Category Soviet and Russian Lunar Exploration


Now that lunar orbit had been achieved ahead of the Americans, the programme could now return to the original, planned Ye-7 lunar-orbiting photography mission. The Ye-7 was renamed the Ye-6LF at this stage. It used the same Ye-6 bus. Instead of the landing cabin, there was a non-detachable cone and box-shaped camera system. Luna 11 carried the same camera system as that flown on Zond 3, which in turn was designed for the 3MV series of Mars and Venus probes over 1964-5. The photographs were expected to cover 25 km2 each, with a resolution of 15 m to 20 m. Once taken, the photographs would be developed and dried. They would then be scanned by a television system on board. Besides the camera system, seven scientific instruments were carried, the same as the Ye-6S, Luna 10. The whole spacecraft weighed around

I, 620 kg.

The first Ye-6LF, with a full photographic suite on board, was eventually launched on 24th August, after the first American lunar orbiter had arrived. Called Luna 11, it left Earth on 24th August and entered moon orbit of 159 by 1,193 km, 27°, 2 hr 58 min. After burning propellant, the mass entering lunar orbit was in the order of 1,136 kg. The Russians had learned their lesson from the Luna 9 episode over the photographs. The Russians faced a choice of sending down pictures only when Yevpatoria was in line of sight, which would take many weeks, or to send them down when stations farther afield, including their own, could pick them up. They decided on the latter course. In a crafty ruse, the decision was taken that transmission would switch rapidly between the two downlink frequencies, too quickly for Jodrell Bank to reconfigure its systems. Moreover, all the photographs were to be taken in the first 24 hours of the mission and transmitted straight away, before this cat-and-mouse technique could be realized or countered.

The Russians reported completion of the mission on 1st October after 38 days, 277 revolutions and 137 communications sessions – but the long-awaited pictures were never published, nor was much else said. Only after glasnost did the Russians admit that the mission had failed in its primary purpose and that the pictures had never reached Earth in the first place. Although the cameras had worked, a problem with the thruster systems meant that the spacecraft had not been pointing at the moon at all, but taking pictures of blank space! This was due in turn to a foreign object getting stuck in one of the thrusters, making orientation impossible. Luna 11 also carried instruments to measure gamma rays, X-rays, meteorite streams and hard cor­puscular radiation. Specifically, it was instrumented to confirm Luna 10’s detection of mascons. The scientific outcomes are not known and few lunar results were attributed to Luna 11. Russian accounts of the scientific results of the 1966 orbiting missions give details of outcomes from Luna 10 and 12, but not 11 [10]. Luna 11 carried, as did its successor, gears and bearings designed to be used on subsequent lunar rovers, to test how they would work in a vacuum.

Luna 12 (22nd October) passed the moon at 1,290 km at a speed of 2,085 m/sec when its retrorocket fired for 28 sec to cut its velocity to 1,148 m/sec to place it into an orbit of 100 by 1,737 km, 3 hr 25 min, in a much narrower equatorial orbit than Luna

II, only 15°. This time, lunar photography was the stated mission objective and


Luna 11, 12 design

presumably this was accomplished on the first day during the low points of the orbital passes. Thrusters were used extensively to point Luna 12 toward landing sites and on the second day the spacecraft was put into a slow roll so as to accomplish the rest of its mission.

The whole mission lasted three months and ended on 19th January 1967 after 85 days, 602 orbits and 302 communications sessions. The imaging, scanner and relay system had a resolution of between 15 m and 20 m and could be transmitted at either 67 lines/frame for 125 sec (quick look) or at 1,100 lines a frame for 34 min (high resolution). The target areas were the Sea of Rains, Ocean of Storms and craters Ariastarcus and Alphonsus: a Soviet photograph released late in 1966 showed cosmonauts Yuri Gagarin, Alexei Leonov, Vladimir Komarov and Yevgeni Khrunov pouring excitedly over its pictures.

