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Chertok's Memoirs
Chertok
Chertok
Credit: © Mark Wade
Summary of a principal source in Soviet space history

Boris Yevseyevich Chertok was a talented and pioneering guidance and control engineer, and a key member of Korolev's team from 1946 on. He was a Deputy Chief Designer 1956-1992 at Korolev's design bureau and its successors. He was an intimate witness to the key events of the space race on the Soviet side, and his memoirs are a major historical source for Soviet space history.

This brief summary of passages from his memoirs is a work in progress, key points relevant to space history that I have picked up in reading the diaries. Most fascinating are Chertok's accounts of key meetings where decisions were made on the course of the Soviet program. These are extremely lively and seem to be taken from contemporary notes or even verbatim transcripts. These were rough-and-tumble sessions, where the Chief Designers were pressed to defend their projects.

The diaries span the period from 1946 to 1991. Chertok's complete works remain available only in Russian and German. However NASA is undertaking a slick translation of all of the volumes. They can be purchased or downloaded from NASA's official web site.


1956 September 30 - First official plan for future Soviet spaceflight

This set forth the following objectives: orbiting of satellites of 1.8 to 2.5 tonnes mass by 1958; one week flight of a manned spacecraft by 1964; unmanned reconnaissance satellite by 1970; rocket capable of 12 tonne escape velocity payload by 1970; rocket with 100 tonne low earth orbit payload to be developed, capable of placing 2 to 3 men on the moon (no date set).


1964 July 19 - Korolev obtains preliminary approval for a single-launch, lunar orbit rendezvous, manned landing.

Work on the original N1-L3 had begun in 1963. This had been preceded by two years of working on a draft project for the LK lunar lander and its propulsion system. But there was no money for full scale development -- no code name from Gosplan against which to charge such work. It was annoying that Chelomei, Glushko, and Yangel were wasting resources on alternate designs at the same time.

The original plan was for three N1 boosters to assemble a 200 tonne payload in low earth orbit. This would launch the original L3 to a direct landing on the moon and return. By comparison, Chelomei's UR-500 for the manned lunar flyby mission put only 20 tonnes in low orbit. However the leadership was only willing to fund N1 production at the rate of four per year, and Korolev concluded the only moon mission he could propose at such a rate was the single-shot lunar orbit rendezvous scheme selected by the Americans.

It was commonly believed that the N1 was inadequate for the one-shot moon mission proposed by Korolev, and there was no time to develop enhancements to it to make it suitable for such a mission. Kalmykov (Minister of the Radio-Technical Industry) sent a letter to Military-Industrial Commission Chairman Smirnov pointing this out. Feoktistov and the other spacecraft designers knew the mass of the payload was absolutely critical, with no margin for growth. But Mishin wanted to go ahead with development of the rocket anyway. Bushuyev said they needed 100 tonnes payload in LEO to accomplish the one-shot moon mission, not 75 tonnes, and that the only way to get this was to develop Lox/LH2 second and third stages for the N1 (the growth version outlined in the draft project). But there was no authority from the government to pursue this development. Korolev and later Mishin wouldn't admit they had miscalculated the minimum payload mass needed, and couldn't admit that Soviet engines were not as good as the Americans -- that would result in the whole project being killed. They wanted to see the N1 built at any cost, even that of failure. Chertok observes that after all, chief designers are only people too.

This was difference between 'upstairs' and 'downstairs' at a design bureau. At the stroke of a pen, Korolev increased the N1 payload from 75 to 93 tonnes, upgraded the gross lift-off weight to 2750 tonnes, and moved the LK production schedule up to 1965. This led to the absurd project schedule in the 19 July 1964 decree, which imagined first flight test of the as-yet-undesigned small LK in 1966. All involved downstairs knew that to achieve a 93 tonne payload for the booster, and a one-shot moon landing payload no larger than 93 tonnes, would require enormous effort.


1964 July 21 - Korolev's single-launch lunar scheme reviewed by the Chief Designers

How to achieve the additional N1 payload was a key point of discussion.

Isayev was working on an 8 tonne thrust Lox/LH2 engine, and Lyulka on a 40 tonne thrust engine using the same propellants. 6 to 8 of these could be clustered in a new third stage for the N1, thereby achieving the payload. Glushko again raised the issue of why Korolev was using low-reliability 150 tonne thrust Kuznetsov engines in the N1 rather than Glushko's already-developed RD-253. Keldysh dismissed this comment as having already been decided long ago. Kuznetsov retaliated to Glushko's comments by pointing out that he had asked for Glushko's assistance in improving the reliability of the engines, and had asked for the use of one of Glushko's test stands, but Glushko had refused to co-operate. Glushko remained silent and did not respond to this charge.

Pilyugin pointed out that an entirely new guidance system would be required for the N1-L3 mission. It could not possibly be designed within the schedule given. Barmin pointed out that ground units at Tyuratam had no experience in dealing with Lox/LH2 propellants. It would be impossible for his engineers to master the technology, develop the new equipment, and have it installed at the launch site at the schedule given.

The inevitable conclusion was that the N1 would have to be upgraded using the existing Lox/Kerosene propellants; the one-shot scenario was the only one achievable within the budget and schedule set; and that everyone would have to develop details supporting that schedule.

The designers set to work negotiating the wording of the final decree. Glushko alone refused to participate, even sending a formal protocol to the leadership declaring he did not believe in the reliability of Kuznetsov's engines. Keldysh took the draft decree to Smirnov, who in turn met with Khrushchev, how would not be hurried in the decision. There was no radical technical solution to the problem of beating the Americans to the moon. Only a brute force approach would work: to build an enormous factory, launch complex, and city in the remote desert of Kazakhstan; and to develop the LK lunar lander using a concentrated and unprecedented engineering effort. Khrushchev posed the question to Ustinov: the decision is simple, do we fly to the moon or not? We simply will not give the moon up to the Americans! What resources are needed? They simply must be provided. Locate them and simply do it!


1964 August 1 - Full scale development of Soviet manned lunar flyby and landing projects authorised.

Central Committee of the Communist Party and Council of Soviet Ministers Decree 655-268 'On Work on the Exploration of the Moon and Mastery of Space--piloted LK-1 circumlunar and L3 lunar landing projects and the Ye-6M lunar lander' was issued. Chelomei was to develop the three-stage UR-500K booster and LK-1 spacecraft for the manned lunar flyby. Korolev was to develop the totally different N1 booster and L3 spacecraft complex for the manned lunar landing. First launch of the N1 was to be by the first quarter 1966, with manned lunar landings in 1967 to 1968. Reprioritization led to work being stopped on Korolev's Zvezda 6-man orbiting weapons platform by mid-1965, after a huge mockup had been built.

Korolev felt that if he had the full support of the Communist Party, the military, and industry he could achieve this goal, and this decree ordered such support. The USSR would be first on the moon. But in truth the draft project behind the decree had not solved all of the technical problems, or provided a solution on how to achieve the required payload on either the booster or spacecraft side. New technology features required for success of the scheme included an advanced guidance system in the N1 third stage equipment bay, the enormous fuel tanks in the N1 first stage, and the Lox/LH2 fuel cells needed for the LOK lunar orbiter. But the real technical problem with the N1-L3 design was the total lack of any weight growth reserve. Even thought the systems had not even been developed yet, engineers were fighting over tens of grams in their weight allocations, let alone the kilograms normally at issue.

Development of Korolev's Soyuz A-B-V, a competing circumlunar project, was evidently still authorised, although it duplicated Chelomei's LK-1.


November 1964 - Korolev's admits that N1 cannot attain payload needed for single-launch mission

Korolev speaks privately to Chertok. Kozlov has told him it will be impossible to build an N1 with the 93 tonne payload capability until the fourth flight article. The L3 concept was still the same as in the August decree - 2 cosmonauts aboard the LOK orbiter, one aboard the LK lander. Korolev asks Chertok to take 800 kg out of the weight budget for the L3. Chertok informs him that they are already 500 kg over the August budget. This is still without all the unknowns of the automated lunar landing being solved.

Korolev informed Chertok he was coming under heavy criticism from Keldysh. Keldysh said putting a single man on the moon was no solution at all, and if Korolev couldn't deliver that he would throw his support to Chelomei's alternate UR-700/LK-700 deign. The only support Korolev had in the government at that time was from Khrushchev. Ustinov and the military were not interested in lunar spaceflight. Brezhnev, a Ukrainian, backed Yangel, since it would put work into the Ukraine. The military had a saying: "Korolev works for Tass, Chelomei makes shit, and Yangel works for us". Korolev viewed Chelomei as an insidious 'Fifth Column', working to undermine and hinder everything Korolev was trying to do. He found it interesting that Keldysh, the smoothie, split his endorsements -- supporting Yangel for ICBM's, Chelomei for the UR-500/LK-1 manned flyby, and Korolev for the N1/L3 lunar lander. Korolev found it troubling that Yangel was working on his R-56 competitor for the N1 at the same time he was working on the Block E lunar landing stage for Korolev's LK. Returning to the original point of the meeting, Korolev again pleaded for Chertok to come up with an 800 kg reduction in the L3 - or the lunar landing project would be taken away from Korolev and given to one of his competitors.

Korolev then reviewed the issue of the test stand for the N1's first stage. There was no way to move the immense stage to Zagorsk for testing. On the other hand, the military refused to spend any funds to build a test stand at Tyuratam. He had tried to convince Dimshits, the Tyuratam base commander, but Dimshits refused to budge without authorisation from the Centre. Therefore Korolev went to Gosplan, but they wouldn't allocate any money for the stand. He was sent to Ustinov, who said it wasn't his responsibility the whole project was a 'Kremlin matter'. Korolev simply couldn't find out whom to call who could authorise the work. Voskresenskiy, head of ground test at OKB-1, was considered by Korolev as one of his most reliable comrades. But he opposed him endlessly on this question of the test stand. Tabakov at Zagorsk was building stands for the second and third stages. But there was not even a full-up test stand planned for the KORD system that was to control the first stage engines.

Korolev had agreed to moving future work on lunar and planetary robotic spacecraft to Babakin and Lavochkin. After the string of failures of OKB-1's E-6 lunar landers, he had to admit that a fresh perspective was needed. Korolev had been told that how the hell was he expecting to build enormous N1-launched robot probes, let alone the TMK manned Mars expedition, if he couldn't even solve the problem of reliably navigating between the earth and the moon with the simple E-6?

This concern had moved Keldysh to call for an expert commission to examine the N1 guidance system design. Korolev wouldn't allow this --as he saw it, the "others" were just waiting for the slightest opportunity to kill the N1. Who was really pushing for this commission?, Korolev had asked. Keldysh claimed not to know -- he had not yet fathomed who was in charge in the new Kremlin line-up after the overthrow of Khrushchev.

This ended the remarkable conversation with Chertok, which summarised Korolev's inner concerns.


November 1964 - No direction on space from new Soviet leadership.

After the triumph of the Voskhod-1 flight, Korolev gathers a group of his closest associates in his small office - Chertok, Bushuyev, Okhapkin, and Turkov. Firm plans do not exist yet for further manned spaceflights. Following the traditional Kremlin celebrations after the return of the Voskhod 1 crew, he has heard no more from the new political management. Khrushchev's old enthusiasm for space does not exist in the new leadership. Korolev is angry. "The Americans have unified their forces into a single thrust, and make no secret of their plans to dominate outer space. But we keep our plans secret even to ourselves. No one has agreed on our future space plans - the opinion of OKB-1 differs from that of the Minister of Defense, which differs from that of the VVS, which differs from that of the VPK. Some want us to build more Vostoks, others more Voskhods, while within this bureau our priority is to get on with the Soyuz. Brezhnev's only concern is to launch something soon, to show that space affairs will go better under his rule than Khruschev's." Korolev however does not think the new leadership will support continuation of Chelomei's parallel lunar project. Okhapkin speaks up. "Do not underestimate Chelomei. He is of the same design school as Tupolev and Myasishchev. If we give him the will and the means, his products will equal those of the Americans. Now is the right moment to combine forces with Chelomei".


During 1965 - N1 development issues

There were two camps on the N1-L3 control systems. One group was within OKB-1, and had developed the systems for the Vostok and Zenit spacecraft, under the personal oversight of Korolev. They stressed the maximum quality and reliability in their systems. The second group had worked with Pilyugin, and had designed the systems for the Mars, Venus, Luna E-6 probes, the R-9, RT-1, RT-2, and GR-1 missiles; and piloted spacecraft. Their design emphasis was on maximum usability and output. Pilyugin had been named chief designer of the control system for the N1-L3.

There were many factors that had to be modelled - gas dynamics of 30 engines firing simultaneously, propellant behaviour in enormous spherical tanks, etc. To accomplish this OKB-1 received its first digital computers. At Finogeyev's section at NIIAP the first N1 iron bird was constructed. This test stand included all of the N1's control systems and cables. At OKB-1 Chertok was responsible for design of the engine controllers for the throttleable Kuznetsov engines and the spacecraft control systems. Iosifyian was charged with development of the electrical system, including how to provide the 5 kW worth of power the booster would use during ascent. He decided to develop the APR turbogenerator, powered by a Lyulka turbine, instead of using batteries.

A key issue was how to achieve the necessary reliability in the 36 (later 42) engines that would fire during ascent. Pilyugin was theoretically responsible for this, but he simply said: 'the engines aren't mine. In an abort due to the engines, I will not be answerable. You can shut down ten good engines and guide your rocket up your ass.' Korolev simply told Chertok, 'if you can't get Pilyugin to solve it, you'll simply have to do it yourself'. The solution - the KORD engine control system - originated in work done in 1960 after a string of rocket failures. The system was fed critical engine parameters. When the parameters on a particular engine went out of the allowable range, KORD was designed to shut down the faulty engine, and the opposing engine (in order to maintain symmetry of thrust). Separate control systems were developed for the Block G, D, E, and I stages. These included engine burn control for lunar orbit insertion, the lunar braking manoeuvre, the soft landing, ascent to lunar orbit, and re-entry. Raushenbakh modelled the scheme after the basic approaches were worked out on paper. Legostayev and Khitrikon developed the optical systems. The argument over which of two docking systems to use, Kontakt or Igla, went on for several years and held up basic planning. There was also controversy over the electrical power system - to use an 'open' variant of power distribution by fuel elements or simpler electrochemical generators. The first system was advocated by Lidorenko at VNIIT, while OKB -1 proposed the APO Lox/LH2 fuel cells. Nuclear radio thermal generators (RTG's) were another alternative.


1965 February 10 - L3 single-launch spacecraft draft project approved.

Interdepartmental Scientific-Technical Council on Space Research (MNTS-KI) Decree 'On approval of the L3 draft project' was issued. The decree followed a review by a Keldysh-led Academy of Sciences state commission the previous December. The decree moved the first flight of the N1 to the end of 1966.

The L3 development plan was not approved by the VPK Military Industrial Commission.until February, and by then the schedule dates were even less realistic than they appeared in October 1964. Meanwhile all during 1965 Pilyugin refused to accelerate work on development of the guidance work. He complained of the 'hysterical' pressure from OKB-1, and their over-concentration on reliability as the dominant design criteria. The N1 guidance system consisted of three gyro stabilised platforms, 9 accelerometer in 3 groups perpendicular to the normal axes, 18 normal and yaw stabilisers, three digital computers, and analogue-digital, digital-analogue converters. Everything was dual or triple redundant. Due to the high temperature and vibration environment, every engine controller and its cabling was duplicating. This increased cabling problems to the nth degree. The number of control units increased to 200, and the mass of the cables went from 2 to 3 tonnes. These complex systems were tested only once on the iron bird, once in type trials, once on the functional mock-up of the rocket, and then finally on the first launch. The N1 alone had 2000 black boxes, all developed in a rush without proper development documentation. The situation with the spacecraft was even worse. Pilyugin insisted on developing a guidance system using the latest digital computer technology. He concentrated on this from 1965 to 1967. He ignored the instructions of the state decree and used a gyro platform developed in his own bureau, instead of one from Viktor Kuznetsov at NII-944. Kuznetsov platforms were already proven and used on all military missiles and the Soyuz spacecraft.


Spring 1965 - Guidance system for N1 cannot support planned schedule

By the second quarter of 1965 Pilyugin was already notifying OKB-1 that he could never have the booster guidance system ready for the planned first launch in 1968 - not to even mention the systems for the LOK and LK.


1965 July 6 - Soyuz hot mock-up

Chertok argues for the necessity of adding one Soyuz to production and using it as an iron bird - a hot mock-up on which avionics and electrical systems can be integrated and tested. Gherman Semenov and Turkov convince Korolev that this cannot be done within the existing schedules.


1965 August 28 - Korolev secretly puts Voskhod production on back burner.

It is becoming clear that in order to ever get Soyuz into space it is necessary to clear all decks at OKB-1. After Voskhod-2 the Soviet manned space plans are in confusion. The Americans have flown Gemini 5, setting a new 8-day manned space endurance record - the first time the Americans are ahead in the space race. They rubbed salt into the Soviet wound by sending astronauts Cooper and Conrad on a triumphal world tour. This American success is very painful to Korolev, and contributes to his visibly deteriorating health. In the absence of any coherent instructions from the Soviet leadership, Korolev makes a final personal decision between the competing manned spacecraft priorities. Work on completing a new series of Voskhod spacecraft and conducting experiments with artificial gravity are unofficially dropped and development and construction of the new Soyuz spacecraft is accelerated. The decision is shared only with the OKB-1 shop managers. One of Korolev's "conspirators" lays on Chertok's table the resulting new Soyuz master schedule. The upper left of the drawing has the single word "Agreed" with Korolev's signature. The only other signatures are those of Gherman Semenov, Turkov and Topol - Korolev has ordered all other signature blocks removed. Chertok is enraged. The plan provides for the production of thirteen spacecraft articles for development and qualification tests by December 1965! These include articles for thermal chamber runs, aircraft drop tests, water recovery tests, SAS abort systems tests, static and vibration tests, docking system development rigs, mock-ups for zero-G EVA tests aboard the Tu-104 flying laboratory, and a full-scale mock-up to be delivered to Sergei Darevskiy for conversion to a simulator. Chertok is enraged because the plan does not include dedicating one spaceframe to use as an 'iron bird' hot mock-up on which the electrical and avionics systems can be integrated and tested. Instead two completed Soyuz spacecraft are to be delivered to OKB-1's KIS facility in December and a third in January 1966. These will have to be used for systems integrations tests there before being shipped to Tyuratam for spaceflights.


