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US, and Soviet, Leaks to theWestern Media about the Aftermath

Interestingly enough, there is some contemporaneous press reportage about what happened to the anticipated Soviet Moon shot in December. In the US periodical Newsweek, the news item stated that "Intelligence sources confirm that the Soviet Union was ready but unable to send a manned mission to the Moon earlier this month when the launch window was open. Unspecified technical difficulties developed in the Zond spacecraft. In the past week, the Soviet space tracking and recovery ships in the Indian Ocean have dispersed or returned to port."[82]

Two weeks later, in the German newspaper Die Welt, von Braun apparently talked about the failed Soviet attempt: "'The Soviet Union tried to launch a manned spaceship to the Moon before Apollo 8,' said a well-known American rocket expert in an interview with the "Welt" at Cape Kennedy. [It is also known that von Braun gave numerous interviews to the German media during this time frame talking about the US-Soviet space competition, and at times gave un-attributed comments.] 'We know that the Soviets had already deployed their ships for the tracking of the trajectory of the Moon ship,' said the engineer. Why the Soviet Union specifically failed to achieve preemption of the historical Apollo 8 flight to the Moon is not known."[83] On December 29, Welt am Sonntag reported that "The USSR tried everything to beat Apollo 8. Wernher von Braun waited hourly for the special announcement [of a launch] from Moscow."[64]

A very curious coda to the whole December 1968 event is the fact that there was a UPI news wire story (datelined Moscow, so one could assume it was probably either journalist Henry Shapiro or one of his colleagues in his Moscow bureau) about the launch of Cosmos 260 on December 17. In a very strange non sequitur addition to the one-paragraph news item about the launching, was the following added sentence: "Sources here [in Moscow] conceded today that the 'launching window' had closed until January and the Soviet Union would be unable to attempt a Moon shot until that time."[84]

Interestingly, in further evidence of an apparent attempt by the Soviets to get the message out via the Western media, German newspapers reported on December 18 that "It is said in Moscow that the [manned circumlunar] experiment has been postponed for reasons of safety."[64] Other German stories additionally reported that Moscow sources stated that the USSR could fly a manned spaceship around the Moon only in January 1969, and had had to postpone the launch in December "now in order to have time for examinations to make the flight safer."[64] In a side-bar article, I discuss in further detail about Western reportage from Moscow (via UPI's press bureau) that happened in December 1968.

The timetable for the release of these statements reflects a confirmation of Philip Clark's lunar-window calculations mentioned earlier. I am guessing that these were to be the "leaks" that the Soviet manned circumlunar space shot would not be attempted in December. Additionally, at about this time, the end-of-year holiday leaves that had been cancelled for NSA listening posts were allowed to take place once again.[12]

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One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias