In February of 1969, the first launch of the Soviet Moon Rocket, the N-1, exploded. By April, the Soviets still did not have a clear program of subsequent piloted Soyuz fights. In May, the Soviets watched the successful US lunar orbital flight and practice landing of Apollo 10. In June, a Lunar Sample return mission failed when the Block D stage refused to ignite. On July 3rd the second N1 launch failed with a spectacular explosion…
Soviet Luna 15 was designed to take a sample of Lunar soil and return it to Earth
Ye-8 lunar sample return spacecraft – detail of re-entry vehicle Credit: Mark Wade
Finally, on the morning of February 21, all the population of the N1 assembly area and a residential area, situated just south of the launch pad, was ordered to evacuate. The giant service structure then rolled away leaving the dark-gray rocket with a white payload fairing towering under sunny skies. The weather was extremely cold, with temperatures falling to minus 44 C degrees, and stormy winds. In the fortified firing control room, the Commander of the 6th Directorate, took the firing command position at the main periscope…
Apollo CSM/LM vs. Soviet L3 Complex. Credit Mark Wade
N1 image taken by US KH-8 Reconnaissance satellite
Trouble began on the sixth day of the flight, November 17. The capsule developed an atmospheric leak, the pressure first dropping from 760 to 380 mm of Mercury. With the drop in cabin pressure all the animal test subjects died. It would have killed any Cosmonaut not wearing a spacesuit.
The first attempt for a Zond 4 follow-up launched on April 22. It failed when the Launch Escape System sent an erroneous abort command at T+260 seconds and shut down the Proton booster’s second stage. The escape rocket fired and pulled the descent module to safety.
When we left the Soviet Union they had somewhat successfully landed a probe on Venus and they had completed the automatic docking of two Soyuz 7K-OK spacecrafts. However they did not reach their goal of a circumlunar flight in time for the 50th anniversary of the glorious revolution.
After 1957, the Soviets became accustomed to achieving “world firsts” in space accomplishments. Nevertheless, 10 years later they were not confident that they could pull off the world’s first fully automatic rendezvous and docking of two un-piloted Soyuz spacecraft. At the time the chance for success was estimated at only 50/50.
Vasily Mishin at Baykonur in 1967. Credit B. Chertok
Armen Mnatsakanyan the main designer of Igla. Credit B. Chertok
“It’s a terrible scene. Komarov burned up. All the instruments burned. We must quickly find out what prevented the main parachute from unlatching.” Chief Designer Mishin after he arrived at the Soyuz 1 crash site.