The Russians gave only a short account of the Luna 12 mission, the principal one being Luna 12 transmits, published in Pravda on 6th November 1966 and they released only a small number of images from Luna 12, much inferior in quality to the American


Luna 12 images

lunar orbiters and doing less than justice to the 15 m resolution of the cameras [11]. There are some reports that the photographs were so poor that the Russians ended up resorting to assembling the publicly available American Ranger and Lunar Orbiter archive to plan their moon landings; but this could be a traditional Western under­estimate of Soviet photographic capabilities. There is no suggestion that anything went wrong, so the pictures must have been at least up to the standards of Zond 3. Because they were taken at much closer range, they were probably much better. Either way, it is more than likely that there are still some Luna 12 pictures deep in some Moscow archive. In addition to cameras, Luna 12 carried a gamma ray spectrometer, magnetometer, infrared radiometer and micrometeorite detector. Assessments were made of the reflectivity of the lunar surface to infer its density (1,400 kg/m3).

Presumably, the Luna 12 pictures would have been decisive in determining where the Russians would land on the moon. The American lunar orbiters enabled the Americans to narrow down the choice of the first landing to five prospective sites, all near the equator (likewise, Luna 12 flew over the equatorial belt, between 15°N and 15°S, in a much narrower band than Luna 11, which operated between 27°N and 27°S). A team in the Vernadsky Institute, led by Alexander Bazilsvsky (b. 1937), worked on site selection for the manned landing from 1968 and also for soil sample and rover missions. Eventually, the Russians selected three smooth areas for the first manned landing on the moon: [2]


















Подпись: Максутов!наді vm

Ye-6LF (originally Ye-7)



Подпись: 2.7 m 1.5m 1,665 kg 100 x 1,700 km From 15 to 27° 178 to 205 min Weight (payload) Orbiting altitude Angle to equator Orbital period

Подпись: Sites for manned lunar landing

Ye-6 series: instruments specified1


Gamma ray spectrometer.

Gas discharge counters.

Electrode ion traps.

Meteoroid particle detector. Infrared radiometer.

Подпись: 1 Cannot be confirmed that all were flown on each mission.

Low-energy X-ray photon counter. Cameras (Ye-6LF).


Luna 10 and mother ship


Summary of lunar orbiters Ye-6S and Ye-6LF

Подпись: Failure (Cosmos 111) Luna 10 Luna 11 Luna 121 Mar 1966 31 Mar 1966 24 Aug 1966 22 Oct 1966


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).


Other Soviet equipment for the moon landing was tested. Would the Russian lunar module have worked? Yes, it probably would have, for in 1970-1 the LK was put through a series of exhaustive tests in Earth orbit which it passed with flying colours. Block E of the lunar module had been tested in Zagorsk 26 times, but never in flying conditions.

These were called the T2K tests. The lunar lander, the LK, was tested without its landing legs, since these were primarily propulsion tests of the block E system with its 2.05-tonne thrust, intended to simulate the two major burns of the lunar surface landing and then the subsequent ascent to orbit. The Russians did three tests, all unmanned – while, many years earlier, the Americans had also carried out three (Apollo 5, January 1968, unmanned; Apollo 9, March 1969 and Apollo 10, May 1969, both manned).

The first T2K was launched by a Soyuz rocket on a sunny morning, 24th November 1970, under the designation Cosmos 379, witnessed by its designers. It entered orbit of 192 km to 230 km. On 27th November, after simulating the three-day journey to the moon, the LK fired its variable throttle motor to simulate the lunar landing, descent and hovering over the moon’s surface (250 to 270m/sec AL), changing its orbit to an apogee of 1,120 km. On the 28th, after simulating a day on the surface of the moon, as it were, the LK fired its engine again to model the lunar ascent. Everything went perfectly. This was necessarily a powerful burn, 1,320 to 1,520 m/sec AL). Cosmos 379 ended up in a 14,300-km high orbit, eventually burning up in September 1983.