1965 November 1 - OKB-1 learns of Gagarin letter

Tsybin has learned through his Ministry of Defence contacts of Gagarin's letter to Brezhnev. He hears that they have criticized the space policy of the Minister of Defence and proposed that the VVS manage Soviet manned spaceflight. The letter also reportedly requests production of a new series of Voskhods to fill in the manned spaceflight gap created by delays in the Soyuz program. Korolev is remarkably unperturbed that he had not heard of the letter, and that Gagarin never said anything to him about it.


1965 November 30 - Problems with the Igla system for Soyuz

After a meeting with Kamanin, Korolev tells Chertok in confidence that Gagarin is training for a flight on a Soyuz mission. Chertok responds that it will take him at least a year to complete training, but that doesn't matter, since Mnatsakanian's Igla docking system will not be ready than any earlier than that. Korolev explodes on hearing this. "I allowed all work on Voskhod stopped so that the staff can be completely dedicated to Soyuz. I will not allow the Soyuz schedule to slip a day further". Turkov had been completing further Voskhods only on direct orders from the VPK and on the insistence of the VVS. Aside from military experiments, further Voskhod flights were meant to take back the space endurance record from the Americans. Korolev has derailed those plans without openly telling anyone in order to get the Soyuz flying.


1965 December 20 - Decision to use analogue guidance in early N1 launches

Pilyugin called Keldysh to tell him he had heard that Keldysh again wanted to form an expert commission to study guidance system development problems with the N1, with Bushuyev as the head.

Keldysh wielded enormous power. Publicly he was President of the Academy of Sciences at Lenin Prospect 14. But he was also Director of the top secret Institute of Applied Mathematics at Minsk Square. He would spend the first half of each day at the Academy, then hold necessary press conferences and public events, then go over to the Institute and work until one in the morning. So he was working both sides of the street, and had more knowledge and power than any other. The threat of the expert commission led to Korolev's desperate plea - 'give me 800 kg payload and I can solve all of the problems'. It was clear there was no way to make the October 1967 first launch that was Korolev's personal objective. Pilyugin and Ryazanskiy were both having development problems. They reviewed the technical issues, the weight problems, the delays in development of the digital computers. It was decided the first N1-L3 launches would have to be accomplished using analogue control systems - the digital systems would simply not be ready. However the flight to the moon and return could not be accomplished using the planned fuel cells without the digital computers, since the analogue systems consumed too much power. The merits of the competing fuel cell contractors were discussed. The question was again raised -- why not use radioisotope thermal generator RTG's from the Design Bureau of the Ural Atomic Machinery Factory? This organisation had a long track record with Korolev on development of nuclear electric propulsion. But it was decided, again, there was not enough time to develop the new technology -- there was no experience in operation RTG's in a vacuum environment.


1966 January 31 - Voskhod sinks from sight

After Korolev's death, the leadership simply "forgets" about the instructions to fly a new series of Voskhods. The decrees ordering the flights are never rescinded, but the issue is not seriously raised again.


1966 March 6 - Soviet design bureaux reorganised and renamed.

Decree 'On renaming OKB-1 as TsKBEM and OKB-52 as TsKBM' was issued. In 1966 Afanasyev reorganised the military industrial complex. OKB-1 was redesignated TsKBEM. Sergei Osipovich Opakhin was made First Deputy within the new organization.

However within TsKBEM there were no relative priorities for the projects competing for resources. The R-9 and RT-2 ICBM's, the orbital, circumlunar, and lunar orbiter versions of Soyuz, the LK lunar lander, the N1 booster -- all were 'equal'. It seemed folly to be pursuing the orbital ferry version of the Soyuz when no space station had to be funded. But it was felt flying the spacecraft would solve reliability questions about the design, so it was pursued in parallel with the L1 and L3 versions.


1966 May 11 - Mishin selected as Korolev's replacement after four-month delay

From 1963-1965 Ustinov was both head of the Soviet for the National Economy and the First Secretary of the Presidium of Soviet Ministers. He supported civilian space projects and instructed the military to co-operate in them. But after Khrushchev was ousted, Ustinov had less influence with the Ministry of Defence.

After the death of Korolev in January, a letter was sent to the Central Committee requesting that Mishin be appointed director of OKB-1. Ustinov tried to line up support for Mishin, but by the time of the first first Saturn IB orbital flight on 26 February 1966, no decision had been made. America was progressing on the path to the moon, but Russia was stalled. An alternate that had been considered was Sergei Okhapkin, another Deputy Chief Designer at TsKBEM. But Okhapkin knew only spacecraft, he had never developed complete launch-booster-spacecraft systems. By the time Mishin was appointed, it was clear that the race was lost. The American's planned their first Saturn V launch in September 1967 and their first manned flight in 1968. Mishin could not expect trials of the LK lunar lander until 1969 at the earliest. There were insufficient funds allocated, and the schedule had no allowance for test flight failures. Ustinov, Morozhin, and Keldysh pointed fingers as to who had presented such unrealistic schedules to the Politburo. Keldysh now supported unmanned robot lunar landers in development by Babakin. Even these would not land until 1970, allowing three years of flight trials to achieve reliability. Khrushchev, it seemed, was to blame for such enormous unaffordable projects. This in turn put Ustinov in danger, as Khrushchev's point man for space.


September 1966 - N1 two-launch moon scenario proposed

Bushuyev proposed a two launch variation on Korolev's single-launch scheme. The increased-payload version of the N1 with six additional engines was not planned to fly until vehicle 3L. 1L and 2L were to be technology articles for ground test with only the original 24 engine configuration. At that time the first Apollo test flight was planned by the end of 1966, and the US moon landing no later than 1969. The Soviets expected the first test of their LK lander in 1969, and concluded they could not expect to land a Soviet man on the moon until 1972.

At the same time Mishin's bureau had to support other higher priority military programs -- the 7K-OK earth orbit version of the Soyuz, the 7K-L1 circumlunar version, the Molniya communications satellite, and the R-9 and RT-2 ICBM's.


During 1967 - N1 development progress

The KORD system detected and controlled the parameters of 42 engines (30 first stage + 8 second stage + 4 third stage) This involved processing 1600 data elements.

The sensors were based on designs developed in 1962-1963. The N1 was designed with a 25% thrust reserve -- two pairs of engines could be shut down by KORD at lift-off if necessary, and the booster would still fly its mission. The KORD system used 15 V 1000 Hz power. Korolev and his closes associates would sit at Korolev's home in evening, and mainly discuss movies, the N-1's engines, and KORD.

Electric power for the launch vehicle was provided by a 3 phase / 60 V / 1000 Hz turbogenerator. It could be operated using any of the compress available on the N1 - air, nitrogen, or helium. Lyulka developed the ATG - automatic turbogenerators - for the N1 beginning in 1962. There were two on each launch vehicle: one in the block A first stage, and one in the Block V third stage. VNIIEM and the Saturn bureau ran 22 of these ATG's on air for 3000 hours, and 17 for 1000 hours - versus the design requirement of 12 minutes. These units were considered of the highest reliability.


1967 October 27 - Cosmos 186

Docked with Cosmos 188; first automated rendezvous and docking of two spacecraft. The dockings were timed to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the October Revolution (in lieu of a succession of manned space feats that all had to be cancelled due to schedule delays). Achieved automatic rendezvous on second attempt. Capture achieved but hard docking and electric connections unsuccessful due to misallignment of spacecraft. Star tracker failed and had to make a high-G ballistic re-entry. Recovered October 31, 1967 08:20 GMT.


1967 October 30 - Cosmos 188

Docking target craft for Cosmos 186, which achieved world's first automatic rendezvous on second attempt. Hard docking achieved but electric connections unsuccessful due to misallignment of spacecraft. Ion flow sensor failed and Cosmos 188 had to make a high-G uncontrolled re-entry. When it deviated too far off course, it was destroyed by the on-board self-destruct system,. However officially the Soviet Union reported that it landed succesfully on November 2, 1967 at 09:10 GMT, and that its mission was 'investigation of outer space, development of new systems and elements to be used in the construction of space devices'.

Cosmos 188 / Soyuz-B (the passive spacecraft - 7K-OK(P) s/n 5) was launched and inserted into orbit 24 km from Cosmos 186 / Soyuz-A. This was the spacecraft that was to have flown the Soyuz 2 manned mission in April 1967. Cosmos 186 was ordered to attempt a first-orbit automatic rendezvous and docking. Although a docking was not planned for the flight, Mishin decided to attempt it anyway. The first docking attempt failed when the active spacecraft flew past Cosmos 188 at a distance of 900 m after the system lost contact. The spacecraft set itself up for a second attempt and achieved soft-dock. However when hard-dock was attempted an excessive lateral movement led to torquing of the directional steering of the active spacecraft. The detailed interface latches and connectors of the docking rings did not join. The spacecraft had hard docked but without full latching and electrical connections.

There was also a significant over-expenditure of propellant in the docking process. Cosmos 186's rendezvous manoeuvring engine had fired 28 times with a cumulative burning time of 200 seconds. As the spacecraft come into range of tracking station IP-16, the cameras showed mission control that the spacecraft were docked, but off-axis. The earth could be seen racing below in the television images. Kamanin had opposed the fully automatic docking approach when Korolev first advocated it three to four years ago, but this success moves Kamanin to feel that Korolev was right after all. Chief Designer Armin Sergeyevich Mnatsakanian's 'little Igla' has come through. Kamanin believes that this technology will be the death of big boosters like the Saturn V or N1. It makes it possible to assemble payloads in orbit launched by smaller rockets.


1967 October 31 - Cosmos 186 landing.

Due to failure of a star tracker a guided lifting re-entry of 3-4 G was not accomplished. A ballistic re-entry of 7-8 G however resulted in a successful soft landing in the target zone. Rudenko's recovery crews demonstrated a lack of training. Ustinov and Mishin were anxious to release a proclamation of total mission success, but they needed confirmation that the soft landing rockets had functioned correctly. It was only after 2.5 hours that the recovery teams arrived aboard an Mi-6 helicopter that the correct function of the landing system is verified and the leadership notified.


1967 December 8 - TsKBEM confirms Mishin's decision to cancel Soyuz VI

Mishin is away on 'cure' for his drinking problem. A 'Podlipki Soviet' is held at TsKBEM. The issue is cancellation of Kozlov's 7K-VI military Soyuz. Bushuyev, Chertok, Okhapkin, Feoktistov are in favour of cancelling it. Opposed are Karas, Shcheulov, Kostonin, Gaidukov, and the various military representatives at the meeting. It was now six years since OKB-1 was required to put a military manned spacecraft into space - and, factually speaking, nothing has been done. Military experiments proposed for each manned flight by OKB-1 to date had been rejected on various grounds - no weight, no space aboard the spacecraft. Good progress has been made with Kozlov's VI and Chelomei's Almaz - now they've managed to kill the VI, and Mishin and Kerimov are constantly denigrating Almaz (saying it is too heavy, and unsuited for the purpose). The whole thing is a replay of the LK-1 situation. In 1963, a resolution was issued to send a Soviet man around the moon. Instead, after two years of development, Korolev managed to get Chelomei's LK-1 lunar spacecraft cancelled, and started all over with his own L1.

On 13 October 1967 Mishin began his efforts to kill the VI program. From the point of view of the 'Podpliki Mafia', Kozlov had insulted them by redesigning the Soyuz VI in light of the defects of their 7K-OK design. They were also fundamentally opposed to the use of radio-isotope power sources, and raised doubts about the 800 mm hatch cut into the heat shield (as they did in the case of Chelomeiís VA). Mishin wrote a letter to Afanasyev and Smirnov, urging them to cancel the 7K-VI program. In the place of Kozlov's VI Mishin proposed his own project for an Soyuz-derived OIS orbital station. In a November 1967 meeting between Mishin and Kozlov Mishin demanded the abandonment of Kozlovís 7K-VI project. Kozlov rejected this and subsequently appealed to Kamanin. Through various complex machinations Mishin seized control of the project on 8 December 1967 and promised that the first OIS would be launched in 1969. Mishinís revised project was reaffirmed in May 1968. Having won the battle, Mishin lost interest. OKB-1 would pursue it at a desultory pace until it was finally cancelled in 1969.

In the place of Kozlov's VI Mishin proposed his own project for an orbital station 11F730 Soyuz VI. This would consist of on orbital block 11F731 OB-VI and a transport spacecraft 11F732 7K-S. Through various complex machinations Mishin seized control of the project on 8 December 1967. The new Soyuz VI was designated the OIS 11F730. It would be launched into a lower-inclination 51.6 degree orbit at 250 x 270 km, and would use solar panels in the place of the nuclear power sources.


1968 January 23 - Three-launch Soviet lunar expedition pitched

The 'big' Soviet of Chief Designers meets and the three-launch landing concept developed a month earlier is presented in detail. Pilyugin pointed out that this was a typical contradiction. Mishin had just made a presentation to the expert commission justifying that the one-launch scheme was safe and reliable. Now they wanted to put forward a new scheme because the one-launch scheme was unsafe and unfeasible.

Glushko piled on by reiterating that the Kuznetsov engines for the N1 were rotten and the effective payload of the N1 was actually zero. The engineers had admitted as much by now saying they needed three launches to accomplish what they said could be done in one launch before. Chelomei was opposed to the new scheme as well. He did not want to see the subject of the design of the lunar spacecraft opened up again. Yangel was also not tempted by the scheme. All at the meeting agreed - Mishin was unable to cope with such development work.

Andrei Grechko was categorically against the three-launch scheme. There was no money in the budget of the Ministry of Defence for such an enterprise. It was only due the political machinations of Ustinov that the Ministry of Defence even ended up paying for such nonsense. This whole programme was a matter for the Academy of Sciences and their budget. The defence department had no need for the moon. He pointed out that here they were again, arguing about whether it was necessary to go to the moon or not - the same argument as five years ago with Khrushchev, and still not resolved. There was no money spent for the N1 until the end of 1964. Now the Ministry of Defence had built the rocket, the buildings, the spacecraft, and trained the astronauts -- and they were still arguing whether to go or not, together or alone, and asking now for even more money.

It was the same situation as with the ICBM's. Despite enormous efforts, the Americans still had more. Instead of building a single reliable model, they were now deadlocked, arguing whether to build Chelomei or Yangel missiles, and now Ustinov was supporting Nadiradze's designs! The decision to go to the moon or not, he declared, rests with Deputy Minister of Defence Andrei Grechko.

Tolubko, First Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Strategic Missile Forces, said that the generals were exasperated. Here the Minister in charge of the Soviet ballistic rocket and space industries, Afanasyev, must decide first on these more pressing ICBM issues, and you're wasting your time talking about lunar problems. Let Keldysh fund this work himself from the Academy of Sciences budget. Keldysh should go and talk to the Politburo. The problem was not only technical, but political.

But who would want to be the bearer of such bad news? No one volunteered. The meeting was inconclusive but clearly showed the lunar program had no priority. Pilyugin was a creative individual, but he was concentrating on the Temp mobile ICBM, not the lunar project. Chelomei and Yangel both said that their ICBM projects were more important than the lunar program. The military had made it clear that the first priority at TsKBEM was the RT-2 ICBM, not the lunar program. This Nadiradze missile would be developed into a whole series of missiles that would serve Russian into the 21st Century - the Temp, Temp-2S, Pioner, Kuryer, Topol, and Topol-M. Pilyugin was under different reporting lines than the other designers. He was directly controlled by the Ministry of Defence with an absolute priority on missile guidance systems. Keldysh was preoccupied with the Sakharov issue and was working with Suslov to get Sakharov expelled from the Academy of Sciences. Such political issues had higher priority for him than the lunar program.

The meeting degenerated into a session where everyone harped on the failures of the L1 programme. Pilyugin pointed out his guidance system worked perfectly on Zond 6 - only to have the parachute fail at the end of a voyage to the moon and smash the capsule.


1968 January 28 - Sergei Osipovich Okhapkin put in charge of the N1 at TsKBEM

This decision led to one of Mishin's famous 'illnesses', putting him out of action for a period.


1968 April 4 - Soviet view on Saturn V

The second successful launch of the Saturn V stunned the Soviet engineers. They could not believe the variety and volume of data telemetered back in real-time to the launch centre. They viewed with jealousy the launch room set-up at Cape Canaveral - where each engineering speciality could sit in their own comfortable chair, viewing data as the booster ascended on a computer screen.


1968 April 14 - Cosmos 212

Cosmos 212 docked with Cosmos 213 in the first completely successful test of the Soyuz 7K-OK attitude control, automatic rendezvous and docking systems. Cosmos 212 was successfully recovered on April 19, 1968 at 08:10 GMT.

After the problems with Cosmos 186/188, the State Commission would not agree to an attempted manned flight. They demanded an incident-free unmanned rendezvous and docking mission first.

The launch of the active spacecrafat in the docking exercise, Cosmos 212 (7K-OK(A) s/n 8), came first. The launch was almost been scrubbed two hours before launch, when data from the spacecraft indicated failure of the primary orientation engine controller. However it was not clear if the system had actually failed, or if this was just an incorrect signal. Since there was a backup system aboard, it was decided to launch anyway. The decision to go came at 12:34, just 26 minutes before the launch time. Soyuz s/n 8 was launched into space at 13:00 local time. At 14:30, at the beginning of the second orbit, it began maneuvers preperatory to rendezvous with s/n 7. Ground control received 8 items of telemetry from the spacecraft. On the third orbit the spacecraft oriented itself to the sun. Soyuz s/n 7 and 8 were the first manned spacecraft fitted with the 76K infrared horizon centre, which established local horizontal for the spacecraft. Ion sensors were used to detect the direction of motion, as had been proven on the Zenit spy satellites. Using these sensors, s/n 8 accomplished its first rendezvous manoeuvre on its fifth orbit, raising first its apogee by 6 km, then its perigee by 22 km.

