Throughout the 1960s the Soviet designers suffered a series of setbacks that ultimately brought an end to their hopes of beating the Americans in the race to the Moon

Despite years of denials and cover-ups, the Soviet Union was racing to keep up with Apollo until almost the last moment. Even before the first cosmonaut had flown, work had begun on the huge N1 rocket, a successor to the R-7 with enough power to match even the mighty Saturn V.

Like the Apollo planners, Soviet designers had to choose between three possible mission profiles (see pp.116-17). At first, Sergei Korolev chose Earth orbit rendezvous - in 1963, he set out a plan that would use three N1 launches and a single launch of the new Soyuz-A vehicle (see over) to build a 200-tonne spacecraft in Earth orbit.

But the Soviet system generated fierce competition between designers, and military rocket designer Vladimir Chelomei, in particular, was becoming increasingly prominent. Chelomei wanted to develop his own superbooster, the UR-700, outclassing even his own UR-500 Proton (see p.210). He believed this would allow an alternative Moon mission - the fuel-squandering direct ascent approach. With Korolev and Valentin Glushko also arguing over engine design and choice of propellant, the entire Soviet Moon programme was soon mired

I HISTORY FOCUS

THE DEATH OF THE CHIEF DESIGNER

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Sergei Korolev died on 14 January 1966, after complications that developed during routine colon surgery. It was only after his death that the Soviet authorities finally allowed his identity to become widely known. Korolev's funeral left the Soviet space programme rudderless. His larger-than-life, driven personality, combined with a pragmatic recognition of the need to play the Soviet political game, meant that he was recognized as leader, sometimes reluctantly, even among the other chief designers. His pivotal role in the Soviet conquest of space has only become public since the 1970s, and he has since become acclaimed as a Russian national hero - the city formerly known as Kaliningrad, headquarters of OKB-1, is now named Korolev in his honour.

Sergei Korolev died on 14 January 1966, after complications that developed during routine colon surgery. It was only after his death that the Soviet authorities finally allowed his identity to become widely known. Korolev's funeral left the Soviet space programme rudderless. His larger-than-life, driven personality, combined with a pragmatic recognition of the need to play the Soviet political game, meant that he was recognized as leader, sometimes reluctantly, even among the other chief designers. His pivotal role in the Soviet conquest of space has only become public since the 1970s, and he has since become acclaimed as a Russian national hero - the city formerly known as Kaliningrad, headquarters of OKB-1, is now named Korolev in his honour.

LUNAR GIANT

The enormous N1 rocket, 105m (344ft) tall and 17m (56 ft) across, stands ready for a launch on its specially built pad at Tyuratam.

in bureaucracy and politics. It took two vital years for Korolev's lunar project to get the go-ahead, and by then engineering realities had stripped it down to a far less ambitious lunar-orbit rendezvous mission, using a single N1 launch and a spacecraft called the L3, combining a variant of the Soyuz spacecraft, with a new one-man lander called the LK.

Development problems

The N1 rocket project lagged behind schedule from the very start, largely thanks to wrangles between the designers and interference from bureaucrats. All this was made inevitable by the sheer scale of the project - it was simply too huge for OKB-1 to handle alone. And then, in January 1966, came the sudden death of Korolev during routine surgery (see panel, below). While

LUNAR GIANT

The enormous N1 rocket, 105m (344ft) tall and 17m (56 ft) across, stands ready for a launch on its specially built pad at Tyuratam.

UNMANNED MOON SHOTS

The Luna programme continued throughout the 1960s. Key achievements included the first craft in lunar orbit and the sending back of the first pictures from the surface, in February 1966.

ZONO MISSIONS

One minor success of the Soviet lunar programme was the launch of the Zond probes - unmanned Soyuz spacecraft without an orbital module, designed to loop around the Moon and return to Earth in rehearsals for a similar manned flight.

strap-on instrumentation compartment

Block E rocket stage for final approach and ascent from surface descent viewport instrument compartment targeting sensor alignment sensors for docking manoeuvres with LOK_

cosmonaut cabin omni-directional antenna

foldable access ladder attitude control engines descent module with Block D retrorocket for approach from lunar orbit

SOVIET LUNAR LANDER

The Lunniy Korabl (Lunar Craft) or LK module was a one-man lander that would have been docked with a Soyuz-derived LOK spacecraft for the trip to the Moon. Three successful unmanned tests in Earth orbit were listed as Cosmos satellites.

support stand with damper

Block E rocket stage for final approach and ascent from surface omni-directional antenna

ZONO MISSIONS

One minor success of the Soviet lunar programme was the launch of the Zond probes - unmanned Soyuz spacecraft without an orbital module, designed to loop around the Moon and return to Earth in rehearsals for a similar manned flight.

of lunar rock, hopefully ahead of a manned American landing. State-controlled media, meanwhile, would make it clear that the manned lunar programme had never existed - the Soviet Union would not dream of risking the lives of its heroic cosmonauts for a political stunt. Fortunately, the growing success of Soyuz provided them with an ideal cover story.

And so, in July 1969, the Luna 15 probe raced towards the Moon ahead of Apollo 11 - only to add to Soviet embarrassment by crashing during its final descent onto the Sea of Crises. In the following years, the Soviets would have greater success with unmanned probes (see p.258), but the truth would not emerge until after the country's collapse in 1991.

And even after Apollo 11, Soviet lunar plans did not die swiftly. The L3 spacecraft was abandoned in favour of development of the larger L3M, which might have landed of the Moon in the mid-1970s, and paved the way for a Soviet Moonbase. The N1 project spluttered on until 1974, when it was finally cancelled in the aftermath of four launch failures.

descent viewport instrument compartment strap-on instrumentation compartment descent module with Block D retrorocket for approach from lunar orbit

SOVIET LUNAR LANDER

The Lunniy Korabl (Lunar Craft) or LK module was a one-man lander that would have been docked with a Soyuz-derived LOK spacecraft for the trip to the Moon. Three successful unmanned tests in Earth orbit were listed as Cosmos satellites.

the Soviets had many other capable designers, the loss of their leading light left the programme temporarily rudderless. In the aftermath, OKB-1 was restructured and there was a four-month delay before Vasili Mishin, Korolev's deputy, was appointed as his successor. All this time, the Soviets were lagging further behind Apollo, but the situation was so confused that, as late as February 1967, the Soviet government could talk of a landing in late 1968.

By the time that never-realistic deadline rolled around, the truth was unavoidable - the N1 and its LK lunar lander still languished in development, foldable access ladder support stand with damper while Saturn V rockets shook the ground at Cape Canaveral and a manned American spacecraft orbited the Moon. Nikolai Kamanin, in particular, blamed the whole fiasco on infighting and a mistaken design philosophy that treated the cosmonauts as passengers and therefore developed overcomplex, fully automated spacecraft before worrying about clearing them for manned flight.

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