Further tests of the LK moon cabin were made by Cosmos 398 (26th February 1971) and Cosmos 434 (12th August 1971). On each mission, the landing frame was left in an orbit of 120 km, the ascent cabin much farther out. Cosmos 398 crashed into the South Atlantic in December 1995. In the case of Cosmos 434, the final orbit was 186 by 11,834 km. Unlike the American lander, the landing frame had no propulsive engine in its own right.

The end of the Cosmos 434 mission had a treble irony. Only days after its conclusion, the N1-L3 plan for landing on the moon was cancelled as Mishin persuaded the government to go for a more ambitious lunar-landing plan using a different method, the N1-L3M. Second, that October LK designer Mikhail Yangel invited guests to attend his 60th birthday party, but he died suddenly just as they began to arrive at his home. Hopefully, he realized before his death just what a fine lunar module he had designed and built. Third, in August 1981, Cosmos 434 began to spiral down to Earth. Only three years earlier, a nuclear-powered surveillance satellite had caused a scare when it began to tumble out of orbit. This time, the Soviet Union assured the world there was no need to worry since, because Cosmos 434 was ‘a prototype lunar cabin’, it had no nuclear fuel. This was the first time the Soviet Union had ever publicly admitted, although inadvertently, to the existence of its manned moon-landing programme.

Thankfully, these orbiting Cosmos were not the only LKs completed. Examples of the LK can still be found: in the Moscow Aviation Institute; the Mozhaisky Military Institute of St Petersburg; and at the home of its builder, now called NPO Yuzhnoye, in Dnepropetrovsk. NPO Yuzhnoye has an exhibit of its great engine. And for those contemplating a return to the moon, Yuzhnoye has kept the blueprints too.

The LK tests

24 Nov 1970 Cosmos 379

26 Feb 1971 Cosmos 398

12 Aug 1971 Cosmos 434

The LK manoeuvres

Cosmos 379

24 Nov 1970


191-237 km

1st manoeuvre


192-233 km


296-1,206 km

263 m/s

2nd manoeuvre


188-1,198 km


177-14,041 km


Cosmos 398

26 Feb 1971


191-258 km

1st manoeuvre


189-252 km


186-1,189 km


2nd manoeuvre


186-1,189 km


200-10,905 km

1,320 m/s

Cosmos 434

12 Aug 1971


189-267 km

1st manoeuvre


188-267 km


190-1,261 km

266 m/s

2nd manoeuvre


188-1,262 km


180-11,834 km

1,365 m/s

Source: Clark (1988)

What about the LOK and block D? Granted that a working version of the LOK was never successfully launched, it is impossible to comment on its performance. With the flight of Zond around the moon (1969-70) and the requalification of Soyuz (1968-9), it is reasonable to presume that it would have been a successful spacecraft. The first LOK was scheduled to be tested on the fourth flight of the N-1 in 1972. In the meantime, it was decided to proceed with tests of block D for its lunar orbit mission. The types of manoeuvres planned for block D had, unlike Zond and Soyuz, not been tested. Block D engine firings were required for mid-course corrections outbound, to put the complex in lunar orbit and then, second, carry out the powered descent

initiation down to 1,500 m over the surface. They were carried out with a block D attached to a modified Zond and called the KL-1E (‘E’ for experimental).

The first, on 28th November 1969, failed when the first stage of the Proton exploded. The second was Cosmos 382, sent aloft on 2nd December 1970. The manoeuvres simulated the lunar orbit insertion burn, course corrections and the powered descent, respectively. All seem to have gone perfectly. Cosmos 382 aroused some interest at the time. Western experts could not understand why the Russians were flying spacecraft in lunar-type manoeuvres long after Russia had lost a moon race it now claimed it had never been part of.

