measured by laser reflectors on Lunokhods 1 and 2.

• Radiation levels and temperatures on the surface of the moon were measured by Luna 9, 16, 20, 23 and 24.

• The nature of the lunar micro-atmosphere was measured by Lunokhod.

• The effects of Earth-moon space on animals and other biological samples, es­pecially in respect of radiation, were measured by Zond 5 and 8. These remain the only (non-human) lunar biology missions.

As a result of the American and Soviet efforts, the moon became, unsurprisingly, the best known body in the solar system after our own Earth. With such an improved level of knowledge, the scientific case for returning to the moon became more and more difficult to make, granted our much less comprehensive knowledge of the inner planets Mercury, Venus and Mars and the outer planets. In fact, the moon still had many surprises in store, as the American Lunar Prospector was to prove as it began to search for ice. Scientific instruments by the new century were now able to return much more sophisticated data and at a much higher rate than had been possible in the 1960s, opening up further possibilities for scientific exploration. Miniaturization made it possible for smaller spacecraft to be launched on much less expensive rockets.


The last achievement – Luna 24 core sample


By the time of these dramatic developments in Moscow, the N-l rocket was at last almost ready for launch. When rolled out in February, it was the largest rocket ever built by the Soviet Union, over 100 m tall and weighing 2,700 tonnes. The first stage, block A, would burn for 2 min on its 30 Kuznetsov NK-33 rocket engines. The second stage, block B, with eight Kuznetsov NK-43 engines, would burn for 130 sec and bring the N-l to altitude. The third stage, block V, would bring the payload into a 200 km low-Earth orbit on its four Kuznetsov NK-39 engines after a long 400 sec firing. Atop this monster was the fourth stage (block G), designed to fire the lunar complex to the moon. Block G had just one Kuznetsov NK-31 engine which would burn for 480 sec for translunar injection.

For the first-ever test of the N-l, a dummy LK lunar lander had been placed on top of block D and above it, instead of the LOK lunar orbiter, a simplified version. Called the L-1S (‘S’ for simplified), the intention was to place the L-1S in lunar orbit and then bring it back to Earth. The L-1S was, in essence, the LOK, but without the orbital module. It still carried the 800 kg front orientation engine designed for rendezvous in lunar orbit. Calculations for the mission show that with a launch on 21st February, the spacecraft would have reached the moon on 24th February, fired out of lunar orbit on the 26th and be back on Earth by the 1st March [6]. It is intriguing that this mission would have taken place simultaneously with that of the first moonrover. Indeed, the first moonrover would have landed five hours after the L-1S blasted out of lunar orbit. In a further coincidence, 1st March was the original date the Americans had set for the launch of Apollo 9. Had the USSR pulled both these missions off, assertions about ‘not being in a moon race’ would have to be creatively re-explained by the ever-versatile Soviet media.

The first N-1 went down to the pad on 3rd February. It weighed in at 2,772 tonnes, the largest rocket ever built there. It was fuelled up and the commitment to launch was now irrevocable. It was a freezing night, the temperature —41°C. At 00: 18 on 21st February the countdown of the N-1 reached its climax, the engines roared to life and the rocket began to move, ever so slowly, skyward. The launch workers cheered and even grisled veterans ofrocket launches watched in awe as the monster took to the sky. Baikonour had seen nothing like it. Safety decreed they must stand some distance away, so they could see the rocket take off several seconds before they could hear it. Seconds into the ignition, as the engines were roaring and before it had lifted off, two engines were shut down by the KORD system, but the flight was able to continue normally, just as the system anticipated. At 5 sec, a gas pressure line broke. At 23 sec, a 2 mm diameter oxidizer pipe burst. This fed oxidizer into the burning rocket stream. This caused a fire at 55 sec which had burned through KORD’s cables by 68 sec. This, shut down all the remaining engines and at 70 sec the escape system fired the L-1S capsule free, so any cosmonauts on board would have survived the failure. By then, the N-1 had reached an altitude of 27 km and, now powerless, began to fall back to Earth. The N-1 was destroyed and Alexei Leonov later recalled seeing ‘a flash in the distance and a fire on the horizon’. Some of the debris fell 50km downrange. The explosion blew windows out for miles around and Lavochkin engineers, then finishing



N-l on the pad

preparations to send two probes to Mars, had to work from a windowless and now frozen hotel.