Cosmos 213 launched at 09:36 the next day, and Cosmos 212 immediately began the active rendezvous phase. By 12:54 the two spacecraft were 33 m apart, closing at 2 m/s - then ground lost contact with them. There was tremendous relief at 13:21 when the Alma Alta tracking station received a positive parameter 2 in the telemetry - confirming hard dock and electrical connection between the two craft. A loud "Ura!" echoed through the control centre. The docking had been accomplished despite 14 of the 28 orientation thrusters being inoperative due to the controller failure. The two ships spent 3 hours and 50 minutes docked, and then separated. S/n 8 was put through tests of the alternative sensor systems. Another orbital change was made on the 51st orbit using the new infrared horizon scanner and the ion sensors for orientation. Another manoeuvre was made on the 52nd orbit using only the solar sensors. As a backup in case of failure of the ion sensor, it was planned that a cosmonaut on earth would use television of the Vzor optical orientation device to orient the spacecraft in the direction of movement. This was tested as well. Cosmos 212 reentered without a problem on 19 April.


1968 April 15 - Cosmos 213

Cosmos 213 was the target for Cosmos 212 in a successful test of Soyuz 7K-OK rendezvous and docking systems. The Cosmos 213 launch was the most accurate yet. The spacecraft was placed in orbit only 4 km from Cosmos 212, ready for a first-orbit docking. Both spacecraft were recovered, but Cosmos 213 was dragged by heavy wind across the steppes when the parachute lines didn't jettison at touchdown. This failure caused the upcoming Soyuz 2/3 manned docking mission to be scaled back.
Officially: Investigation of outer space, development of new systems and elements to be used in the construction of space devices.

Passive docking target for Cosmos 212 in the first completely successful Soyuz rendezvous and docking mission. First Soyuz fitted with the 76K infrared horizon sensor, which established local horizontal for the spacecraft. Ion sensors were used to detect the direction of motion, as had been proven on the Zenit spy satellites. Cosmos 213 launched at 09:36 local time, and Cosmos 212 immediately began the active rendezvous phase. By 12:54 the two spacecraft were 33 m apart, closing at 2 m/s - then ground lost contact with them. There was tremendous relief at 13:21 when the Alma Alta tracking station received a positive parameter 2 in the telemetry - confirming hard dock and electrical connection between the two craft. A loud "Ura!" echoed through the control centre. The two ships spent 3 hours and 50 minutes docked, and then separated. Cosmos 213 landed in the middle of a violent storm at 13"3, with 25 m/s winds on April 20, 1968 10:11 GMT. The landing system worked and a soft touchdown was achieved, but the mission was marred when the parachute did not jettison. The capsule was dragged for several kilometers across the steppes. This was later found to be due to static electricity build up in the parachute lines. The cosmonauts argued that a pilot aboard would have manually commanded jettison of the lines, but this occurred just a few weeks after Gagarin's shocking death in a MiG trainer crash. The Soyuz was cleared for a manned flight in June, but a more conservative approach was selected for the Soyuz 2/3 mission. Beregovoi, the pilot for the next mission, had no time for bureaucracy or expert commissions. He believed all flight tests should be piloted. In his view, the death of Komarov was no catastrophe, just a normal failure as experienced in aircraft test programmes.


1968 April 22 - Soyuz 7K-L1 s/n 7L

L1 launch attempt, lift-off at 02:00 local time. The spacecraft was to separate at 589 seconds into the flight. Instead at 260 seconds, a short circuit in the malfunction detection system incorrectly indicated a launch vehicle failure. This in turn triggered the SAS abort system. The SAS shut down the good stage and separated the spacecraft from the booster. The capsule landed safely 520 km downrange from the launch site. This was the third such abort, which if nothing else proved the reliability of the SAS - all of the spacecraft landed safely.


1968 June 23 - First test of N1 stages

Construction of the test facilities at Zagorsk for the N1 were directed by Tabakov's NII-229. First static test of the EU-15 test article of the N1's 1200 tonne thrust Block B second stage began on 23 June 1968. Test of the EU-16 Block V third stage began in early 1969, with three trials tests completed. But for the Block A first stage, only single engine tests were undertaken at Kuznetsov's OKB-236.

A comparison of the Saturn V's F-1 and Kuznetsov's NK-45 indicates the higher performance of the NK-45:

Chamber pressure: F-1: 70 atm - vs - NK-45: 150 atm
Vacuum specific impulse: F-1: 304 sec - vs - NK-45: 331 sec
Ground specific impulse: F-1: 266 sec - vs - NK-45: 294 sec

But Kuznetsov, experienced only in development of aircraft engines, was applying methods used for development of aircraft turbines to rocket engines. These were considered not appropriate for rocket engines, and Mishin sent experts from OKB-1 to provided advice. On the other hand Kuznetsov was used to having to squeeze out all possible weight from engines, since his turbines were used on long-range strategic bombers.


1968 October 24 - N1 - lost opportunity in 1961

Glushko has a private conversation with Isayev at the N1 MIK during the Soyuz 3 launch preparations. Glushko revealed to Isayev that in 1961 he had offered Korolev a compromise - if Korolev would use the same 'packet' scheme for the N1 that he had used on the R-7, so that the individual engine modules could be individually tested on the ground before flight, Glushko would give up his insistence on the use of storable propellants. However, after checking with Mishin, Korolev would not compromise.

Glushko decided then to go ahead on this own and develop a 600 tonne thrust storable propellant engine within six years. If Korolev had agreed in 1961, Glushko would have provided the necessary engine for the N1 to be launched in 1966 - and Russia would have beat the Americans to the moon... However instead of engaging in a quiet discussion with Glushko on the matter, Korolev gave the whole thing to Mishin for analysis.


1968 October 26 - Soyuz 3

Second manned Soyuz flight. Rendezvoused with the unmanned Soyuz 2 but failed to dock. Complex testing of spaceship systems; development, in joint flight with space ship Soyuz 2 of processes of space ship manoeuvring and docking in artificial earth satellite orbit; development of elements of celestial navigation; conduct of research under space flight conditions. The failed docking was blamed on manual control of the Soyuz by Beregovoi, who repeatedly put the spacecraft in an orientation that nulled the automatic docking system. Beregovoi used nearly all of his orientation fuel in his first attempt to dock - of 80 kg allocated, only 8 to 10 kg was remaining.

Kamanin and the state commission fly by Il-18 to the main command point in Yevpatoriya. Soyuz 3 is launched on schedule and placed in orbit within 11 km of Soyuz 2. The automatic rendezvous sequence begins. At 8 km distance, Soyuz 3 is approaching Soyuz 2 at 15 m/s. But then no docking occurs, due to an unexplained deviation of the spacecraft from its course. The DPO engine system for orientation and docking manoeuvres has 80 kg of propellant, of which 70 kg has already been consumed. 8-10 kg must be reserved to orient the spacecraft for retrofire and re-entry.


1968 November 10 - Zond 6

Test flight of manned circumlunar spacecraft. Successfully launched towards the moon with a scientific payload including cosmic-ray and micrometeoroid detectors, photography equipment, and a biological specimens. A midcourse correction on 12 November resulted in a loop around the moon at an altitude of 2,420 km on 14 November. Zond 6 took spectacular photos of the moonís limb with the earth in the background. Photographs were also taken of the lunar near and far side with panchromatic film from distances of approximately 11,000 km and 3300 km. Each photo was 12.70 by 17.78 cm. Some of the views allowed for stereo pictures. On the return leg a gasket failed, leading to cabin depressurisation, which would have been fatal to a human crew. The 7K-L1 then made the first successful double skip trajectory, dipping into the earth's atmosphere over Antarctica, slowing from 11 km/sec to suborbital velocity, then skipping back out into space before making a final re-entry onto Soviet territory. The landing point was only 16 km from the pad from which it had been launched toward the moon. After the re-entry the main parachute ejected prematurely, ripping the main canopy, leading to the capsule being destroyed on impact with the ground. One negative was recovered from the camera container and a small victory obtained over the Americans. But the criteria for a manned flight had obviously not been met and Mishin's only hope to beet the Americans was a failure or delay in the Apollo 8 flight set for December. The next Zond test was set for January.

Zond 6 was the cover name for 7K-L1 s/n 12. It was supposed to photograph the moon in colour and black and white from 8000 km and 2600 km ranges, then return to earth, landing at Tyuratam only 16 km from the launch pad. It had been a long and difficult road to develop the L1 guidance system, but it worked perfectly this time. But trouble began on the sixth day of the flight. The capsule developed a leak, the pressure first dropping from 760 to 380 mm. It then continued to drop until it reached 25 mm by the time of re-entry. Due to the vacuum, static electricity built up in the spacecraft's electronics. A coronal discharge sent an erroneous signal, indicating that the gamma altimeter had sensed the approaching earth, even though the capsule was at 5300 m altitude. This tripped the soft landing rockets, followed by jettison of the parachute. The capsule plummeted to earth Luckily the APO self-destruct system did not explode when the capsule hit the ground, and Bushuyev was able to recover the film cartridges from the wreckage. The pictures of the earth and moon, similar to those of Apollo 8, were published and the world was told the mission was a complete success. A State Commission investigating the crash later determined that the coronal discharge effect which caused the parachute to jettison would only occur at the 25 mm capsule pressure. If the capsule had been completely depressurised to a high vacuum, the accident would not have occurred.


1968 December 23 - Soviet crisis meeting mulls response to Apollo 8

Following the success of Apollo 8, Ustinov calls a crisis meeting at the Ministry of Defence. His question - how to reply to the American's success?

Ustinov points out that the Americans obviously had a better moon landing programme than the Soviets, as well as better management skills. He estimated there were 1.5 million Americans working on the Apollo programme, as opposed to only 500,000 Soviet citizens working on the Russian counterpart programmes. The American programme was under firm state control by a single Agency (NASA) as opposed to the Communist system, based on comradely co-operation between many entities. What then shall we do? asked Ustinov. It was suggested that he order Pilyugin to give priority to development of the N1-L3 guidance system. Currently the guidance for Yangel and Nadiradze ICBM's had priority in his bureau. Pilyugin himself suggested abandonment of the single-launch profile for the two launch variant for the N1-L3. This would mean it would take 4 to 5 years to land a Russian on the moon rather than 3 to 4 years. Who will care anyway? said Pilyugin. The Americans will have been there already.


1968 December 25 - Soviets consider lunar landing alternatives

A 'small Soviet' of designers was held to review whether to continue pursuing the N1 launch vehicle or not. Although a first manned lunar landing was not achievable, the N1 could still be used to establish a lunar base by the beginning of the 21st Century.

It was pointed out that the Saturn V put 135 tonnes in low earth orbit, sent 45 tonnes on translunar injection, including the 30 tonne CSM lunar orbiter and the 15 tonne LM lunar lander. It was just impossible for Russia to achieve the same thing with the 30 tonne translunar injection payload of the N1. So a return to the two-launch scenario was proposed, but without the dockings in low earth orbit or during the translunar coast. Instead it was suggested an unmanned three-crew LK lunar lander be placed in lunar orbit. This would be followed by a piloted LOK. The rendezvous and docking would take place in lunar orbit. The new-design LK would have room for three cosmonauts and the spacecraft would be equipped with a docking tunnel, allowing transfer of the crews without having to go through free space.

Another suggestion was a three launch scheme. First an unpiloted shelter would be landed on the surface of the moon. This would be followed by a new 4-5 crew lunar orbiter. Finally a new version LK would be launched, rendezvous and dock with the LOK in lunar orbit. The crew would descend to the surface for a long-term stay in their nascent lunar base. The shelter would be equipped with a 2 to 3 kW power generator, a radio station, television transmitter, a lunar rover, and sufficient oxygen, water, and food for a one-month stay on the surface. The shelter would be landed automatically, but be equipped with a beacon so the manned LK could make a precision landing in a safe area nearby.

The latter was the agreed approach, but there were several problems. It would mean going back to the drawing boards to make completely new designs for the LOK and LK, negating five years of work on the existing designs. Pilyugin would have to redesign his guidance system to allow programming of flexible trajectories to the moon and the lunar surface. This would duplicate 2 to 3 tonnes of payload in the Block D and G stages, which would still have to be equipped with the old guidance system. The engineers decided this was the only way ahead, but that Mishin had to be approached by the 'back door' with the idea.


1968 December 27 - Apollo 8 and L1 plans

A State Commission investigating the crash of Zond 6 determined that the coronal discharge effect which caused the parachute to jettison would only occur at the 25 mm capsule pressure. If the capsule had been completely depressurised to a high vacuum, the accident would not have occurred. A discussion was conducted on when to conduct the next L1 test. The next capsule in line was s/n 13 - an unlucky omen. It was even proposed not to fly the capsule with such an unlucky number. That evening, the Soviet engineers could watch live video from the moon from aboard Apollo 8 via Eurovision from Western Europe. They had in any case lost the race to fly a man around the moon. The flight of further L1's, and sending a Soviet man on a lunar flyby, seemed a moot point.


1968 December 30 - Meeting of the VPK Military-Industrial Commission to discuss how to beat the Americans to the lunar landing

Ustinov called the meeting to order. Mishin was 'sick' again -- Okhapkin represented TsKBEM and gave a summary of the programme to that date:

  • The project had only been authorised on 3 August 1964. It consisted of two parts, circumlunar flights using Chelomei's UR-500K booster and LK-1 spacecraft, and a lunar landing using Korolev's N1 booster and L3 spacecraft.
  • On 25 October 1965 the programme was redirected. Military support was ordered and the decision was made to cancel Chelomei's LK-1 spacecraft and instead use the L1 version of Korolev's Soyuz for the circumlunar flights. This was ordered by the resolution 'On organisation of construction units for support of rocket-space systems for the lunar flyby'. That resolution ordered a manned L1 flight by the end of 1967 or early 1968.
  • The program actually took three years to implement rather than the two planned. Nine launches of he L1 had been made since March 1967, but it had not been possible to man-rate the UR-500K/L1 booster/spacecraft combination due to failures in both the launch vehicle and spacecraft. Flight trials of the N1 booster had not even begun yet.

Keldysh proposed that further work on the L1 be abandoned, and Proton boosters instead be used to launch the Ye-8-5 lunar soil return robot spacecraft being developed by Babakin. Babakin had been accelerating this programme since the beginning of 1968 with the support of Keldysh, even though it would only return around 100 g of lunar soil, versus the tens of kilograms the Apollo manned flights would return. However it now offered an interesting possibility - he proposed obtaining lunar soil and returning it to earth before an American manned landing. The government's organs of mass communication would say that the Soviet Union's lunar program only consisted of robot probes, emphasising that his was much safer and that Russia would never risk it's citizen's lives for mere political sensation.

This seemed attractive, but how could the direction be changed? The L1 and L3 projects were enshrined and funded in the state's Five Year Plan, and could not be simply abandoned or altered. It would be necessary to obtain approval of the Central Committee, the Soviet Ministers, the Military-Industrial Commission, and other involved ministries. This was simply not possible, and it would be impossible to keep the planned deception secret. New decrees would have to be formulated and approved to change direction. This had been done before, by Korolev in 1961, but it was no simple task. Pilyugin again reiterated that all of the state's priorities in any case must remain on development of solid propellant ICBM's.


1969 January 5 - Venera 5

Venera 5 is launched at 9:26 Moscow time from LC-31 in -23 deg C temperatures. All proceeds according to plan. Afterwards Kamanin meets Babakin. Venera 6 is planned for launch in 10 January. He also plans two moon landings in 1969 and two in 1970 of soil sample return spacecraft. Kamanin does not believe America can achieve a manned moon landing in 1969, and therefore that Babakin has a very good chance of stealing their thunder.

Meanwhile Venera 5 was launched from its parking orbit towards Venus to obtain atmospheric data. The spacecraft was very similar to Venera 4 although it was of a stronger design. When the atmosphere of Venus was approached, a capsule weighing 405 kg and containing scientific instruments was jettisoned from the main spacecraft. During satellite descent towards the surface of Venus, a parachute opened to slow the rate of descent. For 53 min on May 16, 1969, while the capsule was suspended from the parachute, data from the Venusian atmosphere were returned. The spacecraft also carried a medallion bearing the coat of arms of the U.S.S.R. and a bas-relief of V.I. Lenin to the night side of Venus.


1969 January 8 - Plan for Soviet lunar and planetary launches to answer America's Apollo program during 1969 approved.

Central Committee of the Communist Party and Council of Soviet Ministers Decree 19-10 'On Work on Research of the Moon, Venus and Mars by Automatic Stations--work on automated lunar and interplanetary spacecraft' was issued.

The decree sets forth the plans for Soviet lunar and planetary launches to answer America's Apollo program during 1969. There will be Ye-8-5 soil return launches in April, May, June, August, and September. Ye-8 lunar rover launches will be made in February, October, and November. Two Venera-69 launches to Venus will be made in January. Launches of Mars-69 will be made in March and April. This compared to American plans for Apollo 9 on 28 February, Apollo 10 in April, followed by the Apollo 11 moon landing in June or July. Kamanin notes that this is a very grandiose plan, but not backed up by the necessary reliable boosters, spacecraft, or trained launch crews. Meanwhile Soviet manned space plans for 1969 have not even been agreed. There will be perhaps 3 to 4 Soyuz earth orbital flights and 1 or 2 L1 manned lunar flybys. Kamanin views all of this as the result of the mistakes of the last 3 to 4 years, chief of which was the reliance on automated systems. Chertok observes that Babakin's team was suited to be handed the torch -- they were young and enthusiastic, while the engineers at TsKBEM were tired, burned out, and dispirited.


1969 January 13 - Soyuz 4 launch scrubbed

The 'unlucky' Shatalov entered the spacecraft at 10:30. But the -24 deg C weather was below the limits of the booster's gyroscopes. The launch was scrubbed. The launch was made successfully the next day. Later in the day Mishin discussed the N1/L3 project with Afanasyev.


1969 January 14 - Soyuz 4

Soyuz 4 is launched with Vladimir Shatalov aboard without further problems at 10:30. This time the rockets gyroscopes, the capsule communications, and the television camera all functioned perfectly. Volynov and his crew for Soyuz 5 watched the launch from Area 17. Later Soyuz 4 would dock with Soyuz 5, and following a transfer of two cosmonauts, return with Shatalov, Yevgeni Khrunov and Alexsei Yeliseyev from Soyuz 5. Official purpose: scientific, technical and medico-biological research, checking and testing of onboard systems and design elements of space craft, docking of piloted space craft and construction of an experimental space station, transfer of cosmonauts from one craft to another in orbit. This mission finally successfully completed the simulated lunar orbit docking and crew transfer mission attempted by Soyuz 1 in April 1967. In making the transfer Khrunov and Yeliseyev avoided the most spectacular survivable incident of the space age - the nose-first reentry of Soyuz 5, still attached to its service module.