Block D tests, 1969-70

18 Nov 1969 KL-1E test: failure

2 Dec 1970 KL-1E test: Cosmos 382

Manoeuvres of Cosmos 382 L-1E


2 Dec 1970


190-300 km

1 st manoeuvre

3 Dec 1970


190-300 km


303-5,038 km

986 m/s

2nd manoeuvre

4 Dec 1970


318-5,040 km


1,616-5,071 km


3rd manoeuvre

8 Dec 1970


1,616-5,071 km


2577-5,081 km

1,311 m/s

Source: Clark (1988, 1993)

Following the success of Soyuz 4 and 5, a further manned Earth orbital test of the lunar orbit rendezvous manoeuvre was planned, similar to those which the United States carried out on Apollo 9. This was called the Kontakt mission, and its specific purpose was to test the rendezvous mechanisms of the LOK and the LK lunar lander. Kontakt was the docking system that would have been used had the original Soyuz complex gone ahead. Kontakt was developed by Alexei Bogomolov of the Moscow Engineering Institute. It might earlier have been used for Soyuz Earth orbital mis­sions, but a rival system called Igla was adopted instead. Kontakt came back into the reckoning for the manned lunar landing, being adopted for the programme partly on account of its simplicity.

Tests of the Kontakt system in Earth orbit were clearly essential before it was committed to lunar orbit rendezvous. These were planned for 1970 and two Soyuz were readied for the mission, one active, one passive. The active crew was Anatoli Filipchenko and Georgi Grechko, the crew for the passive Soyuz was Vasili Lazarev and Oleg Makarov. The mission was assigned high priority, with up to 16 cosmonauts being put through the training programme for the mission. A second, follow-up double mission seems also to have been envisaged. Bogomolov’s delivery of the Kontakt system, originally for 1970, kept slipping. In August 1971, the LOK and LK were abandoned and the missions were formally terminated in October 1971. The four Soyuz in preparation were dismantled and the parts used for other missions.


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.


Russia flew a third series of moon probes. These have no direct American comparator. Called the Ye-6LS, little is known about them. Only an outline sketch of Luna 14 has been released (no photographs), showing that it was similar in design to the Ye-6LF. The purpose of the Ye-6LS series was to test out communications between moon orbit and the deep space tracking network, employing the systems to be used later by the manned lunar orbiter, the LOK. Two scientific instruments were also carried: one to measure charged solar particles, the other cosmic rays. One engineering experiment was also carried: more drive gears and lubricants, to test systems to be used on the upcoming series of lunar rovers.

This programme was sufficiently important for three Ye-6LS probes to be flown. The first was launched on 17th May 1967. It was intended that this spacecraft go into a high-Earth orbit reaching out to the full lunar distance, but away from the direction of the moon. In the event, the fourth stage cut out prematurely, leaving Cosmos 159

Подпись: Diagram of Luna 14

in a highly irregular orbit, 260 km by 60,710 km. Although falling far short of that intended, the altitude probably was sufficient for a useful test of the LOK commun­ication systems. The second Ye-6LS mission also failed. Block I cut off prematurely 524 sec into the mission on 7th February 1968 when the fuel inlet control jammed and it fell short of Earth orbit.

Подпись: Ye-6LS series 17 May 1967 7 Feb 1968 7 Apr 1968
Подпись: Cosmos 159 Failure Luna 14

The only fully successful mission, Luna 14, was flown out to the moon on 7th April 1968 and entered lunar orbit of 160 km by 870 km, 42°, 2 hr 40 min. Russian news agencies said almost nothing about it, except that it carried out studies of the stability of radio signals and the moon’s gravitational field. No one believed them at the time and assumed it was a failed photography mission. In reality, they were telling the truth. It was a test of communications (‘radio signals’) and a mission designed to measure the perturbation of lunar orbits by mascons. Although the discovery of mascons has always been assumed to be American, in fact it can be attributed to Luna 10. Mascons worried both sides equally, for they pulled orbiting spacecraft out of their predicted orbit by several kilometres. These distortions could make all the difference to where a spacecraft was targeted for landing and to the success of subsequent link-ups in lunar orbit. Apollo 11’s Eagle nearly ran out of fuel because its targeting was off-course and Neil Armstrong had to fly the lunar module far downrange to find a suitable area. Instruments were also carried to measure solar wind, cosmic rays and charged particles in lunar orbit, although their outcomes were not publicized. The Russians appear to have been well satisfied with Luna 14’s radio communications tests and mascon mapping, but, because it revealed much about their manned lunar ambitions, drew little attention to the mission.