Despite the failure, the engineers were less discouraged than one might expect. First mission failures were not unusual in the early days of rocketry – indeed, as late in 1996, Europe’s Ariane 5 was to fail very publicly and embarrassingly on its first mission. Following the report of the investigating board in March, a number of changes were made, such as taking out one of the pipes that had failed, improved ventilation and moving the cables to a place where they could not be burned. The root cause of many of the failures, though, was the high vibration associated with such a powerful rocket. This could have been identified through ground-testing, but it was too late for that now. Extraordinarily enough, American intelligence did not have satellites over Baikonour that week and completely missed the launch and the fresh crater downrange.


The basic Soyuz was 7.13 m long, 2.72m wide, with a habitable volume of 10.5m3, a launch weight of up to 6,800 kg, and a descent capsule weight of 2,800 kg. Soyuz consisted of three modules: equipment, descent and orbital. The equipment module contained retrorockets and manoeuvring engines, fuel, solar wings and supplies. The acorn-shaped descent module was the home of cosmonauts during ascent and descent, which one entered through the top. There were portholes, a parachute section and three contour seats. The orbital module, attached on the front, was almost circular, with a spacewalk hatch, lockers for food, equipment and experiments. Being more spacious, the cosmonauts lived there rather than the cramped descent module. From Soyuz there protruded a periscope for dockings, two seagull-like solar panels, aerials, docking probe on the front and flashing lights and beacons. On top of the Soyuz was an escape tower. Normally jettisoned at 2 min 40 sec into the flight, the purpose of the escape tower was to fire the Soyuz free of a rogue rocket. A solid rocket motor, with twelve angled nozzles of 80,000 kg thrust, would fire for 5 sec.


The Soyuz spacecraft

The initial tests of Soyuz were not auspicious. The first test of Soyuz was Cosmos 133 on 28th November 1966. Cosmos 133 was to have docked with a second Soyuz, launched a day later, but this launch was cancelled when Cosmos 133 developed attitude control problems. The Cosmos could not be positioned properly for reentry and was destroyed deliberately for fear that it would land in China. During the second test, a month later, the rocket failed to take off. When the gantries were swung back around the rocket, the cabin was accidentally tipped, causing the escape tower to fire, thus setting the upper stage on fire and causing an explosion which destroyed the pad. One person died, but it could have been many more. The third test, Cosmos 140 on 7th February 1967, followed the test profile up to reentry when a maintenance plug in the heatshield burned through and caused structural damage. Worse followed: the cabin came down in the Aral Sea, crashed through ice and sank (divers later retrieved the cabin from 10 m down).

Despite these difficulties, Russia pressed ahead with a first manned flight of the Soyuz for April 1967. Instead of a cautious, single mission, a big shot was planned. Soyuz would go first, with a single cosmonaut on board, Vladimir Komarov. Twenty – four hours into the flight, Soyuz 2 would follow, commanded by veteran, Valeri Bykovsky. Two newcomers, Yevgeni Khrunov and Alexei Yeliseyev would fly with him. The rendezvous would simulate the moon link-up. Soyuz would be the active craft and would rendezvous on orbit 1. Then the show would really begin. Khrunov and Yeliseyev would don suits, leave Soyuz 2 and transfer into Soyuz to join Komarov. The spacewalk would simulate the transfer of cosmonauts between the the lunar orbiter and lunar lander as they circled the moon. The two ships would then separate after about four hours. Komarov, now accompanied by Khrunov and Yeliseyev, would be back on the ground by the end of day 2, Bykovsky following on day 3. So, in 72 breathtaking hours, the new Soyuz craft would demonstrate Earth orbit rendezvous on the first orbit, transfer by spacewalking to a primitive space station, carry out key tests for the moon flight and put the USSR back in front.