1969 January 15 - Soyuz 5

At 3 am an An-12 arrives from Moscow with ten newspapers, and letters for Shatalov, to be delivered by the Soyuz 5 crew to him as the first 'space mail'. At 05:15 the State Commission convened and approved launch at 10:04:30. The countdown proceeds normally; meanwhile communications sessions are held with Shatalov on Soyuz 4. The commission is taken by automobile convoy from Area 2, to Area 17, where the Soyuz 5 crew declares itself ready for flight. At T-25 minutes, with the crew already aboard the spacecraft, a piece of electrical equipment fails and needs to be replaced. Engineer-Captain Viktor Vasilyevich Alyeshin goes to the fuelled booster and replaces it. While doing this he notices that the access hatch has been secured with only three bolts, instead of the four required. Nevertheless the launch proceeds successfully. After Soyuz 5 is in orbit, it and Soyuz 4 begin their mutual series of manoeuvres for rendezvous and docking. Officially the flight conducted scientific, technical and medico-biological research, checking and testing of onboard systems and design elements of space craft, docking of piloted space craft and construction of an experimental space station, transfer of cosmonauts from one craft to another in orbit.


1969 January 16 - EVA Soyuz 4/5-1

A day after the launch of Soyuz 5, Soyuz 4 docked with it. The Soyuz 4 active spacecraft was equipped with a long docking probe, designated 'Shtir'. The Soyuz 5 target spacecraft was equipped with the 'Konus' receptacle. The symbology lead Volynov to joke that he 'was being raped' when the hard docking was accomplished. Khrunov and Yeliseyev transferred to and returned in Soyuz 4, the feat they had hoped to accomplish in the cancelled Soyuz 2 flight almost two years earlier. The external crew transfer was also a test of the technique needed for the Soviet lunar landing.


1969 January 17 - Landing of Soyuz 4

Soyuz 4 landed at 06:51 GMT 48 km south-west of Karaganda, 40 km from the planned point, with the crew of Khrunov, Shatalov and Yeliseyev aboard. Shatalov's performance has been outstanding -- all manoeuvres were made correctly with minimal expenditure of propellant. The soft landing system performed well, in temperatures of -30 deg C and in 60 to 80 cm of snow. The first recovery helicopter reached the capsule only five minutes after touchdown. 25 minutes later the crew is on a helicopter, on their way to the airfield at Karaganda. The crew is given a medical examination at the Hotel Chaika and then taken downstairs for a press conference. At 16:45 they board an An-24, bound for Tyuratam.


1969 January 18 - Volynov's survival celebrated

The engineering team at Yevpatoriya celebrated Mishin's birthday and Volynov's survival after his re-entry. These were four stressful days -- aside from the Soyuz missions, Babakin was commanding the Venera 5 and 6 probes to Venus, which had been launched on 5 and 10 January.


1969 January 18 - Landing of Soyuz 5

After Shatalov and Yeliseyev transferred to Soyuz 4, Volynov remained behind to live through the most unbelievable re-entry in the history of spaceflight. The service module of the Soyuz failed to separate after retrofire. Once the Soyuz started reaching the tendrils of the atmosphere, the combined spacecraft sought the most aerodynamically stable position - nose forward, with the heavy descent module with its light metal entry hatch at the front, the less dense service module with its flared base to the back. Luckily the struts between the descent and service modules broke off or burned through before the hatch melted through and the descent module righted itself, with the heat shield to the rear, before being consumed. Due to a failure of the soft-landing rockets the landing was harder than usual and Volynov broke his teeth. The landing came at 7:58 GMT.

At 05:00 Belyayev serves as capcom for a communications session with Volynov aboard Soyuz 5. All is OK. At 06:00 the landing commission convenes. A landing during the next three orbits is possible, but then -35 deg C anticyclonic conditions will move into the landing area. Volynov, at ground control's request, is asked to test manual orientation for retrofire on orbit 30. He is able to hold the correct orientation for 9 minutes -- only 2 minutes is required for retrofire. It is decided to take the risk of a manual landing on the first landing orbit. But discussion with Volynov reveals he has already set up all systems for automatic retrofire sequence on the second landing orbit. He tries, but is unable to set up correct retrofire attitude in the first two minutes of daylight of the first landing orbit. So the manual attempt is aborted and the program reverts to the original automatic landing on the second landing orbit. Mishin is not available for any of these key decisions. He spent the entire previous night at a banquet feting the Soyuz 4 crew, and only arrived at the command post still hung over and drunk at 8 am. Meanwhile Volynov experiences a reverse re-entry, following which is parachute wouldn't open automatically. The result were high-G forces and a landing 12 minutes earlier than planned. At 21:00 Brezhnev calls to try to find out what the hell is going on.


1969 January 20 - Soyuz 7K-L1 s/n 13L

Launch failure - but the abort system again functioned perfectly, taking the capsule to a safe landing (in Mongolia!). At 501 seconds into the flight one of the four engines of the second stage shut down, and remained shut down for 25 seconds. The ever-reliable SAS abort system detected the failure, and separated the capsule from the failed booster. Yet again a successful capsule recovery after a booster failure.

The spacecraft separates and is recovered south-west of Irkutsk, in Mongolia. At 08:20 the telemetry is read out. It shows the number 4 engine of the second stage stopped working 25 seconds into its burn. The third stage then separated, and the SAS abort system operated to separate the spacecraft and bring it to a safe landing, which was in Mongolia, 350 km from Irkutsk. The capsule landed in a valley between mountains 3000 m high. The capsule used in this L1#13 launch was reused from the aborted L1#7 flight, and set a new record -- two recoveries from two aborts. Only minor rework was required after the first abort. Smirnov and Ustinov have had enough and want to shut down the L1 program. In Kamanin's view, this would repeat the mistake they made with Voskhod , cost the Soviet Union two to three years in the space race. They originally had expected to accomplish successful L1 flights in only 2 to 3 years from go-ahead, but it has taken 5 years.


1969 January 22 - Soyuz 4/5 celebrations

TsKBEM closed down for the day, due to celebrations at Kaliningrad and at the Kremlin with the four cosmonauts from the Soyuz 4 /5 mission. Meanwhile, work at Tyuratam preparing the N1 for its first flight continued.


1969 January 22 - American looks likely to win moon race

Kamanin and four cosmonauts return to Moscow from Tyuratam aboard an Il-18. It has been nearly nine years since Gagarin's flight, and now America looks like the winner of the space race, with the successful flight of Apollo 8 around the moon. Kamanin attributes the loss to the mistakes made by Ustinov and Smirnov in the erratic management of the Soviet program, coupled with the insistence of Korolev and Mishin to develop completely automated spacecraft that do not require intervention by the cosmonaut.


1969 January 23 - N1 stormclouds

In the morning Mishin advised his staff of comments made by Afanasyev at the Kremlin reception the previous evening. He had called a Soviet of the chief designers for 27 January to discuss the fate of the N1 programme.


1969 January 27 - Soviet of Chief Designers considers N1 cancellation

Afanasyev and Keldysh chaired the unusual and extraordinary Soviet of the chief designers. Mishin opened with an emotional plea not to cancel the N1. He justified the delays and failures by saying that he had not been given sufficient budget to conduct necessary experimental and qualification tests of systems before flight.

Afanasyev asked why he couldn't use the facilities and experience of Chelomei at Reutov. Keldysh pointed out that there would be no Soviet manned lunar landing until 1972, given the current status of the project. Chief of Defence lndustries Serbin pressed Mishin as to why he did not meet the schedule ordered by the Central Committee.

Keldysh then launched a full-scale attack on Mishin's manned space plans. Can anyone find a single person who made the Soviet moon-landing programme a priority? Were they even thinking of the next step, travel to Mars? Russian can explore the moon with robot probes and rovers, without the need for the N1. And Barmin is working on a lunar base -- he heard it was even called 'Barmingrad'. For what? Does Russian need a base on the moon? How is it possible they are dreaming of lunar bases and stations in lunar orbit? And huge stations in earth orbit. Who has analysed all of this activity? How is it justified? It is better to keep all of the effort wasted on this activity forever secret, and go back and analyse what is really justified or needed, and then establish program priorities. Chertok noted that only Keldysh was capable of speaking so bluntly to Serbin.

Tyulin, First Deputy Minister for missile and space programmes, pointed out that as far as he had understood, the N1-L3 was a priority project. America's Apollo program clearly had many advantages - they had been working on it for ten years, not five, it was publicly known, and supported by their President. The N1 had originally been conceived for a different purpose - to orbit a large military space station and as a single-launch, preemptive strike ICBM. Now the question to be answered was not whether it should be cancelled, but whether it should be used to send Soviet men to the moon or to Mars. Tyulin supported concentrating on Mars, with the N1 launching a heavy unmanned probe to Mars in 1973. In 1975 two N1's would be used to launch two spacecraft, which would dock in earth orbit, then propel a piloted expedition to Mars. Tyulin couldn't guarantee the N1 would have the 95 tonne payload necessary for the one-way lunar trip, but he could guarantee a 90 tonne payload, sufficient for the Mars expedition. Docking in space had already been demonstrated. If the probe or expedition found life on Mars, it would be a huge scientific sensation, and the Soviet Union would have leapfrogged the Americans in the space race.

The group agreed to defer further discussion of the matter until after the imminent first launch of the N1. Chertok noted that Korolev had anyway always had Mars, not the moon, as his primary objective.


1969 January 31 - Preparations for the first N1 launch.

Mishin was staying in Korolev's cottage at the launch centre. The other chief designers were staying at the cosmodrome's hotel, while the technicians and workers were at the new apartments at Area 113. Afanasyev headed the 'Little Soviet', the State Commission, that would oversee the launch. The commission met in the conference hall in the huge horizontal assembly building for the N1 at Area 112. The commission gave the approval, and the first flight-ready N1 was rolled out of its assembly building over the 4 km of track to the launch pad. The huge dimensions of the booster had required a new method of building the booster at the launch site. Simulators were able to check all of he booster functions up to the point of engine ignition.


1969 February 9 - Final meeting held to review the N1 before the launch.

Marshal Krylov, Commander of the Strategic Rocket Forces, headed the meeting. The conference room was mobbed - many unfamiliar faces were in attendance - everyone wanted to witness the historic event. General Kurushin, Commander of Baikonur, stated that he was against proceeding with the launch, due to the many unresolved technical issues, unless he could somehow be persuaded otherwise. He pointed out that Mishin had made a large number of changes to the N1 to increase its payload. However these at the same time negatively impacted the booster's reliability.

These were done in response to expert commission recommendations, and not been properly documented. The changes included:

- Adding six NK-15 engines to the base
- Reducing the inclination of the L3 parking orbit from 65 deg to 52 deg and its altitude from 300 km to 220 km
- Extending the propellant tanks, and chilling the propellants - the fuel was now loaded at -15 deg C to -20 deg C, and the oxidiser at -191 deg C
- Increasing the thrust of the engines by 2%
- Lightening the panels of the booster's body

Mishin countered that test versions of all four stages except the first stage had been successfully tested on stands at Zagorsk. Furthermore, all electric, hydraulic, and structural tests had been completed on the 1M mock-up on the pad. The launch should go ahead with the 7K-L1S circumlunar payload and a launch date of 18 February 1969. Barmin declared his launch complex was ready for the firing.

Therefore the session concluded with the State Commission approving the roll-out of N1 booster 3L to the pad for electrical trials. In discussing the schedule delays, it was revealed that TsNIIMASH/NII-88 had conducted exhaustive tests on models of the N1. They had discovered problems with embrittlement of the new aluminium alloy used in the booster's tanks in place of the more ductile alloy used in the R-7, R-9, and N1 side panels. Existing tank parts that had been fabricated had to be scrapped and new articles built with a heavier alloy. And this had taken place simultaneously with efforts to reduce weight in the booster! Ten different alternative alloys were subjected to long, gruelling durability tests using partial structural articles built at Kuibyshev and Tyuratam before the correct substitute material was found. Furthermore, the high-altitude versions of the NK-15 planned for the second stage were not yet available. Therefore 3L would fly using the same low-altitude nozzle as the first stage engines. This change in turn meant that the planned new digital guidance system from NIIAP could not be used. A back-up analogue guidance system would have to be used in all three stages instead. Therefore, in truth, 3L would represent only a partial test of the rocket stages, not a test of the all-up booster.


1969 February 21 - N1 3L launch

N-1 serial number 3L was the first N-1 launched. The vehicle ran into trouble immediately at lift-off. A fire developed in the tail compartment. The engine monitoring system detected the fire, but then gave an incorrect signal, shutting down all engines at 68.7 seconds into the flight. British intelligence detected the launch attempt, but the CIA's technical means for some reason missed it and they denied for years that it had ever occurred. In retrospect the launch team at Baikonur pointed to a grave mistake - at the christening of the first N1, the champagne bottle broke against the crawler-transporter rather than the hull of the rocket. After the 3L failure everyone knew there was no chance at all of beating the Americans to the moon.

On the day of the launch the assembly building and worker's villages at Areas 112 and 113 were completely evacuated on the principle that 'God helps them what helps themselves'. The launch directors at the Sixth Control Centre were: Colonel Pavel Katayev, Yevgeniy Moiseyev, Launch Complex commander Colonel Anatoliy Kirillov, N1 Chief Designer Boris Dorofeyev, Afanasyev, and Mishin.

The payload was the 7K-L1A adaptation of the 7K-L1 spacecraft. This had a modified engine block and a total mass of 6900 kg. The planned mission was a lunar orbital flight. The L3 assembly would have been placed into a 204 x 287 km orbit of the earth at 597 seconds after lift-off. Total mass in earth orbit would have been 70.56 tonnes (the Block G, Block D, and 7K-L1A). The launch window for the lunar launch was open from 18 to 21 February; the launch was made on the last possible day. The N1 had a total mass of 2762 tonnes at ignition and 2756 tonnes at lift-off. Lift-off thrust was measured at 4,590 tonnes. The propellants had been densified before loading by chilling the Lox to -191 deg C and the fuel to -15 deg C. The mission plan called for the Block G to put the Block D and 7K-L1A on a translunar trajectory. After a 3.5 day coast to the moon, the Block D would fire and place the assembly into lunar orbit. After two days of photography of the lunar surface, the Block D would fire again and place the 7K-L1A on a trans-earth trajectory. The Block D would separate and the 7K-L1A would use its own engines for mid-course corrections on the return leg. After re-entry in the atmosphere, the 7K-L1A would be recovered on Soviet territory.

Chertok's account:

Launch came at 12:18:07 local time. The heat of the exhaust vaporised the top few meters of the launch pad's concrete. The booster rose into the sky on a pillar of flame 3 to 4 times longer than its own 110 m height. However telemetry later revealed the vehicle had run into trouble immediately at lift-off. As a result of a rising high frequency oscillation in the gas generator of engine number two, some engine components tore off their mounts, resulting in a forced leak of propellants, setting in motion a fire in the tail compartment. The BKS engine monitoring system detected the fire, but then gave an incorrect signal, shutting down all engines at 68.7 seconds into the flight. The vehicle was destroyed by range safety 70 seconds into the flight. The escape tower worked as designed. The remains of the N1 crashed 52 km downrange from the pad.

In the control room gloom prevailed. 'Everything has ended' - 'All those years of work down the drain..' Only Barmin was upbeat - 'don't worry, my launch complex is note damaged'. Barmin had said the same thing on the first R-7 launch on 15 May 1957. But that first ICBM had run for 100 seconds, which was an enormous accomplishment at that time, but nothing today. There was much more at stake. Five years of enormous and costly effort may have died with the booster.

The preliminary investigation into the cause of the failure took several days, but Mishin was impatient to know the cause. Preliminary word was that the problem was a turbogenerator, but it took until March for a more complete analysis to be available. A turbogenerator had leaked hot 340 deg C gas. This had started a fire in the compartment. The KORD engine control system was affected, and a 1000 Hz vibration of the booster, in harmony with the operating frequency of the system, stimulated an erroneous shut-down command to all engines. The operating voltage of the system had increased to 25 V instead of the 15 V design voltage. The solution implemented for the next booster was to reroute the KORD sensor and command lines, and to insulate them with asbestos. However the leadership still refused to pay for a test stand at Tyuratam to ground-test the Block A first stage! The project budget just couldn't accommodate the expense...

After the 3L failure everyone knew there was no chance at all of beating the Americans to the moon. The revised programme included further unmanned L1 flights, automated return of lunar soil by Babakin's robot landers, a crash programme of Soyuz 7K-OK earth orbit manned flights, and development of new versions of the Soyuz for military space programmes. 5L was scheduled for the next test launch. Booster 4L had always been seen as a back-up booster for the failed 3L, and there was no manpower available to complete it.

Kamanin's account:

At 41 seconds after launch, one of the 32 engines of the N1 first stage shuts down, followed by all of the others. The KORD should have only shut down one engine opposite the failing engine -- and the launch vehicle could still continue with the loss of six engines. The booster reached its peak altitude of 27 km at 50 seconds into the flight, then continued to impact 23 km down range. The L1 spacecraft capsule was pulled away by the SAS escape tower, and landed under its parachute successfully. Kamanin observes that the Soviet lunar program is depending on the success of the N1, but a series of UR-500K launches could be used as well to assemble the lunar spacecraft in low earth orbit. In his opinion the N1 may one day fly, but it can never be a reliable booster due to the inherent design flaws.


1969 late February - UR-900 launch vehicle proposed

In the aftermath of the N1 failure, Chelomei was proposing the UR-900 for the Mars expedition. A garbled description of this launch vehicle appears in Chertok's memoirs. This would seem to be a version of the UR-700 using 15 RD-270 modules in the first and second stages in place as opposed to the nine modules of the UR-700. The third and fourth stages were derived from the UR-500. The booster could deliver 240 tonnes to low earth orbit.