Ye-6S, Ye-6LF, Ye-6LS series: scientific outcomes (with Zond 3)

Very weak magnetic field around the moon (distortion of the interplanetary magnetic field?). No lunar magnetic poles.

No differences in radiation emission levels between lunar lowlands and highlands.

Cosmic radiation at 5 particles/cm2/sec.

198 meteoroid impacts (Luna 10).

No gaseous atmosphere around moon found.

Finding of anomalous zones of mass concentrations below lunar surface disturbing the lunar orbit (mascons) (Luna 10); characterization of such zones (Luna 14).

Broad composition of lunar rocks (basaltic).

Selection of landing sites for manned and rover landings.

Infrared, ultraviolet scan of lunar surface (Zond 3).

Assessment of reflectivity of lunar surface and inferred density.


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.


Zond 8 marked the end of the around-the-moon programme. The landing pro­gramme, dependent on the testing of the N-l, still continued. Chief Designer Vasili Mishin continued to enjoy support at the highest level in the Politburo, especially from Andrei Kirilenko. Testing of the N-l continued with a view to its completing its original purpose, or, alternatively, to carry large payloads to low-Earth orbit. After the two disasters of 1969, KORD was redesigned. The system could no longer be closed down entirely during the first 50 sec of flight. A fire-extinguishing system, using freon gas, was installed. The NK-33 engines were tested more rigorously, with new systems for quality control. Filters were installed to stop foreign objects from getting into the engines. Cabling was better protected against fire. Pumps were improved. The launchpads were rebuilt.

The third N-l was ready to fly again two years later. Unlike its two predecessors, it was not aimed at the moon, carrying only a dummy LK and LOK (and a dummy escape tower). Launching took place at night on 27 June 1971, while, incidentally, three cosmonauts were aloft in the Salyut space station (at one stage, it had been planned for them to look out for the launch). From as early as 7.5 sec, the vehicle began to roll about its axis. By 40 sec, the small vernier engines lost the ability to counteract the roll and at 45 sec the rocket began to break up, the payload falling off first. At 51 sec, the redesigned KORD system shut the lower rocket stage down. The stages separated and the rocket crashed to destruction, the first stage gouging out a 30 m crater 20 km downrange. The escape tower was a mockup and did not fire. Ironically, the failure of the rocket’s roll control system was due to the fact that all the engines of the N-l were actually firing together at take-off at the same time for the first time, none having been shut down by KORD. The thrust of the 30 engines, all firing together, created a strong roll effect that the vernier engines had been insufficiently strong to counter. Had all the engines fired properly at launch on the first or second take-offs, this would have been apparent then. Or, more to the point, the problem might have been identified if there had been proper ground-testing.

The failure of the third N-l took place at a time when the Americans were making rapid progress in lunar exploration. In February l97l, the Americans had returned to the moon with Apollo l4 and were about to proceed to the three-day surface missions of Apollos l5, l6 and l7. In July l97l, the Americans landed at Mount Hadley and spent three days there, driving a rover around the mountains and to the edge of a rille. The old Nl-L3 plan, putting only one cosmonaut on the lunar surface for only a few hours, looked ever more inadequate. The old Nl-L3 plan was finally terminated in August l97l, at the time the third LK was successfully being put through its paces as Cosmos 434. The termination of the plan permitted remaining LK and LOK hard­ware to be flown, presumably on N-l testflights.


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


During 1966-8, the Soviet Union sent up seven orbiters to explore the lunar environ­ment and map the surface. Of these, two failed (Cosmos 111, 7th February 1968) and one partly failed (Luna 11). Only one photographic mission succeeded (Luna 12), but we do not have access to the archive which it assembled. Luna 10, despite being improvised, appears to have returned a substantial amount of scientific information. The Russians also ran a series of communications missions, the Ye-6LS, which shows their thoroughness in approaching the moon project and which have no direct American comparison.