As the launch date drew near, there were a record 203 faults in Soyuz which required correction. The pre-test flights had been disconcerting. An atmosphere of foreboding prevailed at the cosmodrome. As Vladimir Komarov climbed into the transfer van to take the ride down to the pad, he had an air of fatalistic resignation about him. His fellow cosmonauts joshed him, trying to cheer him and get a smile. They started singing, encouraging him to join in. By the time they reached the pad some minutes later, he was singing with them too and the mood of pessimism had lifted somewhat. At 3: 35 a. m. Moscow time (not quite sunrise local time) on 23rd April 1967, the R-7 rocket lit the sky up and headed off in the direction of the growing embers of the onrushing dawn. Eight minutes later Vladimir Komarov was back in orbit testing out the most sophisticated spacecraft ever launched.

The trouble started at once when one of Soyuz’s two solar panels failed to deploy, starving the craft of electrical power. Other glitches developed as the day went on. The first attempt to change the craft’s orbit was unsatisfactory. The ship began to rotate around its axis and only spun more when Komarov tried to correct the problem. The thermal control system degenerated, communications with the ground became irregular and lack of electricity prevented the astro-orientation system from operat­ing. The ion system had to be used instead. Ground control was considering a way of launching Soyuz 2 and for the spacewalking cosmonauts to free the errant solar panel of Soyuz when a tremendous storm hit the launch site and knocked out the electrical systems of the waiting rocket. The decision was taken to abandon the Soyuz 2 launch and bring Komarov home at the first available opportunity, on orbit 16 the next morning.

Even then, there was more trouble. Just as the attitude control system was lining up the Soyuz for reentry, the craft passed into darkness and it lost orientation. The decision was made to try again on orbit 17, even though it too would bring Soyuz far away from the normal landing site. Using procedures that he had never practised in training, Komarov managed to align the craft and fire the retrorockets himself. Despite his heroic efforts to save the mission, worse was to come. As the cabin descended through the atmosphere, the drogue parachute came out but the main parachute remained stubbornly in its container. When the reserve chute was popped out, it tangled in the lines of the drag chute of the main parachute. Soyuz 1 crashed at great speed into the steppe at Orenberg at 7 a. m. The cabin exploded on impact and when Air Force recovery teams arrived all they found was burning metal, the rim of the top of Soyuz being the only hardware they could identify. They piled on soil to extinguish the flames.

The control centre knew nothing of what had happened. As they closed in on the wreckage, the recovery team sent a garbled message to the effect that the cosmonaut needed ‘urgent medical attention’ (a euphemism for the worst possible news), but the local Air Force commander closed off all communications. Defence Minister Ustinov was informed of the true outcome at 11 a. m. and Leonid Brezhnev an hour later in Karlovy Vary, Czechoslovakia. The Soviet people were officially informed later in the day. Gagarin himself removed Komarov’s body from the wreckage. Some days later, some young Pioneers (boy scouts) found some further remains of Vladimir Komarov on the steppe. They buried them and made a small memorial for him of their own.


Soyuz spacecraft rendezvous, docking system

Vladimir Komarov’s loyal comrades laid his remains to rest in the Kremlin Wall two days later. It was a sombre and chilling occasion, an unwelcome reminder of the real costs of the moon race. As the bands played the haunting Chopin funeral march the grim-faced and tight-lipped cosmonaut corps, now diminished to nine men and one woman, swore that the programme must go on relentlessly.

The consensus afterwards was that the whole mission had been rushed before Soyuz was really ready. It was apparent that Komarov had behaved masterfully in steering Soyuz successfully through reentry against all the odds. The failure in the parachute system was quite unrelated to the many problems that had arisen in the flight up to that time. The system for sealing the parachute container was defective, making the parachute likely to stick as it came out. This left the investigators with the chilling conclusion that if Soyuz 2 had been successfully launched, it too would have


Vladimir Komarov and his friend Yuri Gagarin

crashed on its return. Years later, Valeri Bykovsky recalled how the storm had saved his life.

