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A Peering into Soviet Prognostication of American Intent

The most significant "surprise material" contained in the Apollo 7 booklet is the table at the back of the document entitled "Plans of Further Piloted Flights within the Boundaries of the 'Apollo' Program."[54] The graphic lists anticipated missions for Apollos 8 through 12, and associated information that the analysts knew or extrapolated as of early October 1968 about American intent. (Indeed, only two crews-of Apollos 8 and 9-were known to the Russians as of early October 1968.  The follow-ons were "not yet appointed."[54])  

These prognostications are important and noteworthy because they no doubt were factors in the USSR's own manned lunar landing testing-and-development-timetable plans for 1969-since there was an on-going competition.  So the details being imparted here for the first time in the open press are a window into the Russians' policy decision-making processes.

It is obvious from reading the entries (please see the associated reproductions of the table here) that Soviet engineers were expecting a slowly expanding and low-risk American test program for the Apollo effort.  Apollo 8 was viewed by the Russians to have had three potential variant missions:

"1.  The last stage of the rocket carrier is deduced [to have] a low geocentric orbit   close to circular.  The space ship is separated and remains in this orbit,   [while] the last stage and its engine docks again for the working of the   simulation of the 'Apollo' ships on a trajectory towards the Moon.

2.The ship is deduced for an elliptic geocentric orbit with an apogee height of several thousand kilometers.

3.   The ship is deduced for selenocentric orbit."[54]

Following the circumlunar mission of Apollo 8 in the graphic, the very next manned mission to selenocentric space would have been Apollo 11, as projected by Russian engineers.  And according to the "Flight Scheme" of Apollo 11, this mission had two "variant" outcomes:  "The termination of the mission in selenocentric orbit without landing," or "The regular scheme of the flight with landing cosmonauts on the Moon."[54]

What this means is that the Russians thought that the final outcome of Apollo 11's mission to the Moon was a toss-up, with an equal chance of just circling the Moon with astronauts as it was in having bootprints left in the lunar soil.

At this time of the issuance of this booklet, Apollo 10 was viewed as an augmentation of the Apollo 9 mission (with "the regular basic block and lunar cabin"), with the added expectation that "the space ship is deduced to be an elliptic geocentric orbit with an apogee of 6000 kilometers."[54]

Apollo 12 appears to be considered by the Russians as to have been the first completely expected mission to land astronauts upon the Moon.  The "Mission Scheme" states "The regular scheme of flight with landing cosmonauts upon the Moon ([if] this has not been carried out with Apollo 11's launching.)"[54]  Interestingly, the Russian word "essliy" (meaning "if") was handwritten in inside the parenthetical phrasing.

All in all, based on the putting into historical context these two documents, it appears that American confidence as displayed in their assessment, even if heavily colored by nationalism, was correct.  Meanwhile, even with excellent technical intelligence collection, the Russians would be caught by surprise when the US development plan took a more dramatic, adventurous-as well as unprecedentedly successful--path than what was earlier expected and calculated.

With such materials now in hand, the actions that I will describe herein come into clearer focus, and may lead to a better understanding as to why what happened, happened.



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