Chertok asked Chelomei what would happen if, God forbid, such a booster exploded on the launch pad. Wouldn't the entire launch complex be rendered a dead zone for 18 to 20 years? Chelomei's reply was that it wouldn't explode, since Glushko's engines were reliable and didn't fail. Aside from that, these propellants had been used in hundreds of military rockets, deployed in silos, aboard ships and submarines, with no problem. Fear of these propellants was irrational. Related propellants were used by the Americans on the Apollo manned spacecraft.


1969 May 16 - Venera 5 lands on Venus

Keldysh first revealed the new 'party line' at a press conference on the mission. When asked about Soviet lunar plans, he revealed that Russia would only use robot probes, that it wouldn't risk men's lives in such an endeavour.


1969 May 16 - Myth 'we were never in the moon race' disseminated by the Soviet Union

Keldysh first revealed the new 'party line' at a press conference on the semi-successful Venera 5 landing on Venus. When asked about Soviet lunar plans, he revealed that Russia would only use robot probes, that it wouldn't risk men's lives in such an endeavour. At the same time Babakin was hard at work finishing the first Ye-8-5 robot lunar soil return spacecraft, to be launched before Apollo 11.


1969 May 29 - N1 State Commission

Over two days a State Commission reviewed all of the conclusions of the N1 3L failure investigation and the readiness of N1 5L for flight. All of the fixes identified to remedy the 3L failure had been incorporated into 5L. It was felt that the behaviour of the systems in fire conditions were understood and appropriate measures had been taken. The wiring had been rerouted and insulated. Barmin wanted the system not to shut down any engines under any conditions during the first 15-20 seconds of flight, so that the booster would clear the pad and there would be no risk of the pad's destruction. But there was no time to develop such measures before the 5L launch; it could only be added in vehicle 6L.

6L was planned to have the first real payload, not an L3S mock-up as on 3L and 5L, but a functional LOK lunar orbiter that would travel to the moon. The members discussed the new aspect in 6L of fuelling the Lox/LH2 into the LOK fuel cells. This had never been done during trials, and would only be accomplished for the first time on the pad prior to 6L's launch. The launch site troops were nervous about handling LH2, even in such small quantities, and wanted the safety of the fuelling set-up to be guaranteed.

3 July was selected as the date for the 5L launch. Whereas 3L had launched in -25 deg C, 5L would be launched in the heat of high summer. 6L was pencilled in for launch by the end of the year as an LOK test. Key new systems that had to be ready by then included the fuel cells, the NIIAP digital computers, the Kontakt docking system, and its associated optical sensors by Geofizika. Keldysh declared that if 5L failed, the LOK would be removed and 6L and 7L would be used solely as tests of the launch vehicle. Even if 5L succeeded, Keldysh felt the LOK and LK wouldn't be reliable enough in time to challenge an American lunar landing. 6L and 7L should still be used primarily to work out the launch vehicle subsystems at an accelerated launch rate.

The L3S was no LOK lunar orbiter, just an 'ersatz' replacement. Keldysh pointed out that the engineers had been unable to solve the problems of a lunar flyby using the L1. What guarantee was there that the L3S would even work? The immediate concern had to be accelerated testing of the launch vehicle.

Deputy Minister Tyulin supported Keldysh in this approach. There was a need to test the 'insurance' versions of the N1 with only a dummy payload. Mishin strongly disagreed. He wanted the LOK to fly on 6L, followed by 7L with an 'all-up' L3 - a functioning LOK, LK lander, Block D crasher stage. The LK would make an automated landing on the moon.

Bushuyev declared that this was flatly impossible. The 5L and 6L realistically only be equipped with an L3S, and even then a lunar flyby could not be guaranteed --it was only planned to be sent on an escape trajectory or high elliptical orbit, nothing even close to the moon. Serbin countered that the orders of the Central Committee were for 5L to fly around the moon. They could not unilaterally make a decision to deviate from that objective without going back to the Central Committee and asking their permission. Smirnov nodded heavily in agreement. Afanasyev scribbled in his notebook. The Central Committee was to be asked to release the mission planners from the flyby objective for 5L and 6L.

The commission next discussed the use of the N-11 for unmanned Mars probes and the N1 for manned Mars expeditions. Okhapkin presented the case for the use of the N-11 to launch such missions. Mishin had, not very tactfully, placed a model of the vehicle on the table before the commission. Neither Keldysh nor Afanasyev had seen the proposed booster before, and they did not like surprises. Mishin plunged ahead with his presentation anyway:

"At the this time we would like to begin work on the N11, which will replace Chelomei's UR-500 Proton while having better safety features. The N11 will use the second and third stages of the N1, which has already been developed. The Americans used a similar concept with their Saturn IB, which uses the upper stage of the Saturn V. Those of you who support Chelomei's UR-500/UR-700 building-block concept will have to support this as well -- it is the same approach".

The reaction was swift. Right now the leadership wanted nothing to do with such a scheme. The military already had all of the programs needed in hand. There was no point to spend hundreds of millions of roubles on an alternate solution to a military problem that had already been solved.

However VPK Deputy Chairman Pashkov pointed out correctly that the 'Little Grand Alliance' of Yangel and Chelomei had no trouble in forcing the military to accept duplicate solutions in the field of strategic rockets. The government was spending billions of roubles to develop and deploy both designer's replacements for the UR-100 ICBM. Meanwhile Makeyev received funds for endless development of submarine-launched ballistic missiles of ever-increasing technical sophistication - in fact, more advanced than the rockets of any other bureau. At the same time Ustinov supported Nadiradze in the development of alternate solid propellant ICBM's. Afanasyev supported any rocket system that would be developed and built by enterprises under his ministry. And every single one of these duplicate projects had greater priority than the exploration of the moon and Mars.

Keldysh, however, supported Mishin's plans for the MEK Mars expedition. This ambitious project would use the MPK Mars spacecraft, which in turn consisted of the MOK; MPK; ZA return capsule; and the EU nuclear propulsion unit. Missions of two to three years duration were envisioned, at a time when there was no medical support for any missions in excess of two to three months! This Mars declaration of Mishin did not enjoy great support within OKB-1. There was simply no time to devote to it with all the rest of the programs on the plate. But Keldysh lent his support, however qualifying that with 'not at the expense of the L3'. He summarised his position: he supported development of a Lox/LH2 third stage for the N1 as soon as possible. Then two N1 launches could orbit sufficient payload for manned flight to Mars. However he did not support the N11 just now. The UR-500 was already in place, and development of the N11 would be an unnecessary luxury.

Mishin replied that there were not L3 workers assigned to the Mars projects. Furthermore development of a Lox/LH2 stage had not been neglected - a fourth stage using these propellants was already in development, and stand tests would begin within the year.

VPK Chairman Smirnov turned to the spectacular mission planned for that year's October Revolution anniversary. Three manned Soyuz spacecraft would orbit the earth simultaneously. Two would dock while the third transmitted television of the event to earth. He was advised that the success of the mission depended on the Igla automatic rendezvous and docking system functioning correctly. Afanasyev noted, that in the wake of a possible successful American moon landing, this was an important mission for the Communist Party. He fastened his eye on Chertok and instructed him to make sure the docking system functioned - using Chertok's own bare hands to assemble it if necessary.

Finally the decisions were made. The day was set for the launch of N1 5L. Chelomei would be asked to draw up a draft project for a manned expedition to Mars.


1969 June 1 - Soviet lunar plans

Despite having no stand testing of the N1 first stage, Mishin still expected the first Soviet lunar landing to take place by the end of 1970. He began pushing Kamanin to assign L3 flight crews for the missions. Mishin's staff did not believe he had the necessary discipline to pull it off, but supported him out of solidarity. Mishin accepted the resolution to use 5L to conduct a lunar flyby. The payload consisted of the L3-S. This spacecraft used the new unified guidance system developed for the LOK by NIIAP, replacing the 7K-L1 guidance system, and functional rocket stages G and D, plus the payload bay of the LK. The only functional spacecraft system was the SAS abort tower. Although unthinkable in Korolev's time, lunar launch window constraints meant the launch had to be made at precisely 23:18 on 3 June 1969.


1969 July 3 - N1 5L launch

N-1 serial number 5L began to fail at 0.25 second after liftoff when the oxidizer pump of engine number 8 ingested a slag fragment and exploded. A fire ensued as the vehicle climbed past the top of the tower. Engines were shutdown until the acceleration dropped below 1 G; then the vehicle began to fall back to the pad at a 45 degree angle. The escape tower fired at the top of the brief trajectory, taking the L1S dummy descent module away from the pad. Upon impact of the base of the N1 with the pad, the vehicle exploded, destroying launch pad 110 east, which would take over 18 months to repair. This was the end of a slight Soviet hope of upstaging the US Apollo 11.

N1 5L had barely lifted off when peripheral engine number 8 shut down at 0.25 seconds into the flight. The booster had climbed to 200 m at T+12 seconds, when all engines shut down except number 18. The booster began to fall back, except the thrust of engine 18 tipped it from the vertical. At T+15 seconds the SAS abort tower fired, pulling the upper shroud and re-entry capsule off into the darkness. At T+23 seconds the base of the N1 hit the launch pad, and 2500 tonnes of liquid oxygen and kerosene exploded, illuminating the steppe for dozens of kilometres. At Leninsk, 35 km away, an enormous bright light burst in the north, and the residents knew the unthinkable had happened. All of the windows were blown out of the apartment buildings at area 113, and at the back-up N1 launch complex 6 km away. Everyone was ordered out of the bunker except Afanasyev, Dorofeyev, Kirillov, and Moiseyev. 'It rained kerosene' one witness said. 'At least no one was hurt,' said another. 'Not true,' intoned Barmin, 'we who built this launch complex will have to rebuild it'. He demanded an investigative commission to fix the blame for the catastrophe.

The cost was not so much in roubles as in the years of time it would take to rebuild. But the left N1 launch pad was intact and available for further launches. Further preparations for N1 launches were cancelled until the disaster investigative commission had completed its report. Barmin stated flatly he would never again allow one of his pads to be used for launch of a rocket that was capable of shutting down its engines. It must be designed to crash away from the launch pad.

Kuznetsov was pushed from the first moments after the launch to accept responsibility based on the hypothesis of a foreign object in a turobpump. The KORD had commanded shutdowns of engines 7, 19, 20, and 21 - but telemetry indicated this did not occur. Number 18 had chaotic performance parameters before it shut down. In that engine's lox pump's steel diaphragm a sensor spiked with incredible force. Kuznetsov blamed this pump as the source or another 'external object'. Mishin believed the failure was due to a defective pump rotor, which disintegrated at start-up. However Mishin couldn't state his position publicly -- after all, he had defended use of Kuznetsov's engines to a state commission at the end of 1967. So Kuznetsov, his engineers, and the military inspectors all blamed a 'foreign object'.


1969 July 21 - Soviet engineers view moonwalk

At the same time the reconstruction schedule for the destroyed N1 launch complex was being laid out, Apollo 11 landed on the moon and the Americans won the moon race. Mishin's engineers watched the live television at TsNIIMASH. Afterwards Tyulin declared, "this is all Chertok's fault. In 1945 he should have thought of stealing Von Braun from the Americans - but he never considered that solution". "True", Chertok replied, "my adventure with Vasiliy Kharchev didn't turn out too well".


1969 July 22 - Soviet post-mortems after Apollo 11

Two sequential N1 failures could not just be blamed on the poor reliability of the first stage. It was apparent that, compared to the Americans, both the management and the development practices of the Soviet space programme were inferior to the Americans. Politically there was no consensus within the Soviet state of the need for a space programme. Glushko and Ustinov waged a perpetual struggle against Afanasyev, Keldysh, and Mishin. RVSN Commander Kirillov wrote a letter to Smirnov on behalf of Afanasyev on the root causes of the failures. His faction believed these were the continued use of artillery/military rocket development practices for large, complex systems. These outdated practices required 20 to 60 flight tests to achieve reliability before a rocket could be put into production.

The poor results of all of the current generation of space programmes - Luna, Mars, Venera, L1, and L3 - showed that new development methods were required. Extensive ground test was needed prior to first flight trials. New, extensively qualified basic spacecraft and rocket components were needed.

Ustinov's reply to this letter was dismissive. This was nothing new, even his ministry had proposed such measures, which were the ones the Americans were using. The Ministry of Defence had not approved funds for development of reusable Kuznetsov engines (which could be static tested prior to launch, as American engines), or a test stand for the Block A first stage, or N11 rocket tests (the basic booster without Block D or payload). This lack of funding, not the method of development, was the reason for the problems.


1969 July 30 - Soviet manned Mars spacecraft study

As a result of the VPK meeting of 29 May, a decree was issued, instructing Chelomei to complete a draft project within the year for a Mars manned space mission, using as the booster his UR-700M (or UR-900) design, and his MK-700M spacecraft. It was not until August 1997 that Igor Gansvindt revealed that during the 1960's he had developed a system for navigation and guidance for a piloted landing on Mars and its return to earth. This work preceded Aleksei Tolstoy's Aelita project of 1975.


1969 August 1 - The DOS Conspiracy begins

With the collapse of the work on the N1, the whole reason for Mishin's design bureau's existence simply vanished in the air. A new high-priority project was needed. Korolev had begun development of a Multi-Module Space Base (MKBS) before 1966. However MKBS was to be launched by the N1; as long as this was not available, there would be no MKBS. Almaz on the other hand did not require a new launch vehicle, although the UR-500 was in a period of intense 'baby sickness'. So while TsKBEM was in a period of analysis and instability, Chelomei's Reutov and Fili facilities were building space stations for the Ministry of Defence.

On one of these August 1969 days, three of Chelomei's TsKBM engineers came to the office of Mishin's deputy, Chertok, with a plan to get a space station orbited before the American Skylab. They wanted a collaboration between the two competing design bureaux. Their plan was to take an Almaz spaceframe, install Soyuz systems, add a new docking tunnel with a hatch to reach the interior, and presto - a space station was finished. Tentative discussions with potential allies within Chelomei's design bureau found support there as well. The DOS 'long-duration orbiting station' was the result of this 'conspiracy'.


1969 August 1 - VPK hearing on N1 improvements

The VPK Military-Industrial Commission and the Central Committee of he Party discussed the matter of delaying further N1 tests until completely redesigned engines became available. Back came the ritual reply -- a Soviet manned lunar landing must be achieved by the 100th Anniversary of the Birth of Lenin (April 22, 1970). On that date a Soviet man would plant the Red Banner and unveil a bust of Lenin on the lunar surface. Unlike the US President, Brezhnev would never get to see a manned launch to the moon.

Measures identified to rectify the N1's problems were:

- improved engine control systems
- Redesign of the oxidiser pumps, with sensors providing more data on performance during operation
- filters in the pumps to keep out foreign objects from the propellant tanks and lines
- use of nitrogen gas to flood the engine compartment prior to launch, which would continue during ascent
- instrumentation cables and all critical elements of the booster structure to be insulated against high temperatures
- removal of critical engine control components to a safe area, away from the engine compartment
- block any possibility of an engine shutdown being commanded during the first 50 seconds of flight
- development of means to prevent destruction of the launch pad in case of failures in the first few seconds of flight. This required some fundamental changes. Since the V-2, all rockets had been programmed to ascend vertically during the first 5 to 6 seconds of flight before pitching over toward the target. The final solution was a guidance system that controlled the rocket of even a failing rocket from the first second of motion to its crash into the steppes of Kazakhstan. The same approach was used 15 years later for the Energia booster.

OKB-1 engine specialists Melnikov, Sokolv, and Raikov had developed the restartable engine for the N1's Block D and collaborated with Kuznetsov on the N1 engines. They confirmed that the only way to achieve absolute engine reliability was to completely redesign the engines to be reusable. But the new engines would not be available until 1972 at the earliest


1969 September 1 - Soviets study NASA's ambitious plans

NASA gave the US President a 130-page programme outlining plans for America's future space programme. The thing read to the Soviets like a science fiction novel, with reusable space ferries, huge orbital stations and lunar bases, nuclear rocket stages, and manned Mars expeditions. There was no way the Soviet Union could compete with such a programme -- and that was leaving unconsidered the massive American military space progamme.

In 1969 NASA had 301,745 employees, including 13,700 senior engineers and scientists. Another 218,435 contractor staff worked on NASA projects. NASA's charter was to pursue all non-military space activities with a clearly defined budget separate from the military. By comparison, in Russia, every General Designer had his own ideas and agenda. The space budget and authority was spread over ten different ministries and entities - the Ministry of Defence, the General Staff, TsUKOS, RVSN, the Central Committee, the VPK, the Politburo, the Soviet Ministers. In the VPK and Kremlin this system of space exploration was known as 'state feudalism'. However the Soviet engineers were but soldiers in the Cold War and could but only occasionally serve on the second 'space' front.

The US plan foresaw a permanent manned space station by 1977, a 50-man space bridgehead in low earth orbit by 1980-1984, increasing to 100 staff by 1989. Eight Apollo lunar expeditions would be flown in 1970-1972, to be followed by a permanent lunar base station in 1980-1983. A manned expedition to Mars would be accomplished in 1981.

If this read to the Soviets like science fiction, that's because it was. America would not even achieve its completed permanent space station until well into the 21st Century (if the ISS is ever completed). Chertok observed: what a historical paradox! In the USSR, the lunar program was in crisis due to a series of crashes and disasters. In America, their program was in crisis at the moment of greatest triumph because they couldn't decide how to proceed further...


1969 September 18 - Soyuz 6/7/8 go-ahead

Smirnov recommended to the VPK Military-Industrial Commission that the flights go ahead in October. The triple Soyuz flight would make heavy demands on the Soviet tracking system. The problems were worked out in simulations and worldwide exercises conducted from the Baikonur cosmodrome.


1969 September 19 - L1 state commission

VPK Deputy Chairman Tyulin headed a state commission on the L1 programme. Mishin pushed for a manned L1 circumlunar flight in 1970. This meeting was only five days before a Ye-8-5 robot spacecraft was to have returned lunar soil from the earth. The Block D stage failed in earth orbit, and the flight was given the cover name Cosmos 300. This indicated the L1 system still did not have the necessary reliability for manned flight. Furthermore, politically, Brezhnev and the Politburo did not want to see a Khrushchev-originated project like the L1 succeed.