Early tests of Soyuz

28 Nov 1966 Cosmos 133 (failure)

Dec. 1966 Pad explosion

7 Feb 1967 Cosmos 140 (failure)

23 Apr 1967 Soyuz (failure)


The first of the new batch of Ye-8-5 spacecraft was not available until the following month. Luna 16 was launched on 12th September 1970, and it headed out moonwards on a slow four-day coast. In contrast to the great media interest which Luna 15 had attracted, Luna 16 went virtually unremarked by the Western media. This was a pity,


Luna 16, testing before launch

for Luna 16 was a remarkable technical achievement by any standard. Its flight coincided with what became known to the world as Black September. Four airliners were seized in the space of a few hours by Palestinian fighters; the aircraft were hijacked to a remote airstrip called Dawson’s Field in Jordan; King Hussein’s army moved in to crush the Palestinians. The world looked on, mesmerized.

Luna 16 carried, like Luna 15 before it, the new KTDU-417 main engine built by the Isayev design bureau. The KTDU-417 had a throttleable engine ranging from

750 kg to 1,920 kg. At highest thrust, it had a specific impulse of 310 sec, able to burn for 10 min 50 sec using up to four tonnes of propellant. This engine was built to perform mid-course correction, lunar orbit insertion, pre-descent burn, the ‘dead – stop’ burn to take it out of lunar orbit and the final burn 600 m above the moon. There was also scope for further manoeuvres in lunar orbit, as had proved necessary on Luna 15 and the engine could be fired up to eleven times. It could also be used at lowest thrust with a specific impulse of 250 sec [1]. The engines for the final stages of landing had a thrust of 210 and 350 kg.

Luna 16 burned its engine on the first day for 6.4 sec to make a course correction. Luna 16 entered moon orbit on 17th September at an altitude of 110 km to 119 km, 71°, 1 hr 59min. The aim was to achieve a circular lunar orbit around 100km.

After two days, Luna 16 fired its engine to make a 20-m/sec velocity change and brake into an elliptical course of 106 km by 15.1 km, with the perilune over the landing site. Its final path before descent was 15 km by 9 km, so low as to only barely scrape the peaks of the moon’s highest mountains. At this stage, the four 75 kg large propellant tanks that had been used for mid-course correction, lunar orbit injection and orbital change were jettisoned.

As Luna 16 skimmed over the eastern highlands of the moon on the 20th, the retrorocket of the 1,880 kg craft blasted and Luna 16 began to fall. First, the main engines blasted for 267 sec, using about 75% of fuel remaining, to kill all forward motion. This was a big burn, 1,700 m/sec. The critical stage had begun. Luna 16 was now over flat lowlands. Sophisticated radar and electronic gear scanned the surface, measuring the distance and the rate of descent. After the ‘dead stop’ engine burn, Luna 16 was in free fall, coming down at 215 m/sec, until six minutes later it was at 600 m. Then the main engine blasted again. At 20 m, a point detected by Doppler – sounding gamma rays, the retrorocket cut off and small vernier engines came into play. At 2 m, sensing the nearness of the surface, these too cut out, the intention being to achieve a landing speed of 2.5 m/sec or 9km/hr. Luna 16 dropped silently to the airless surface, bouncing gently on its four landing pads. It was down, safe and sound, on the Sea of Fertility, 100 km from crater Webb. The flat and stony ground was marked only by a few small craters, even if they were not visible during the descent, because Luna 16 had landed in darkness. This and subsequent soil-sampling missions carried stereo cameras of the type carried by Luna 13, so the quality of images should have been very good. The purpose of the cameras was to help to guide the operators of the drill and for such night landings floodlights were carried.

Strong signals were picked up by Western tracking stations. Within hours, the USSR had announced its third soft-landing on the moon – but said no more. The Russians had still not admitted that the intention of the probe was to collect samples.

Meantime, a quarter of a million miles away a 90 cm drill arm swung out from Luna 16 like a dentist’s drill on a support. It swung well clear of the base of the spacecraft, free from any area that might have been contaminated by gases of landing engines. The wrist of the drill had a flexibility of 110° elevation, 180° rotation and was able to drill to 35 cm. The drill head bored into the lunar surface at 500 r. p.m. using electric motors for 7 min and then scooped the grains of soil down to 35 cm deep. There it began to hit rock and, rather than risk damaging the drill, the boring was

terminated and the sample collected and put into the container attached to the drill head. Like a robot in a backyard assembly shop, the drill head jerked upwards, brought itself alongside the small 39 kg spherical recovery capsule, turned it round and pressed the grains into the sealed cabin, which was then slapped shut.