There was discussion, in the Western popular press, as to the need for proceeding to manned flights to the moon when so much useful information had been already retrieved by automatic probes. Later, when the Russians were beaten in the moon race, they raised the question in retrospective justification for their use of automatic probes. In reality, this important discussion was given little airing within the two respective space programmes themselves, for the political decision had already been taken to go for a manned flight around the moon and to its surface. This decision had little to do with a calculation of the best way to obtain a scientific return, but, as President Kennedy himself put it, would be the approach ‘most impressive to man­kind’. It is back to this larger project that we now turn (Chapter 5).


But what if Alexei Leonov had been the first man on the moon? The selection of Alexei Leonov as first man on the moon – and also to fly the first L-1 around the moon – is no surprise, for he was perhaps the leading personality of the cosmonaut squad after Yuri Gagarin himself [27].

Alexei Leonov was selected among the original group of cosmonauts in I960. A short, well-built man full of energy and good humour, he had demonstrated his personal qualities from his teenage years. Alexei Leonov came from Listvyanka, Siberia where he was born in 1934, only months after Yuri Gagarin. He was eighth in a family of nine. Listvyanka was so cold that temperatures fell to — 50°C, but the stars by night were so perfectly clear. When he was only three and in the middle of winter, his father Arkhip was declared an enemy of the people; neighbours came in and stripped their home bare and the family was evicted into the nighttime winter forest [28]. The family fled to his married sister’s home. Arkhip was cleared and later rejoined them there.

Most astronauts and cosmonauts will tell you that all they ever wanted to do in life was fly a plane or a spaceship. Not Alexei Leonov, who determined to be an artist, a painter. He enrolled in the Academy of Arts in Riga in 1953. But he was unable to afford it and applied for Air Force college. He flew MiG-15s from Kremenchug Air Force Base in the Ukraine and later flew planes along the border between the two Germanies. In 1959, he was asked to go for selection for testing new types of planes and when undergoing medical tests for this unspecified assignment he met his sub­sequent best friend, Senior Lieutenant Yuri Gagarin.

Even before his first mission, he had two brushes with death: once when his car plunged through ice into a pond (he rescued his wife and the taxi driver from under the water) and then when his parachute straps tangled with his ejector seat (he bent the frame through brute force and freed the straps). It was a surprise to no one that he was assigned an early mission and he was Korolev’s choice for the first spacewalk. To keep himself fit, in the year up to the flight he cycled 1,000 km, ran 500 km and skied 300 km. The mission, Voskhod 2, itself was full of drama. It started with triumphant success: television viewers saw him push himself away from the craft and turn head


Alexei Leonov’s spacewalk

over foot as he gave an excited commentary of what must have been a stunning spectacle. He had great difficulty trying to get back into his spaceship. Only by reducing the spacesuit pressure to danger level and by using his physical strength was he able to get back into his airlock. Then the retrorockets failed to fire so he and his pilot Pavel Belyayev had to light them manually on the following orbit. Instead of landing in the steppe, they came down far off course, their communication aerials burnt away, in the Urals. State radio and television played Mozart’s Requiem, preparing the Soviet people for the worst. Their hatch jammed against a birch tree and they could barely open it. They emerged into deep snow, tapped out a morse message calling for rescuers and drew their emergency pistol to ward off prowling wolves and bears. The cosmonauts spent two nights among the fir trees while rescue crews tried to find a way of getting them out. They lit a fire to keep warm and eventually used skis to escape their ordeal. No wonder they got a hero’s welcome when they returned. Definitely the Russian right stuff.