1969 October 5 - DOS Conspiracy briefed to Ustinov

Mishin was opposed to the DOS space station concept - he wanted to pursue the N1-launched MKBS. Afanasyev and Deputy Minister Tyulin wouldn't support the idea either. None of them wanted to take the risk. The only chance was to get to VPK Chairman Ustinov through Communist party channels. The opportunity came on the flight of engineers and management to Baikonur for the Soyuz 6/7/8 flight. Feoktistov had prepared a briefing on DOS, which he presented to Ustinov.


1969 October 19 - DOS Conspiracy briefed to wide circle of space planners

In the euphoria after the return of the Soyuz 6/7/8 crews, the problem was how to get Ustinov to meet further with the DOS 'conspirators'. Mishin had prohibited any meetings by TsKBEM staff with the Communist Party Secretary unless Mishin was also present. Another obstacle was that Feoktistov was not a party member; how could his presence at a party meeting be explained to Mishin later?

In any event these consideations were simply ignored. Feoktistov was present at a party meeting with Keldysh, Afanasyev, Tyulin, Serbin, and the Ministry of Defence's party cell: Strogonov, Kravtsev, and Popov. Keldysh was mainly worried how the project would affect the N1, but was reassured that the N1 had a dedicated work force, and the L3 lunar lander spacecraft engineers and workers that would work on DOS were currently idle and had no part of that work. It was finally decided to go ahead with the DOS no earlier than January, to allow time for Ministry Decrees, approval of a work plan by the VPK, preparation of a decree for signature by the Central Committee of the Communist Party and the Soviet Ministers. Work began on the project in December 1969 under the initial auspices of the Academy of Sciences.

After the meeting, convinced of Ustinov's support, the 'conspirators' were left with just a year to build the station. Engineers immediately started to switch from the dead-end L3 lunar spacecraft effort to DOS. Bushuyev was worried that this only further sealed the fate of the N1. It was in any case important that the matter be formalised quickly. Being discovered working on it would be an embarrassment.

The biggest new development required was the docking collar and hatch unit. Semenov (L1 manager, and later head of RKK Energia) was the obvious project leader - the L1 had only two flights to go and he had demonstrated on that project the ability to maintain good communications and relations with OKB-52 and Chelomei. But how did they know whether he would support the DOS concept?


1969 December 1 - Final L1 State Commission

Yuri Semenov proved his management abilities in the successful unmanned launches and recoveries of Zond 7 and 8 on circumlunar missions. At the final state commission on the L1 program, VPK Deputy Chairman Tyulin said that if had been in charge instead of Mishin, the N1 would have succeeded. Semenov proved himself skilful in coordinating the work of four major, often hostile organizations -- TskBEM, NIIAP, TsKBM, and ZIKh. This would lead to his assignment to head the DOS/Salyut space station programme, and ultimately, head RKK Energia.


1969 December 6 - The DOS Conspiracy in the open

Afanasyev met with the Chief Designers - Pilyugin, Ryazanskiy, V Kuznetsov, and Chelomei's Deputy, Eydis. Mishin was 'sick' and Chelomei had sent his deputy, as usual, to avoid having to meet Mishin. Afanasyev started with the demand that an Almaz flight take place within less than two years, before the end of the Eighth Five Year Plan. He asked Eydis to install an Igla passive docking system to permit docking with the station of the existing Soyuz 7K-OK as opposed to the planned 7K-S. If Chelomei's bureau could not meet this requirement, then the 'conspirator's' DOS project could be authorised in its place.

An extensive discussion of the future course of the Soviet manned space program followed. Eydis pleaded that the Almaz program not be infringed upon. If an early station was desired, completion of an Almaz could be started on 1 January. The station would not have any military systems or ECS ready, but could be modified for docking with a 7K-OK. He noted that work on Almaz had been underway since 1965, all based on the requirements of the Ministry of Defence. TsUKOS and the General Staff wanted to conduct research in reconnaissance systems - infrared, wide-spectrum, high resolution, and television transmission. Their objectives went far beyond launch of a simple space station.

Throughout these discussions Afanasyev did not praise or criticise any of the speakers. Obviously he had to formally discuss the matter with Ustinov before any decision could be made - however this was all theatre. Ustinov had approved the concept in principle in a meeting with the 'conspirators' in October.


1969 December 26 - DOS formally authorised

Ustinov called the DOS 'conspirators' to Kuibyshev Street. Mishin was sent away to Kslovodsk and Chelomei and Glushko were not invited. No one wanted to listen to any more of Glushko's diatribes about Kuznetsov's engines.

Ustinov supported presentation of the DOS concept to the Central Committee. Chelomei categorically opposed DOS and was trying to kill it through military channels. But the allure of an '18 month' station - one which would not only beat the American Skylab, but be in space in time for the 24th Party Congress - seemed too alluring. Mishin also rejected DOS, but deputies at both design bureaux supported the concept and were eager to proceed.

DOS was therefore created only when the moon project failed. Chelomei was forced to work on DOS, and it severely impacted Almaz schedules. The Salyut name was later applied to both the DOS and Almaz stations, creating the impression in the outside world that they were built by one designer.


1970 June 18 - Soyuz 9 Day 18

Final Landing Commission meeting is held. The primary landing site is 50 km west of Karaganda. Visibility there is 10 km, winds 6-10 m/s. Mishin wants to land 50 km further wesst, near a city with passenger train service. It is finally agreed to land there, at 71 deg 31' E, but that will mean that an emergency ballistic re-entry (in the event of a guidance system failure) would bring the capsule down in the Aral Sea. That in turn means additional recovery forces, consisting of three amphibious vehicles, three helicopters, five naval cutters, and 15 scuba divers have to be alerted and prepared. The Politburo approves the landing, and the plan to fly the cosmonauts to Chkalovsky Airfield, followed by ten days in the hospital. Mishin and Kerimov discussed having the traditional cosmonaut greeting at Vnukovo Airport, but they'll have to forget such extravaganzas in the years to come, when only long-duration missions are planned. Meanwhile the crew is well, preparing for landing. They secure the BO living module, stow items in the SA re-entry vehicle that are to be returned to earth. There is a communications pass at 08:00 to 08:30. Afanasyev, Karas, Chertok, Bushuyev, Tsybin, and other members of the State Commission now arrive at Yevpatoriya.


1971 February 1 - Salyut shipped to Baikonur

The first DOS station was shipped in to Baikonur in an incomplete state. Work continued to complete it day and night without break. The old MIK at Baikonur was used to prepare the Soyuz launch vehicle and 7K-TOK ferry spacecraft. The station was to be called Zarya, or 'Dawn', but the name was changed just before launch to prevent confusion with the secret Chinese manned spacecraft of the same name.

Semenov coordinated simultaneously tests of DOS #1 at Chelomei's new MIK-KO and completion of DOS#2 at the KIS. This involved coordination TsKBEM (Podpliki/Mishin); TsKBM at Reutov (Chelomei), the Filial of TsKBM at Fili (Bugayskiy); the Khrunichev Factory (ZIK at Fili); ZEM at Popliki (Rizhlich) and Klyncharev. The post box for the project was V-2572.


1971 March 1 - N1-L3 loses remaining priority

The Soviet leadership regained some interest in the N1-L3, after the near-tragedy of Apollo 13. It was felt that the Americans might cancel the remainder of the Apollo programme, leaving the road to the moon clear for the Soviet Union. However the successful flight of Apollo 14 redeemed the project, and the Central Committee lost all interest in the N1-L3.

A completely modernised KORD engine control system had been developed for the booster, but without direction from above many factories refused to complete necessary components. For example, the Zagorsk Optico-mechanical Factory, which reported to the Ministry of Defence, was to have delivered 50 electronic black boxes for each N1. However the only N1 to fly with these units was number 7L, since delivery of these components was not finished until the end of 1971. Similar situations existed at other factories providing components, forcing work-arounds. Controlling the configuration of each launch vehicle became extremely difficult in such circumstances. Finally management was given a simple measure of the problem - percentage of equipment in each vehicle that was according to the bill of material. The balance was workarounds.


1971 April 5 - Salyut preparations

When DOS#1 was cleared for flight, it still had 182 discrepancies, of which only 10 were duplicates and 20 were purely cosmetic. Preparations for launch of Soyuz 10 were complicated by problems with the logic of the abort system. This was supposed to put the spacecraft in a purely ballistic re-entry mode.

At 07:30 Chertok went via Korolev Street to the TsKBM company airport, Vnukovo-3., to pick-up the ARS equipment. This was an essential part of an emergency x-ray system that would assist the cosmonaut in completing a hard docking in case the primary system failed.


1971 April 14 - Zarya renamed Salyut

All of the pressure on the N1 project was going on simultaneously with the launch preparations for DOS#1. The Central Committee had approved the name 'Zarya' (Dawn) for the station, but it was felt that this name might offend the Chinese, who's secret new manned spacecraft was also called 'Dawn' (it is interesting that Chertok and the Soviet space community was aware of this in 1970 - the existence of the nascent Chinese manned space project of that name was not revealed publicly in the West until 2002!). After some hurried consultations, it was decided to give the station the public name 'Salyut' (although the vehicle rolled out to the pad still had 'Zarya' emblazoned on the payload shroud -- but these pictures were not revealed until the 1990's).


1971 April 14 - N1 threatened again

An expert commission met to consider the N1-L3. Keldysh made several categorical demands:

  • the laser-based Kontakt rendezvous and docking system had to either be backed up with redundancy throughout, or an independent back-up system had to be developed
  • the L3 had to be designed with an internal transfer compartment, as was being done for the DOS/7K-T space station system
  • each stage of the N1 had to undergo flammability tests
  • the mission scenario had to be reformulated to provide support by more than one cosmonaut on the moon at a time, and use of automated landers and rovers from Babakin at Lavochkin
  • landings of the capsule in the equatorial oceans of the world had to be eliminated. The capsules had to land on the territory of the USSR

Keldysh's attitude was considered 'very evil'. If TsKBEM did not develop these measures, he would refuse further support for the N1. Mishin told his staff to simply ignore Keldysh. The demands made were simply impossible. Furthermore, Mishin was the only one who could have replaced Korolev anyway, Mishin declared.

Mishin's engineers assessed the changes demanded by the expert commission. To put an internal docking tunnel in the LK would mean a three-year delay. The OTI orientation and manoeuvring engine package would have to be completely rearranged to something like the Americans had on their Lunar Module. It was necessary to convince Mishin, and thereby Keldysh, and thereby Afanasyev, and thereby Ustinov of this. However others said the subject should not be pursued now to avoid antagonising the leadership. Better to wait and see if the launch vehicle ever gets to orbit first.


1971 April 15 - Salyut preparations

The Salyut station was prepared in a huge two story bunker built for launch vehicle / payload processing. The contrast between the money lavished by the military on this facility for Chelomei's projects and the limited funds available for a proper N1 preparation and test facilities was enormous. Here funds were available without limit. The air was controlled by a self-contained environmental control system with its own independent electrical-diesel generators. The facility was a miracle. It was shocking that this was made available for Almaz, while the military told Mishin that he would have to prepare the immense MKBS station in the uncontrolled environment, subject to frequent power blackouts, of the N1 facility. At Chelomei's facility, everything was completely checked out on earth prior to launch.


1971 April 15 - Anokhin injured

Anokhin injured in the crash of a Tu-16 into the Aral Sea. The bomber was flying parabolas for zero-G tests of the engine of the Block L stage of Mishin's bureau, to study why the stage was continually failing to restart in earth orbit.


1971 April 23 - Soyuz 10 docking failure.

Soyuz 10 approached to 180 m from Salyut 1 automatically. It was hand docked after faillure of the automatic system, but hard docking could not be achieved because of the angle of approach. Post-flight analysis indicated that the cosmonauts had no instrument to proivde the angle and range rate data necessary for a successful manual docking. Soyuz 10 was connected to the station for 5 hours and 30 minutes. Despite the lack of hard dock, it was said that the crew were unable to enter the station due to a faulty hatch on their own spacecraft. When Shatalov tried to undock from the Salyut, the jammed hatch impeded the docking mechanism, preventing undocking. After several attempts he was unable to undock and land.

Kamanin's account: Docking was planned for 03:00. The Igla system takes over 16 km from the station at 27 m/s closing rate. At 500 m the rate is down to 2 m/s. At 200 m Shatalov takes control of the spacecraft for a manual docking. Contact is made with the stations docking ring at 20-30 cm/s velocity. After 15 minutes, Shatalov reports that he cannot get a docking light - there is no electrical connection between the spacecraft and the station. Telemetry shows that the spacecraft and station are still separated by a 90 mm gap. It is impossible to obtain a hermetic seal of the docking mechanisms. The crew have no spacesuits that would allow them to move to the station through free space. The cosmonauts can't do anything but sit and wait for advice from the ground.

They try repeatedly to force the docking, but nothing works. After four revolutions soft-docked to the station, they are ordered to separate. The cosmonauts had by then tried all of the ground's recommended actions. There was no panic, and all possible variants were attempted.

The Soyuz 10 ECS is left with 40 hours of oxygen - a few metres away in the station, is 3 months' supply. But there are no spacesuits, either in the Soyuz or in the station, no provisions for EVA at all. Any attempt to try to make an entry to the station would leave Mishin with the death of three cosmonauts on his hands. It should be possible to try docking again several times, since 80 kg of propellant is allocated for docking (twice what is normally required) and there needs to be only 45 kg remaining for a guaranteed retrofire. But the limited oxygen aboard the spacecraft means the crew has to prepare for return instead.


1971 April 24 - Landing of Soyuz 10

Only a night landing on Soviet territory was possible, which meant the spacecraft could not be oriented for retrofire. The landing commission started planning for an emergency landing in South America, Africa, or Australia. But Shatalov reported the gyroscopes and orientation sensors were functioning well. He proposed that he orient on the dayside, spin up the gyro platform, and let the gyros orient the spacecraft on the nightside for retrofire. The plan is followed and the spacecraft was targeted for a landing area 80-100 km southwest of Karaganda.

PVO radars pick up the capsule as it soars over the Caspian Sea, and a Mi-4 helicopter sights the parachute even before it thumps down, upright, on the steppes. During the landing, the Soyuz air supply became toxic, and Rukavishnikov was overcome and became unconscious. Nevertheless the crew safely landed at 23:40 GMT, 120 km NW of Karaganda. At the cosmodrome, Chertok is assigned to head a special commission to find the cause of the docking failure and correct it before the next mission can be launched. The VVS aircraft leaves at 07:00 for Moscow. Mishin was to accompany the VPK on their aircraft back, but he is drunk and has to go separately at 15:00. The Soyuz 10 crew reaches Chkalovsky Air Base at 14:00 on 26 April and proceed to Star City for further debriefings. Film and photos indicated that the docking system on the Salyut was not damaged, setting the stage for the Soyuz 11 mission.


1971 June 1 - N1-6L launch commission

The review of launch preparations veers off into a discussion of what the booster was now for. Pilyugin questioned the seriousness of intent of the TsKBEM staff. The digital control system priorities within the bureau were with DOS and Almaz -- why wasn't the N1-L3 the priority? Mishin had never been told that the N1-L3 development was lagging. It had no priority with the leadership. Top priority at TsKBEM was Nadiradze's solid propellant ICBM's, followed by the DOS Salyut station, and now Soyuz-Apollo preparations. Meanwhile it was finally recognised that a single-launch scenario was simply impossible, and two N1 launches would be needed to accomplish the lunar landing. But there was no political will to tell the Politburo the bad news -- that two N1's would be needed to be launched to accomplish the landing. The final conclusion was that the bureau needed a new direction, a project with national priority, like the DOS station. Strategic rocket work could be ruled out, as there were already too many players in that field.

So the enormous N1-launched UMOK (Universal Multi-Module Orbital Station) was conceived. Universal subsystem elements common to all modules were identified: a control/navigation system, solar/star sensors for orientation, gyroscopic systems for stabilisation and orientation, environmental control systems, temperature regulation systems, electrical distribution equipment, automatic rendezvous systems, displays, radios, communications, television, digital computers and their digital to analogue interfaces, and finally a common KTDU propulsion system. Isayev was consulted on the issue - how to move to a universal KTDU design that could be used with payloads of a wide range of payload masses. But Isayev suddenly suffered a fatal heart attack. His funeral had to be scheduled between the N1-6L launch on 27 June and the Soyuz 11 launch on 30 June, 1971.


1971 June 26 - N1 6L

Superbooster failure of N1 serial number 6L. This was a substantially improved vehicle, incorporating filters in the propellant lines to prevent any foreign objects from getting into the pumps. The shape of the tail of the booster was modified, and ventilation and refrigeration systems were added to keep the engine compartment cool. It was painted white overall to reduce temperatures while sitting on the pad. After liftoff and ascent, an axial rotation was introduced by gas dynamics interactions of the thirty engines with the air slipstream. The launch vehicle developed a roll beyond the capability of the control system to compensate. and began to break up as it went through Max Q. Control was lost at 50.2 seconds into the flight and it was destroyed by range safety a second later. The engines functioned well and did not shut down up to the point of vehicle destruction. No functional payload was carried. It has been stated that this launch did not have a working launch escape system.

N1-6L was launched on the night of 26-27 June at 02:11:52 Moscow time. All thirty engines ignited successfully, and the first 5 seconds of flight were nominal. But from the first motion off the ground the booster began a slow axial rotation. By 14 seconds after launch this had reached 8 degrees per second. The booster's gyroscopic platform commanded an AUD - energy engine shutdown. But the command was not accepted by the control system - as agreed with Barmin, to save the launch pad, it was blocked until T+50 seconds. By that time the booster had rolled 60 degrees, and as soon as the filter was removed, all 30 engines were shut down. The booster crashed 30 km downrange. Without the signal blocking the booster would have crashed 1 km from the pad, seriously damaging the launch complex. The viewers remembers at V-2 crash commission at Kapustin Yar in 1948., where Pilyugin declared he favoured rocket failures, since nothing could be learned from a nominal launch. But this did little to diminish the gloom, which was exacerbated by the space community attending Isayev's funeral a day later.


