US Actions/Expectations-"The God---n Bolshies Were Going For It"
In a "Memorandum for the President" (entitled "Soviet space assessment") dated November 27, 1968, National Science Advisor Donald Hornig provided President Johnson the results of a report created by the Space Science and Technology Panel of the President's Science Advisory Committee-which Hornig determined was "a very good, concise assessment of the Soviet space program and its future course."
In an aside, on the very same day that Hornig produced his memo, a President's Daily Brief report that is believed to reflect a detailed assessment of the Moon race situation by the US intelligence community (at least in major part) also was provided to Johnson. This very document's declassification process--that I personally initiated back in 1997--is now presently in the Bush White House with national security advisor Stephen Hadley's office awaiting his inputs.
What Hornig reports is that "Since the Soviets utilize their space program for political objectives by achieving 'firsts,'.. Effective competition does not require that US challenge the probable Soviet program on a mission-by-mission basis since the effect of individual space spectaculars is becoming less significant as an indication of leadership in space."
Interestingly, the attached report following Hornig's memo mentions some surprising predictions:
"Based on the presently approved US program and the assumption that the Soviet program will continue in its past pattern, [emphasis added] the following predictions are made:
1. The United States is leading in its manned lunar landing program by at least a year relative to the Soviets.
2. The Soviets are likely to try to minimize the effect of this leadership by attempting
a. a manned circumlunar within the next three months.
b. an unmanned lunar soft landing with the return of a lunar sample to Earth before the US manned lunar landing.
3. Following the US manned lunar landing, the Soviet Union is likely to rebuild its prestige in space and move towards a position of world leadership by dominance in planetary exploration, [and] parity in manned lunarexploration,.."
So President Johnson (and no doubt President-elect Nixon, who also was given briefings) was informed to expect a manned Soviet circumlunar mission in the nearest term. As enlightening as Hornig's memorandum and attached report are, the President's science advisor couldn't know that the time-frame conclusions of the Science Advisory Committee were already in the process of being actively foreshortened by the Russians.
In a currently continuing series of interviews with retired US intelligence personnel, I have learned that a confluence of information from several sources by late November 1968-HUMINT in Moscow, COMINT between the tracking ships already on station from the Zond 6 mission and Moscow (as well as via new additions to these flotillas-manned mission control ships--that were transiting to stations in the Caribbean, as well as Indian and Pacific oceans), and SIGINT from rocketry and launch-pad facility preparations at Tyuratam-set off alarm bells that the precursor preparations for a manned Soviet circumlunar attempt were already happening.
As a result, headquarters at Fort George Meade ordered via teletype that all end-of-year holiday leaves were cancelled for the NSA's space collection and missile-telemetry-monitoring units that ringed the borders of the USSR-from Turkey, Iran, and Diego Garcia in the south to Japan and the Aleutians in the west. And a special wrinkle was also added-NSA linguists versant in the Russian language were showing up in "temporary duty assignments" at selected units, for they would be the analysts to listen in and interpret the conversations in real time of any Moon-bound cosmonauts. As one person commented, "The God---n Bolshies were going for it."
Even Saturn V creator Dr. Wernher von Braun, who was at the time the Director of the Marshall Space Flight Center, was convinced (via his access to US intelligence reports, which was discussed in Part 1 of my co-authored Quest article serialization) that the USSR was in a sporting circumlunar race. In an October interview with a US news periodical, he stated that "I am beginning to doubt that we will [beat the USSR to the Moon]. It will undoubtedly be a photo finish. My guess is that the Russians will fly a crew on a loop around the Moon before this year is over. My guess is that if all goes according to plan, both sides will finish this year in essentially an even position." Nearly two months later, in early December, at a space-contractor banquet in Huntsville, Alabama, von Braun repeated his view: "I am convinced it will be a photo finish to the bitter end."
But there were other high-level NASA officials outside of von Braun who also provided insights into what US intelligence told them in briefings. Chris Kraft, NASA's Manned Spacecraft Center Director and former director of its flight operations, revealed that Apollo 8 was Apollo's "pivotal mission." In a published interview with the Baltimore Sun in November 1972, he amplified on the technical and political import of the first manned lunar shot, and tangentially talked about what provided impetus to change Apollo 8 from an Earth orbital mission to the more spectacular circumlunar.
"It proved so many things that had a bearing on the progress of the program-things that it might have disproved. The navigation to and from the Moon, the ability of the spacecraft systems to perform, the ability of Man to survive the deep space environment, all hinged on the..mission.. I really believed the Russians planned to fly a circumlunar mission, sending a manned spacecraft looping around and returning it without orbiting the Moon. That way they could say they sent the first Man to the vicinity of the Moon. And when we. decided to fly Apollo 8 as a Moon-orbit mission, there was nothing left for them to do."
The Apollo astronauts also had a sense that the competition was real. According to Walt Cunningham, "We (the Astronauts) suspected the Soviets were trying to beat us around the Moon, but had no hard information to that effect. Such information may have existed in NASA, but it was not shared with me." In a filmed interview, James Lovell commented that the astronauts had received information that the Russians would try to fly cosmonauts around the Moon ahead of the Americans, and that Zonds 5 and 6 were to find out the feasibility of such a mission.
In a further amplification, on December 13, 1968 Cunningham was interviewed by several German-based media outlets. His comments included that the USSR had missed its December launch date to send cosmonauts to selenocentric space, and could no longer beat Apollo 8. As Cunningham responded to my inquiry about the press reportage,
"The conclusion [the Germans reported] was drawn from an awareness of the possible Moon launch window from Baikonur. We now know their lunar program had much greater problems than the launch window."
As I had previously discussed in a previous article published in Quest, to correctly interpret events related to the anticipated Moon shots race in December 1968, one has to accurately know the points of the lunar window opening and closing for Tyuratam. As was disclosed via the maths research of UK analyst Philip Clark of the Molniya Space Consultancy, the entire length of the lunar window advantageous for a circumlunar mission was from the 8 to the 18 of December. Other separate findings additionally appear to indicate that the "minimum energy day" (the best day to launch, orbital mechanics-wise) was December 13. Graphics that accompany this article show the aggregate lunar-related launch windows for the Proton/L-1 program and two of the overlapping N-1/L-3 missions, as well as the December 1968 launch window with associated events.
As also discussed in the aforementioned Quest article serialization, the US Navy sent an additional two SIGINT-configured destroyers into the Black Sea on December 9. The original schedule was for the ships to leave the Black Sea on December 14, and that would have encompassed comfortably the "minimum energy day." But the ships left on December 12, due to severe storms.
Colleague Charles Vick is well-known for his researches of the CORONA satellite program, its actual photography, as well providing analysis of the resulting declassified reports (which are being released in a burgeoning amount by the US government). In the Quest serialization, his discoveries--via examining directly the CORONA photography-show that there were appropriate rockets inside their respective launch towers at launch pad 1 as well as at Proton pad 81R during the lunar window for December 1968.
Additionally, the CORONA photography evidence shows a Soyuz rocket being taken down from launch pad 1 in the December 22, 1968 imagery. Of course, in the light of the new evidence that a "Podsadka" mission simulation in Earth orbit was planned to take place in October 1969, one can wonder what its status was for December 1968.
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