Alexei Leonov had an artistic bent and made many paintings of orbital flight, spacewalks, sunrises and sunsets, and spaceships landing on distant worlds. He edited


Alexei Leonov landed in a forest in the Urals

the newsletter of the cosmonaut squad, called Neptune, satirizing people and events with his cartoons. He maintained an extraordinary level of physical fitness and kept up his outdoor pursuits, like water skiing and hunting. He learned English and was inevitably popular with the Western media. Unlike Gagarin and Titov, he seemed to cause the commanding officers of the cosmonaut squad little trouble. Sergei Korolev praised him for his liveliness of mind, his knowledge, sociability and character. With that background and experience, he was ideally suited for the assignment of first man on the moon and, indeed, first man around the moon before that. Certainly, had he got there, the moon landing would have been well illustrated as a result. Even from his spacewalk he had generated a substantial repertoire of paintings, books and films. Unlike Neil Armstrong, who retreated for many years into academia, the extroverted Alexei Leonov would have done much to tell of his experience thereafter.

Even though Alexei Leonov did not make it to the moon, the rest of his space career was full of incident. In June 1971, he was slated to command the second mission to the Salyut space station. His flight engineer, Valeri Kubasov, was pulled only two days before the flight because of a health problem and the entire crew was replaced, despite Leonov’s voluble protests. His comments became muted when the entire replacement crew was killed on returning to Earth: a depressurization valve opened in the vacuum instead of during the final stages of the return to Earth. He had cheated death again. In 1975, Leonov was the obvious choice for the joint Apollo-Soyuz mission. Leonov was the star of the show, a gracious host to the Americans on board Soyuz, cracking jokes and presenting the Americans with cartoons and souvenirs. The


Alexei Leonov splashdown-training in the Black Sea


Oleg Makarov

Americans described him as ‘a really funny guy who also knows how to get us to work’. Alexei Leonov made general, was appointed commander of the cosmonaut squad from 1976 to 1982 and was a senior figure in Star Town until 1991. He still lives there, moving on to become president of one of Russia’s biggest banks.

What of his companion for both missions, Oleg Makarov? Oleg Makarov was born in the village of Udomlya, in the Kalinin region near Moscow, on 6th January 1933 into an Army family. Oleg Makarov graduated as an engineer from the Moscow Baumann Higher Technical School in 1957 and worked in OKB-1 straight after. Makarov was centrally involved in the design of the control systems for Vostok, Voskhod and Soyuz, including Vostok’s control panel. He was selected in the 1966 group of civilian engineers appointed to the cosmonaut squad by chief designer Vasili Mishin. Several members of this group were fast-tracked into mission assignments, and it shows that Mishin and the selectors must have thought much of him to appoint him straight away to the first moon crew with Leonov.

In the event, Oleg Makarov did get to fly into space a number of times. His first mission was to requalify the Soyuz after the disaster of June 1971. With Vasili Lazarev, he put the redesigned spaceship, Soyuz 12, through its paces in a two- day mission. The two were assigned to a space station mission in April 1975. This went badly wrong, the rocket booster tumbling out of control. They managed to separate their Soyuz 18 spaceship from the rogue rocket and after 400 sec of weight­lessness made the steepest ballistic descent in the history of rocketry, the G meter jamming when they briefly reached 18 G. Their spacecraft tumbled into a nighttime valley on the border with China and they waited some time for rescue. Soyuz came down in snow, in temperatures of —7°C, the parachute line snagging on trees at the edge of a cliff. The Western media alleged that the cosmonauts had died, so on his


Valeri Bykovsky parachuting

return Makarov was sent out to play football with them to prove he was still alive. Oleg Makarov returned to space twice more. In 1978, he participated in the first ever double link-up with a space station, Salyut 6. Oleg Makarov flew again on an uneventful two-week repair mission to Salyut 6 in a new spaceship, the Soyuz T, in 1980. He died on 28th May 2003, aged 70. His obituary duly acknowledged the role he had played in the L-1 and L-3 programmes over 1965-9. Of a quieter disposition than Leonov, his technical competence must have been very evident and he would clearly have been a good selection.