1971 June 30 - Landing of Soyuz 11 and death of crew.

Kamanin account: The next communications session with Soyuz 11 comes at 00:16. Kamanin reads up to the crew the conditions at the primary and secondary landing zones (10 km visibility, 2-3 m/s wind, 16 deg temperature, 720 mm pressure). The crew is to told to report on HF and UHF using all antennae and to call out parachute opening. They are ordered to wait in the capsule for the recovery crews, not to open the hatch themselves under any circumstances. It should take no more than 20 to 30 minutes until the recovery team can open the hatch from the outside. They are under no circumstances to try to get out of the capsule without the assistance of the doctors. Dobrovolsky confirms: "All received, landing sequence proceeding excellent, all OK, crew is excellent".

Telemetry shows the Soyuz braking engine begins firing at 01:35:24 and makes a nominal 187 second retrofire burn. Ground control waits for verbal confirmation, but there are no voice communications received from the capsule. At 01:47:28 the crew should have reported successful BO and PAO module separations from the capsule, but still nothing heard. It is not clear to ground control at this point - is Soyuz 11 heading for a landing or staying in orbit? From 01:49:37 to 2:04:07 the capsule is in communications range but there is no reply to the ground's calls. It is now obvious that something is wrong aboard Soyuz 11, but it is not clear what.

At 01:54 the VVS command point reports that radar has picked up the spacecraft at 2200 km uprange from the landing zone. It is on course, so the feeling is that the capsule's communications system has simply failed. The parachute deploy signal is received from within the landing zone, but still no transmissions from the crew as on earlier missions. At 02:05 an Il-14 search plane and Mi-8 helicopter spot Soyuz 11 descending under its parachute, within 200 km east of Dzhezkazgan. Soyuz 11 lands at 02:18 Moscow time. Four helicopters land simultaneously as the capsule thumps down on the steppe. The report from the recovery forces to the control centre is only one word: "Wait". There are no further tramsmissions from the recovery forces. It is clear the crew must be dead. Kamanin calls Goreglyad and tells him to set up a State Commission.

Later it is learned that two minutes after landing the hatch was opened by the recovery group and the crew was seen to be without signs of life. At 06:00 by orders of Ustinov and Smirnov the designated members of the State Commission depart from the Crimea for the landing site aboard a Tu-104, then transfer to an An-10. But on arrival they find that Goreglyad has already left for Moscow with the corpses of the crew. At 16:00 the engineers and doctors meet with the State Commission. The spacecraft's cabin, seats, parachute, equipment, and instruments have been examined. They indicate no problems - the spacecraft made a good soft landing. A hard landing was not a factor. All switches on the instrument panel were in their correct positions. A vent in one of two air valves was open 10 mm. There were no other discrepancies, even though the doctors already report that they believe the crew died from decompression of the cabin. At 23:00 the State Commission members leave for Moscow.

Chertok account: Soyuz 11 undocked at 21:25 Moscow time on 29 June. The crew had two revolutions to prepare for re-entry. They manually oriented the spacecraft in the zone of visibility with tracking stations in the Soviet Union and spun up the gyro platform for retrofire. Contact during re-entry would be via the NIP-16 tracking station with NIP-15 serving as a back-up. Soyuz 11's SKTDU main engine fired on 01:47 on 30 June. The crew reported all events leading up to retrofire on time. But the spacecraft had passed out of the range of any Soviet tracking stations at the the time of completion of retrofire - when the acceleration integrator commanded cut-off of the engine. By the time the vehicle was back in range, it was already in the blackout of re-entry. After emerging from that, telemetry was received, but no crew communications (after the death of Komarov on Soyuz 1 - when his voice transmissions blocked telemetry from the capsule - the communications were changed to a multi-channel system, allowing simultaneous voice and telemetry to be transmitted). An aircraft sighted the SA re-entry capsule, descending under its parachute 10 km from the aim point. A helicopter touched down next to the capsule within two minutes of its landing. There was no response from within the capsule. When the capsule was opened, the three cosmonauts were found to be dead. Dobrovolsky's corpse was still warm. The bodys were removed from the capsule and attempts were made to resuscitate the crew, to no avail. The cabin recorder showed the pressure had gone from 915 to 100 mm in 130 seconds.


1971 July 4 - Soyuz 11 failure investigation

This was a very difficult time for TsKBEM. All work at the bureaus came to a complete halt after the loss of Soyuz 11 and N1 6L. Simultaneous expert commissions investigated the loss of N1 6L and Soyuz 11. TsKBEM was seen as responsible for every failure. A virtually legal process ensued to fix guilt. Every design decision was examined and questioned.

Why didn't the crew wear spacesuits? It was a Korolev decision, the engineers replied, dating back to Voskhod. Only Kamanin had disputed the decision at the time. There had never been a problem with depressurisation in all previous Soyuz and Vostok flights. The valve in question normally would open automatically at an altitude of 2 to 3 km to allow fresh air into the capsule after the heat of re-entry. The valve was difficult to close - it was thought the only eventuality where the crew would need to close it was in the case of a landing in water. For the air to have vented into free space as it did, two valves had to have opened, which could only be actuated by separate electrical commands. The circuits were designed to be fail-safe, and it should have been impossible for them to both to have opened in a vacuum. The Mir magnetic tape system recorded the awful events. This showed the valves opened within only 0.06 seconds at 01:47:26.5 Moscow time. At that moment the cabin pressure was 915 mm. It took 115 seconds for the cabin to vent to 50 mm pressure, where it stabilised.

At separation of the orbital module after retrofire, Volkov was emotional - his pulse was 120. Patsayev's was at 92 to 106, and Dobrovolsky at 78-85. The average for cosmonauts at retrofire in earlier flights was 120, with Tereshkova setting the record at 160. A few seconds later, as the crew became aware of the leak, Drobrovlsky's pulse had increased to 114 and Volkov's to 180. 50 seconds after separation, Patsayev's pulse was down to 42, characteristic of someone suffering oxygen starvation. Dobrovolsky's quickly fell as well. At 110 seconds the hearts of all three men had stopped. Death came at 120 seconds after jettison.

The capsule, with the dead crew aboard, pulled the normal 3.3 G's during re-entry. It experienced a slow rotation due to the air venting through the open valve.

Many tests were conducted, including on a mock-up capsule in a large vacuum chamber at Star City, but the valve failure just could not b e duplicated. Ilya Lavrov, the designer of the environmental control system, became very distraught. He had tried to convince Korolev years earlier that if the spacesuits were deleted, at least the crew should be provided with aviation-style oxygen masks, which would give them at least 2 to 3 minutes time to act in case of cabin decompression. This would have given the crew enough time to have closed the valve (which should have taken 20 seconds according to the engineers, but had actually taken the cosmonauts 30 to 40 seconds during water recovery tests).

Gay Severin at Zvezda developed the lightweight Sokol spacesuits which all future Soyuz crews would be required to wear. An environmental control unit for these suits replaced the third crew position, reducing the Soyuz crew to two. This system would also flood the cabin with air in the case of a leak. The modifications to Soyuz were tested on unmanned flights on Cosmos 496 and Cosmos 573, then the manned Soyuz 12.


1971 October 10 - Salyut 1 deorbited

Salyut 1 was kept aloft to study how the systems behaved over an extended period, in order to identify fixes to improve their reliability on later flights. The station was originally designed to last three months. During the extended period fuel consumption and the ballistic and drag characteristics of the station were determined. Use of the reaction control system became difficult after an electrical failure in early October. Georgiy Degytyarenko recommended to Mishin that the station be deorbited safely into the Pacific Ocean without delay before complete control was lost. Mishin agreed and the signal was transmitted from Yevpatoriya on 10 October. The same procedure was followed for all subsequent stations except Salyut 7 (where control was completely lost).


1972 January 1 - TsKBEM reorganised

TsKBEM was given a completely new structure as a result of the findings of the expert commissions on the disasters for the previous year, Mishin remained as the Chief Designer for the organisation, but each programme now had its own chief designer:

  • N1: Boris Dorofeyev
  • 8K98P solid propellant ICBM: Igor Sadovskiy
  • N1 payloads: Vladimir Brorov [check]
  • Soyuz 7K-TM, or Soyuz M, for Soyuz-Apollo: Konstantin Bushuyev
  • Soyuz 7K-T: Yuri Semenov
  • Soyuz 7K-S or Soyuz VI: Yevgeni Shabarov

This reorganisation resulted in a joke within the space industry in the Soviet Union: 'All of these chief designers at TsKBEM, in place of just one (Korolev) could only be to confuse American spies'. However there were still major projects at TsKBEM for which there were no chief designers. These included 7K-OK, MOK, Mars-75, the Nuclear Electric Propulsion work, and the Soyuz 7K-TA for Almaz. Development in particular of these numerous Soyuz variants took designers time away from the completion of the L3 lunar lander.


1972 August 15 - N1 7L launch readiness review

Mishin held a Soviet of N1 chief designers to confirm launch readiness.


1972 August 21 - N1 7L State Commission

The State Commission was held to verify readiness of N1 7L for launch. Mishin was 'sick' the whole week of the hearings and had to be represented by his deputies. However neither Mishin or his first deputy Okhapkin were available - both were in the hospital. The commission nearly ruled that until Mishin was available, no launch could be approved. However the review continued.

Dry runs of the booster on the pad had already started and had already shown 17 serious problems in equipment systems and 100 problems in telemetry systems. These numbers indicated that no attempt should be made to launch 7L in its current condition. This was the first N1 with digital systems in the Block G and D stages (although there was not a complete LOK spacecraft). These had only introduced new problems, and there was no one personally responsible for making them work. Without someone being given such authority the launch schedule could not be maintained.

The first two N1's launched had amounted to only engine tests. Only on the third launch were the first stage dynamics tested. The gas dynamics problems that had led to the uncontrollable roll in that vehicle had now been solved with the assistance of TsNIIMASH and TsAGI. But why hadn't 3L also shown the roll problem? As it turned out, the shutdown of two engines at launch had prevented the problem from developing, whereas in 6L all the engines were operating correctly. The solution in 7L was the introduction of four roll-control engines. These had been developed by TsKBEM and used gas generator gases from the engines. The same design team had already successfully developed the vernier engines of the R-7, the 8D54 engine for the Block L of the Molniya 8K78 booster, and the 8D58 engine for the Block D of the N1 and Proton.

The guidance system for 7L would be essentially new, using the 'Biser' digital computer. Coupled with a three-axis guidance platform, the system would provide terminal guidance for precise orbital insertion. The system included self-test diagnostics and back-up operational modes. One computer was installed in the Block V third stage and controlled the first three stages. Another was in the LOK, and controlled the upper stages during translunar injection, lunar flyby, and return to earth. The Biser used Tropa integrated microprocessors developed by the Ministry of Electronics Industries.

The booster also features a new freon anti-fire system and a massive new telemetry capability with 13,000 separate sensors. Asbestos was used to shield the cables and electronics from heat. It was felt the KORD engine control system had now achieved a high level of reliability after five years of stand testing.

The L3, consisting for this mission of the Blocks G, D, and LOK, were being integrated at Area 2B. There were many problems with the new digital computers, which became the pacing item. Another issue were the VP53 digital-to-analogue units (42 per rocket) that translated the computer commands to the engine control systems. There was a problem with the transformers of these units.

Following these presentations, the state commission, headed by Afanasyev and Lapygin, stated their concerns. They wondered why these new computers were installed in 7L. This amounted to practically starting over again with booster development. It would have been less risky to use the old analogue systems. They noted that the replacement transformers could not be installed until the last minute, meaning they may have not been tested adequately.

The commission noted that despite the new avionics, 7L still used the old engines, which had been blamed for the previous launch failures. The new, vastly improved, Kuznetsov engines would be available in N1 8L. So why fly 7L, with a strong likelihood of another failure? Mishin's team replied that they needed to test the new guidance system, Blocks G and D, and the LOK systems. What was to be done with this rocket if they didn't fly it? Afanasyev finally agreed with this argument and went back to Moscow with the recommendation to proceed.


1972 September 20 - Final N1 components arrive at Baikonur

The replacement transformers for the VP53 digital to analogue converters were delivered to Baikonur.


1972 October 14 - Electrical trials of the N1 7L were successfully completed.


1972 October 18 - UR-500K failure investigation.

Afanasyev was back at the cosmodrome for investigation of the latest UR-500K failure.


1972 November 16 - Flight readiness review for the N1.

There were still three defects in the new digital computer systems and controversy as to whether to fly the fuel cells in the LOK. But without the fuel cells, there could be no translunar mission. The only power available would then be the batteries in the Block G, limiting the flight to low earth orbit. But the launch manager continued to insist there was danger in handling liquid hydrogen. This was simply a bureaucratic hold-up - only 600 kg of LH2 would be flying, which did not represent a real safety issue. Finally a waiver was agreed and the it was decided the LOK would fly with fuel cells.

All else seemed ready to go. The estimated engine reliability was 93%. The turbogenerators had achieved 100% reliability in test stands. There were still dissenting voices on the use of LH2 - the final vote was 7 for flying with it, and 2 against.


1972 November 21 - State Commission was held to formally approve launch of N1 7L.


1972 November 23 - N1 7L

Unmanned test of manned lunar mission launch vehicle serial number 7L. This article incorporated significant changes to the previous model, including roll 'steering' engines to prevent the loss of control that destroyed 6L. The rocket ascended into the sky, and the engines ran 106.93 seconds, only seven seconds before completion of first stage burnout. Programmed shutdown of some engines to prevent overstressing of the structure led to propellant line hammering, rupture of propellant lines, and an explosion of engine number 4. The vehicle disintegrated.

Kerosene fuelling completed at 01:30. Upper stages Block G and D were fuelled between 04:00 and 05:00. They were allowed to reach thermal equilibrium between 05:00 and 06:15. Between 06:45 and 07:55 all lines and umbilicals were removed from the vehicle. The tower was rolled back at 08:15. Launch was on schedule at 09:00. All was normal to T+50 seconds. Centre engine shutdown at T+94.5 seconds was normal. All was normal at T+100 seconds. Then at T+110 seconds all transmissions from the vehicle suddenly ceased. An examination of telemetry showed that the vehicle catastrophically disintegrated at T+106.94 seconds, only 7 seconds before the end of the stage one burn and separation of the second stage. Later it would be alleged the cause was a failure of the oxidiser pump in engine 4. Kozlov, Kuznetsov, and Dorofeyev all blamed the other for the failure.


1972 November 23 - Final N1 preparations

At 17:00 fuelling of N1 7L began. Lox fuelling was completed at 23:40.


1973 January 1 - N1-L3M

The first lunar expedition project, the N1-L3M, was studied in 1973.


1974 May 1 - N1 cancellation imminent

Ustinov achieved a leadership consensus to kill the N1 by the beginning of May 1974. He achieved the agreement of the other Ministers on the Military-Industrial Commission, and finally Keldysh. Projects that were ongoing that were linked with the N1 included: the lunar base, MKBS space station, Mars robotic soil return spacecraft and manned expedition, a space radio telescope with a 100 m antenna, and multiple channel communications satellites. All of these died with the cancellation. If 8L had been successful, then after 1 or 2 further test launches, the N1-L3M could begin flying. That meant that the Soviet Union was within 3 to 4 years of establishing long-term lunar expeditions and a moon base. The Americans would have been leapfrogged. Instead, the leadership decided to develop a completely new heavy-lift launch vehicle, which never became operational before the Soviet Union collapsed.


1974 August 1 - New heavy-lift vehicle

Glushko's first action was to implement a decision of the leadership to develop a completely new heavy-lift launch vehicle. This work started in 1974, with a planned first flight in 1984, at a total estimated cost of 5 to 6 billion roubles. One factor in the decision was the fact that Keldysh was greatly disturbed by the manoeuvrability of the space shuttle. He talked the matter up until he managed to get Ustinov and Brezhnev worked as well. He told them a US shuttle could manoeuvre around Soviet PVO and PKO anti-missile and satellite defences and deliver a 25 tonne nuclear bomb of greater than 25 megatons force directly on Moscow.

Keldysh was convinced that the US planned to use the shuttle for a pre-emptive nuclear strike on Russia. Therefore the USSR needed an analogous capability to maintain the strategic balance. While this discussion was going on, the energies of TsKBEM were completely absorbed in the Apollo-Soyuz program, on which the prestige of the Soviet Union depended.

Following the firing of Mishin and the takeover by Glushko, Glushko personally directed the ex-OKB-1 from 1974 to 1977, before handing it over to Vakhtang Vachdze.


1974 August 13 - N1 work cancelled

Glushko formally cancelled the N1 within the new NPO Energia on 13 August 1974 with the support of Ustinov, even though he had no decree of the VPK Military-Industrial Commission or the Central Committee authorising such an act. The N1-L3 itself was not officially closed down until the resolution of February 1976 starting work on the Energia/Buran boosters. By that time 6 billion roubles had been spent on the N1 over 17 years.

Looking back in February 1996, Chertok observed that the N1 would have been successful if Korolev had not died prematurely. Either he would not have allowed the first launch to proceed with unreliable engines; or he would have honestly analysed the reason for the failure and not allowed another launch until all the fixes had been made; or after two consecutive failures he would have stopped the trials and turned to Glushko to develop replacement engines. The N1 engines were finally developed into reliable units by 1974, hidden by Kuznetsov for 20 years, and then marketed to the west in the 1990's. The Kistler reusable launch vehicle would have used them, and there were plans to use them in an upgraded Soyuz launch vehicle, which would increase the payload to low earth orbit from 7 tonnes to 11 tonnes.

Glushko was responsible for convincing Keldysh, and then Ustinov, that the N1 could not successfully carry out the N1-L3M program in 1977-1980. Analysis in the 1990's show that he was incorrect, and the program would have been fully achievable. But Glushko wanted to start from scratch, with a new launch vehicle, new engines, and entirely new system. It took 13 years to develop those engines, and Buran proved useful only as a restaurant attraction in Moscow. The Energia was developed without any thought as to what enormous payload would require such a booster. There was a feverish search for a payload to justify it after it had been developed.


1974 August 13 - Glushko briefed his new RLA launch vehicle family to the VPK Military Industrial Commission

These RLA - Rocket Flight Apparatus - met the requirements of the Ministry of Defence as described in 1973 in Plan Poisk and would replace the failed N1 and all existing launch vehicles. As required by the Ministry of Defence, they used only Lox/Kerosene propellants; the various launch vehicles were modular, and used common engines and rocket bodies. The members of the VPK met the proposal with considerable scepticism. The final decision was that the plan had to be reworked.

