FIRST ON THE MOON, FIRST ON VENUS, AND FIRST ON MARS
The latter hall’ of the 20th Century will forever be known as the time when the human race broke its Earth-bound chains and began to explore the boundless reaches of interplanetary space. The Soviet Union initiated this enterprise with its Earth orbiting satellite ‘Sputnik’, meaning ‘fellow traveler’, in 1957, and shortly thereafter Soviet scientists made the first attempts to send spacecraft to the Moon and to the planets. What followed were 38 years of triumph and tragedy in one of the most cxcitmg adventures in recent human history.
The first pioneers of space flight lived in the first half of the 20th Century. Tsiolkovsky, Tsander and Kondratyuk in Russia, Obcrth in Germany, Goddard in the US, and later Korolev and Glushko in the Soviet Union, von Braun in the US, and Esnault-Pcltcrie in France, all believed that humankind could travel to other planets in the Solar System using new developments in rocket propulsion. These early visionaries established the notion that it was in fact possible to fly to the planets, but their dreams became reality only after the intervention of World War II created the technological catalyst for accomplishing deep space propulsion. By the end of the 20th Century, humans had set foot on the Moon and had sent robotic spacecraft to most of the planets, as well as to some comets and asteroids.
Most of the history of space exploration in the 20th Century is characterized by intense competition for dominance between the USSR and USA. At the dawn of the ‘space age’ the two nations were developing TCBMs to drop nuclear warheads on each other’s cities. Europe and Japan were preoccupied with rebuilding after the devastation of World War II. The USSR launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik on October 4, 1957, using a modified version of their first operational ICBM. The first human space flight was also Soviet; Yuri Gagarin’s orbital flight of April 12, 1961. These events shocked Americans, who had difficulty imagining how they could not have been first into space. The Americans also immediately recognized the implications of these events for their national defense. The USA mobilized a massive space development program of its own in 1958, and on May 25, 1961 President
W. T. Huntress and M. Y. Marov, Soviet Robots in the Solar System: Mission Technologies >
and Discoveries, Springer Praxis Books 1, DOl 10.1007/978-1-4419-7898-1 1,
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Kennedy formulated a national goal to land a man on the Moon before the decade was оul implicitly meaning that this man should be American, not Russian.
The Soviet Union was slow to respond to the challenge, but in 1964 initiated a national program to send a cosmonaut to the Moon ahead of the Americans. The Americans won the ‘race’ on July 20, 1969. with Apollo 1 Us touchdown on the Sea of Tranquility. The Soviet program stalled after a series of failures of the N-l heavy rocket, their equivalent to the American Saturn V, but the USSR produced dramatic results with robotic lunar rover and sample return missions through 1976. The Americans shut down their Apollo lunar program in 1972 after six successful flights to the lunar surface.
The space race’ was a Cold War phenomenon, but just like the international air races in the first half of the 20th Century, the space race resulted in an explosion of research and technological development. While competition in space exploration between the USSR and the USA originally focused principally on flying humans to the Moon, there w as also competition to fly robotic spacecraft to the Moon and beyond, and this yielded remarkable feats of engineering and enormous scientific progress in understanding our Solar System and technological progress for Earth applications. If it had not been for the political imperatives of the Cold War, it is highly unlikely that the national investments required for this progress would have been made. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Russian robotic space exploration program withered aw’ay.
This book provides the technical details of the Soviet Union’s robotic space exploration missions, beginning with the attempted launch of a lunar impaetor on September 23, 1958. and concluding with the final launch in the Russian national scientific space program in the 20th Century, the Mars-96 mission, on November 16. 1996. Each flight campaign is placed into the political and historical context in which the entire endeavor occurred, chronicling the boldness of the program, the daring spirit of its creators, the genius of its implementation, and the successes and in some cases the tragic failures in its execution. The book is in two parts. Part I describes the pieces that must be combined to make up a space program: the key players who make things happen; the institutions that design, build and operate the hardware; the rockets that offer access to space; and the spacecraft that carry out the enterprise. Part II is a chronological account of how the pieces are put together to undertake space flight and mission campaigns. Each chapter covers a particular period, usually several years, when specific mission campaigns were undertaken during launch windows determined by celestial mechanics. Each chapter in Part 11 gives a short overview of the flight missions that occurred during the time period and the political and historical context for the flight mission campaigns, including what the Americans were doing at the time. The bulk of each chapter is devoted to the scientific and engineering details of each flight campaign, and in each case the spacecraft and payloads are described in as much technical detail as is available at the time of writing this book, the progress of the flight is described, and a synopsis of the scientific results is given.
The Soviet robotic space program was dramatic, and was driven by a thirst for technological achievement and a desire for international recognition and respect. It achieved all these things. Soviet robotic spacecraft were first on the Moon, first on Venus, and first on Mars.