What about the second crew, Valeri Bykovsky and Nikolai Rukhavishnikov? They too were slated for the second around-the-moon mission. Valeri Bykovsky was drawn from the 1960 selection with Yuri Gagarin and was given the fifth manned space mission, Vostok 5. He flew five days in orbit, three in formation with the Soviet Union’s first women cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova. A quiet and confident man, the same age as Gagarin (born in 1934), he was a jet pilot and later a parachute instructor. He would often volunteer to test out training equipment and was the first person to try out the isolation chamber for a long period. Bykovsky left the moon group for a brief period to head up the Soyuz 2 mission, scheduled for launch on 24th April 1967, but cancelled when the first Soyuz got into difficulties. It took some time for Bykovsky to get another mission, not doing so until 1976, when he flew a solo Soyuz Earth observation mission (Soyuz 22) and then led a visiting mission to the Salyut 6 space station (Soyuz 31, 1978). After his last mission, he became director of the Centre of Soviet Science & Culture in what was then East Berlin.

Nikolai Rukhavishnikov was one of the best regarded designers of OKB-1. An intense, dedicated, serious-looking man, he came from Tomsk in western Siberia, where he was born in 1932. His parents were both railway surveyors, so he spent much of his youth on the move, living a campsite life. His secondary education was in Mongolia, and from 1951 to 1957 studied in the Moscow Institute for Physics and Engineering, specializing in transistors. Within a month of graduation, he had joined OKB-1, concentrating on automatic control systems. For the translunar mission, he


Nikolai Rukhavishnikov

planned experiments in solar physics. When the circumlunar and landing missions were delayed, he was assigned to the Salyut space station programme, being research engineer on the first mission there, Soyuz 10. Nikolai Rukhavishnikov was next selected for the Apollo-Soyuz test project, flying the dress rehearsal mission with Anatoli Filipchenko in 1974. Nikolai Rukhavishnikov was the first civilian to be given command of a Russian space mission, Soyuz 33. This went wrong, the engine failing as it approached the Salyut 6 station. Rukhavishnikov had to steer Soyuz through a hazardous ballistic descent. ‘I was scared as hell’, he admitted later. He later con­tributed to the design of the Mir space station and died in 1999.

And what about the others? The third lunar landing crew was Pavel Popovich and Vitally Sevastianov. The two of them had worked closely on the Zond 4 mission, their voices being relayed to the spacecraft in transponder tests. Pavel Popovich came from the class of 1960, an Air Force pilot based in the Arctic. He made history in 1962 when his Vostok 4 took him into orbit close to Vostok 3 on the first group flight. An extrovert like Leonov, extremely popular, he had a fine tenor voice and sang his way through his time off in orbit. His first wife Marina was also well known, being an ace test pilot. Later, he was given command of Soyuz 14, making the first successful Soviet occupation of an orbital station, the Salyut 3. Later he became a senior trainer in the cosmonaut training centre. Vitally Sevastianov was a graduate of the Moscow Avia­tion Institute and one of the teachers of the first group of cosmonauts, specializing in celestial physics. In between his own lunar training, he ran his own television pro­gramme, a science show called Man, the Earth and the Universe. He was one of the first of the moon group to get a mission once it became clear that there would be no early flight around the moon or landing. Vitally Sevastianov was assigned to Soyuz 9 in 1970 and later got a space station mission, 63 days on board Salyut 4 in the summer of


Pavel Popovich

1975, setting a Soviet record. Later, he became a leading member of the Communist Party in the Russian parliament, the Duma.

The fate of the Soviet around-the-moon and landing team makes for a number of contrasts with the American teams. For most of the American Apollo astronauts who went to the moon, the experience was the climax of their spaceflight careers and many retired from the astronaut corps soon thereafter. For the Russians, the lunar assign­ment was a brief period during their cosmonaut career. Although crews were named, formed and re-formed, none got close to a launch and the training experience seems to have been quite unsatisfactory. For them, the lunar assignment was short and the best of their careers was still to come. Most were quickly rotated into the manned space station programme where they went on to achieve much personal and professional success. Alexei Leonov would have made a dramatically different first man on the moon from Neil Armstrong.


Vitally Sevastianov