Summary of the meeting of the Soviet Military-Industrial Commission on 13 August 1974 - in which the fate of the N1 was sealed and the decision process leading to Energia-Buran was begun...

Glushko, new head of NPO Energia, briefed his new launch vehicle family to the VPK Military Industrial Commission on 13 August 1974. These met the requirements of the Ministry of Defence as described in 1973 in Plan Poisk and would replace the failed N1 and all existing launch vehicles. As required by the Ministry of Defence, they used only non-toxic, inexpensive Lox/Kerosene propellants; the various launch vehicles were modular, and used common engines and rocket bodies. The basic engine would be a four-chamber design with a vacuum thrust of 1,200,000 kgf. The modules had a gross mass of about 800 tonnes kgf each, were six metres in diameter and about thirty metres long.

The new design family was called RLA - Rocket Flight Apparatus - and Glushko briefed three main members:

RLA-120 - Gross lift-off mass 980 tonnes, single module with a 150 tonne kg upper stage, payload 30 tonnes. Designed to boost reconnaissance satellites and modules of the POS Permanent Orbital Station into a sun synchronous orbit. First flight was to be in 1979, with POS modules to be assembled in orbit in the 1980-1981 period.

RLA-135 - Payload to low earth orbit 100 tonnes using two modules as the first stage and the RLA-120 core. This would begin flight trials in 1980 and allow a lunar expedition to be launched in 1981. It would also be used to launch the MKTS spaceplane.

RLA-150 - Gross lift-off mass 6,000 tonnes, payload to low earth orbit 250 tonnes with six modules as the first stage, and the RLA-120 core. This would begin trials in 1982 and allow a manned Mars expedition to be launched in 1983.

Glushko insisted that a permanent lunar base and Mars expeditions in the 1980's were achievable. What was needed was a reliable heavy lift launch vehicle, and the RLA approach would achieve this. To base these plans on the N1 design would invite catastrophe. The RLA cluster method would allow the modules to be built in the factory and thoroughly tested individually without risking the entire launch vehicle. Total cost of the development program was put at 12.5 billion roubles.

The members of the VPK met the proposal with considerable scepticism. The final decision was that the plan had to be reworked. Brezhnev, Keldysh, and Ustinov would insist in the reformulation that the Lox/LH2 technology and capabilities of the US space shuttle had to be duplicated. The end result would be the Energia launch vehicle and Buran space shuttle, with which neither the military or the Soviet engineering community was happy.

A summary of their discussion provides fascinating insight into the opinions of the Soviet military-industrial leadership following the N1 debacle:

Ustinov: You criticised Korolev's N1 for having 30 engines. Now you are proposing one with 28 engines.

Glushko: A four chambered motor is not the same as four engines. There are only seven engines in the first stage.

Ustinov: Why do we need a payload of 250 tonnes? The American Saturn V has a payload of only 140 tonnes.

Glushko: Analysis of assembly of a Mars spacecraft indicates that the number of separately-launched modules must be minimised or the chance of mission success becomes low. This is the largest practical launch vehicle using the modular approach.

Ustinov: Does the core vehicle use Tsiklin (Kerosene) or Liquid Hydrogen?

Glushko: Kerosene. Liquid hydrogen would take too long to develop. This propellant could be considered for the core, but it would destroy the whole schedule.

Komissarov: You opposed lox/kerosene propellants as long as Korolev was alive. Now that he is dead, you advocate the same propellants. Explain this shift in position.

Glushko: I opposed these propellants in the 1960's because the required schedule and technology resulted in too many independent Lox/Kerosene engines in the N1 design. Since then there have been many years of development, and now we have the technology in hand for high thrust, four chamber, closed gas cycle, gimballed engines.

Komissarov: How do we answer the space shuttle with this system?

Glushko: For this we can use the RLA-135 mid-weight vehicle. The top stage would be the MKTS aerospacecraft, and it will be ready by 1982. The aviation industry will have to develop it; we don't have the expertise.

Komissarov: How can the schedule be met?

Glushko: The dates depend on the engines. The schedule depends on our success in quickly developing these engines, which don't exist at this time.

Barmin: This is the third variant of this design you have presented in the last two months. Your analysis is fundamentally flawed. We first need to decide our objectives in space, then design the spacecraft to meet those objectives, and only then design the launch vehicles to launch those spacecraft.

Korolev made the same mistake by designing the N1 first. When the time came to make an attempt at a lunar expedition, he had to add six engines, and still couldn't achieve the necessary payload. Then your bureau had to fall back on a two-launch L3M scheme. History is being repeated. Now you want a huge 250 tonne payload vehicle. The Americans abandoned the Saturn V and are building the shuttle because they need only one launch vehicle in this class, and it must be reusable.

Today 140 organisations are working on our lunar base. It must be completed, but not on the basis of unrealistic launch vehicles. You are asking for 12.5 billion roubles, but this is much more than you need to complete the lunar base.

The multi-module launch vehicle scheme is disadvantageous and mistaken. This is why Korolev designed the N1 with the optimum layout after much analysis. We need to seriously modernise the N1 in place of your 'tricycle'. Using engines of 1000 to 1200 tonnes thrust is tempting, but we have to be practical as to the possibility of developing such engines in a realistic time frame.

Your second and third stages use Tsiklin. One kilogram of Tsiklin costs 50 roubles; the same amount of liquid hydrogen, less than 30 roubles. Liquid hydrogen should be our upper stage propellant. We need to build the lunar base, and we need liquid hydrogen propulsion for that.

Therefore the most economical solution is a reusable launch system based on a modernised N1. Such a system needs to deliver 40 tonnes to the lunar surface and return 20 tonnes to earth.

Serbin to Barmin: And how long will it take to produce a modernised N1?

Barmin: It will take time, but Glushko's six to seven year schedule is unrealistic anyway. I repeat, we need to design the spacecraft, solve the problems of navigating to and on the lunar surface, and then design the launch vehicle.

Ryazanskiy: I disagree with Barmin. We do not need the huge N1. We need the RLA-120 for planned Zond, Mars, Lunar, and Soyuz spacecraft.

Semenov: We need reliable transportation to build the space station. This is the RLA-120. However I agree with Barmin that we should give up the 250 tonne booster.

Pilyugin: To develop the radio guidance systems alone for the orbital station, the lunar base, a Mars expedition, would require three to five years, plus three years of trials - six years all together. And this only if they are given maximum priority, which has not been the case for space systems in the past.

Feoktistov: It was a tactical mistake to present the 250 tonne payload vehicle. Everyone knows Ustinov's first priority is to achieve reliability, and for this we need time. Our work with the Americans on Apollo-Soyuz shows that new methods are needed to match American reliability.

Morzhorin: We have to follow the path of the Americans in developing the space shuttle. Only in this way can we improve all of our systems. Barmin is correct - we must identify the systems to be deployed first, then the launch vehicles needed to support them.

Trufanov: We need reliable systems to place payloads into sun-synchronous orbit in order to control the planet - we need the RLA-120.

Afanasyev - We need, now, 30 tonne payloads in sun-synchronous orbits for the planned Ministry of Defence reconnaissance satellite. We need 6 m diameter propellant tanks - but Paton says this will be solved in a short time. We long have needed engines of 1200 tf. But one cannot believe that this can be developed in two years. The Soviet Ministers say we need a piloted system, not inferior to the shuttle. This is important and the true solution. I also want to know why we must use Tsiklin and not Liquid Hydrogen. The Ministry of Defence does not agree with this approach - they want development of Lox/Hydrogen systems such as the Americans have.

Barmin is right; we don't need 250 tonne payload vehicles, but to demonstrate reliable docking in orbit to assemble such payloads. But I disagree with Barmin that the N1 could be used with minimal modification for the new launch vehicle - it will need major modifications. To meet MOM requirements will require twice as much money as has been spent to date. Glushko's design bureau is now only responsible for the 8K98 missile and its modernisation. It has no other development work. For the 40,000 staff at NPO Energia and 30,000 at the Progress factory in Samara. Of these, 20,000 will work on the new launch vehicle. Meanwhile we need a test stand for the new launch vehicle - we can't use the N1 pads. We have to handle Soyuz-Apollo, DOS#4., The 7K-T is obsolete; we need a new transport spacecraft - either a transport version of the 7K-S or the Chelomei TKS - and we were not informed of the development of the TKS!

Smirnov: This program doesn't meet the requirements of either the Ministry of Defence or the Academy of Sciences. We don't understand the requirement for 25 tonnes in a sun-synchronous orbit. The heavy reconnaissance satellites planned will not exceed 12 tonnes. The Americans plan no more than 14 tonnes in such orbits. First the N1, now a new adventure with the RLA. We planned 2 N1 boosters with earth orbit rendezvous for a lunar expedition. Now they want to 'dock on earth' with a 6,000 tonne gross lift-off mass vehicle!. The rouble is officially equal to a dollar. What would the US Congress say, the president spent $ 4 billion, then went back to them and said, NASA couldn't make it work, give us $ 12 billion for a new launch vehicle? The whole world would make fun of them.

Serbin: We don't have 12 billion roubles, but we need to decide quickly how to best utilise 70,000 workers. We need to involve Chelomei. We can't let the Almaz and DOS space station projects continue in parallel. We can't let this huge sum be spent on the RLA. We need an integrated national plan.

Glushko replied point by point to this critics:

This is not a national space plan. This is a method of solving our launcher problem. I've had two meetings with the military. They assisted by indicating their requirements, and this was the optimal solution. General Karas reviewed the RLA on 15 August and approved this approach. The Ministry of Defence set the requirement for a modular design with a 30 tonne payload.

Barmin asks why not use the N1. The short answer - the N1 could only carry air. The Gross Lift-off mass was about that of a Saturn V, but the dry mass of stage 1 was 2.5 x that of Saturn, stage 2, 5 x, and stage 3, 3.5x. There was a fundamental error in gas dynamics in the design of the vehicle. They added more than 750 tonnes to the first stage, and needed five additional engines to compensate.

Barmin wants a moon base, but this 'Barmingrad' cannot be realised. We need first to put 3 to 5 crew on the moon for two to three weeks. This is our objective. It was noted that since there is no magnetic field on the moon, it is too dangerous a place for prolonged activity by man during solar storms. (Glushko was hitting Barmin below the belt, and considered to speak rapidly to prevent interruptions).

We declare that we need not only a launch vehicle to support a minimum base of three to four men. We need not only space suits. We need large volume modules. We need special equipment. These we can only test on the POS space station. To reiterate, we need permanent (POS), not long duration (DOS) space station. The minimum mass for an effective POS is 30 tonnes, and for this the UR-500 is not sufficient. We need the RLA to launch it. A POS with modules of this size will eliminate the need for the MKBS station and larger launchers.

I regret that not everybody agrees with the super-heavy RLA version. We don't have to put together a launch vehicle in such a way - it is only that it is possible to assemble a vehicle using six identical modules for stage 1 and one module for stage 2. I don't support the use of LH2. But if you do, we could use it in the place of Tsiklin. Such a vehicle would cost a lot of money. We can get more for our money through the use of universal modules.

To keep our factories busy, we must pursue a program that keeps man in space every year. We are no working on he 7K-S and its transport variant. The new guidance system is a big challenge, using a digital computer for the first time. We have begun work on an unpiloted resupply variant. Klyuchavev is working on an androgynous docking system for Soyuz/Apollo and 7K-S/DOS.

Ustinov (summing up): Thank you. There was much that was new, and much to think about. We have DOS #5 and #6 in work. The Progress factory is working on 6 m diameter propellant tanks. I don't see further work with the Americans. We know of important breakthroughs, which cannot be discussed or used with them. We have to show Americans our best side - they watch us under a microscope, from space, they know every street, better than we do, and every detail of our launch vehicles. What shall we do after Apollo-Soyuz? DOS#5 needs work. Mishin always held back DOS; it was no secret that Chelomei and Mishin wanted to cancel DOS, follow it up only with Almaz and TKS. Meanwhile the R-7 is our bread and butter; the UR-500K figures in our space plans beginning 2 to 3 years from now.

Long range - Mars expeditions, lunar bases. Here there may possibly be co-operation with Americans. The issue is not just the 30,000 that work for one chief designer, but the correct use of the entire 250,000 employees of the space industry. They must be used effectively. The existing N1 facilities also have to be used somehow. We need a space shuttle. We need, in not more than two months, a rational plan to be presented, which takes into account the positions of the Ministry of Defence and the Academy of Sciences.


1974 August 14 - Glushko meets with TsKBEM staff

He solicited their support in the reorganization and new projects for the bureau. Glushko was sartorially perfect, and had an aristocratic air, never using the familiar forms of address in Russian. He only loosened up a little in the last years of his life. He was a nitpicker, correcting Russian syntax in documents. He was capable of clear logic but did not have the intuitive genius of Korolev (according to Barmin, while Korolev did not look after his appearance, he possessed a pure 'Russian' intelligence).


1974 August 31 - Competitive bidding for new vehicle

Glushko proposed obtaining competitive bids for the launch complexes and booster subsystems for new boosters developed by OKB-1, dropping the traditional OKB-1 subcontractors.


1975 January 1 - Vulkan Lunar Base

Mishin and Barmin, using budget provided by the Ministry of Defence, had designed a lunar base for launch by the N1 in 1969-1974. After the cancellation of the N1, Glushko pleaded with the Military-Industrial Commission for the work to be taken from Barmin and be given to NPO Energia. Glushko's alternative, Vulkan-launched base was elaborated within his bureau. Bushuyev developed spacecraft for the base. Prudnikova developed a modular lunar city, with living modules, factory modules, a nuclear reactor power module, and a lunar crawler with a 200 km radius of action. The project work was only finally cancelled after the Apollo-Soyuz flights.


1975 January 1 - Vulkan Mars Expedition

Glushko proposed a Mars expedition launched by the Vulkan heavy-lift launch vehicle. The concept was treated like a bad allergy by the VPK. He later scaled it down and proposed it for launch by Energia (using 100 tonne modules instead of 230 tonne modules).


1976 May 1 - Plea for revival of N1 project

The workers on the project put together a letter to the 25th Party Congress, saying that N1 development should continue, and that N1 s/n's 8, 9, and 10 should be flown. The Party did not accept the letter. They had been assured by the leadership that the population of the city of Leninsk, the extensive facilities and housing built for the N1, would all be used for the MKTS Soviet shuttle. Iosifiyan considered the N1 fundamentally flawed, a project that was only approved due to Kremlin politics.


1977 December 1 - Glushko uninterested in further lunar base work

Bushuyev tells Chertok that the lunar base work did not interest Glushko. The VPK Military-Industrial Commission was only interested in duplicating the American shuttle, not in any other ventures in space. With the N1-Sr booster, Russia could have had a six man lunar base established with 8 to 10 launches in the late 1970's. Bushuyev died on 26 October 1978, having seen his dream completely tossed away.


1978 January 1 - Vulkan Lunar Base rejected

An expert commission led by Keldysh examines the plan for a lunar base launched by the Vulkan booster. The plan is completely rejected. NPO Energia was told to quit dreaming and devote itself only to projects with national economic importance, like Buran. This put a definitive end to Glushko's lunar base projects studied in 1976-1978. But he just waited and started design work again on a lunar base using the Energia launch vehicle after the first Buran launch in 1988.


1987 May 15 - Polyus

Due to delays in completion of the enormous static test facility at Baikonur, which could test the entire Energia vehicle stack, it was decided to launch the vehicle without the verification the tests would provide. The launch of 6SL was planned for 11 May 1987 at 21:30 Moscow time. It was delayed five days when a leak was detected in the Block 3A electrical distribution section, then by another hour due to a fault LH2 thermostat. The launch vehicle performed successfully, but the Polyus payload failed to inject itself into orbit due to a guidance system failure.

30 years after the first R-7 launch, and 15 years after N1-7L, the first Energia flew. During the time it had taken to achieve this milestone, the N1 could have been developed to maturity, allowing a Russian moon base by 1980. A ticket to fly to such a Russian moon base in 1988 would have cost $100 million. This was what Von Braun had claimed a Saturn V ticket would have cost in 1965 - which would have been closer to $ 1 billion in 1988 dollars. The Americans had claimed in 1969 that a ticket aboard the shuttle would have cost $5 million, and it actually turned out to be $75 million. A ticket aboard a Soyuz flight cost $15 million in the 1990's.


1991 February 7 - Salyut 7 re-enters

Salyut 7 had been put into a high storage orbit in June 1986, which was supposed to allow it to remain in orbit for ten years before decaying. But much greater than expected solar activity caused the orbit to decay rapidly. By the end of 1990 the station was no longer controllable, and on 7 February 1991 the station came down over South America.


1993 June 30 - Yeltsin cancels Buran project

No known mission (with the end of SDI and the cold war) - plus the project manager was one of the 1991 coup plotters. Total cost 20 billion rubles at time of cancellation.

There were several attempts to try to obtain western funding to keep the program going. Energia had developed the 18 tonne Universal Space Platform for launch by Energia into geosynchronous orbit. Talks were conducted with France for its use in a joint project, but they were not interested -- they wanted to use a payload that could be launched by their own Ariane rocket. Bosch discussed using Energia for a large communications satellite, but those talks came to nothing. In 1989 Semenov proposed a military use for the satellite. Soviet forces agreed to the proposal and the Soviet Ministers issued a resolution. But the project had only third priority after Buran and Mir. The Academy of Sciences wanted to develop, in parallel, a radio interferometry platform. This would have used a 25 m diameter and been placed in a 150,000 km orbit. Norway was involved in discussions on the project, but it came to nothing, since the total cost was estimated at $ 1 billion. Ustinov told the space planners that there was no money for their projects -- but he had plenty of money to get 15,000 Russian soldiers killed in Afghanistan. The entire record of the leadership was one of hundreds of failed decisions. Energia could have been used for various interesting projects, including the BKK - Military Space Complex. But in 1990-1991 all programs were cancelled, with the sole exception of the Mir station.


1996 January 1 - China to dominate space in 21st Century

Chertok predicted that China would replace Russia as the space superpower within ten to fifteen years.



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