UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Intercepted/Interpreted Data by US Intelligence Backed Manned Scenario

Everything that was going on at Tyuratam was monitored in real time by US listening posts in Turkey and Iran, by aircraft border traverses, as well as by SIGINT-gathering satellite constellations that orbited overhead several times a day. While telephone service and radio broadcasts were shut down at Tyuratam/Leninsk during swaths of time that the recognized satellites would fly overhead, the on-pad preparations of the N-1 rockets were never halted.[12]

"Every day," as one former intelligence analyst commented, "we would see part of the engaged mission sequence simulated on the pad. Over the space of several weeks we captured the SIGINT data for basically the entire mission intended for the J vehicle [N-1 rocket in US intelligence parlance], as the Soviet engineers would go through their test sequences. And they didn't go through the mission simulation just once. They went through it enough times that we had pretty much complete coverage, and we knew exactly what they anticipated would happen at each stage and time interval for the upcoming mission-from launch to parachute deployment."[12]

Furthermore, the indicators--via the interpreting of the captured signals from the entire simulation-were that Soviet engineers intended a lunar mission was to take place; that a significant signals-emanating payload was on board that appeared to include a functioning (at least in some capacity) lunar lander (one mentioned lander-related test detected was apparently the radar in varying modes); and that some of the intercepted data broadcasts provided indications that there may have been functional life-support equipment on board as well.[12]

It appears that the lander was tested sufficiently in its mission simulation section on the pad to indicate to US analysts that a descent to the lunar surface may have been planned. This conclusion appeared all the more remarkable to US analysts, considering that no Russian Saturn-V class rocket had ever successfully attained Earth orbit, let alone the vicinity of the Moon up to July 1969.[12]

Like the previous December, NSA employees versant in Russian again showed up in temporary duty assignments sometime in the last part of June. Since the exact lunar launch window for Tyuratam was known for the N-1 rocket by US intelligence, each day the time swath for the most advantageous launch period would precess, and so the time frames for the "alerts" would move to later and later in each 24-hour time period.[12]

Coupled with the COMINT intercepted between Moscow and the tracking ship flotillas (situated in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans--a ship deployment so unique that it was the largest and most extensive ever in the history of the Soviet space program[95]), and the SIGINT captured from Tyuratam, the consensus was that a manned space mission was being prepared.[12]

But what was not part of the consensus was whether the manned expedition was going to involve only one rocket, or two. The NSA, based on its SIGINT intercepts, was of the opinion that only one rocket-the N-1-was involved; the CIA on the other hand, felt that was too extreme a scenario, and opted for a two-rocket launching (similar in trend to the circumlunar "Podsadka" scenario), that included either a Soyuz rocket[12] or a Proton. Although in early 1968, the CIA thought that the USSR's preferred prime lunar landing scenario involved two N-1s, in an attempt to use Earth-orbital rendezvous to substitute for an "unachievable" direct-ascent/direct-return mission that was earlier discussed by Soviet officials.[50]

However, in the July aftermath, arguments ensued as to what intercepted and retrieved data backed which viewpoints. The argument for a non-"Crazy Ivan" mission scenario (the "Crazy Ivan" mission meant that cosmonauts would be put on board a completely untested rocket to achieve orbit) gained the upper hand, despite a lack of sufficient corroboratory information (in US intelligence parlance, "high confidence") that indicated a Soyuz rocket had been taken to launch pad 1 in the requisite time frame.[12]

Additionally, there had been arguments as to what type of mission scenario was contemplated by the Russians, and ultimately, it was thought that either an "extended Apollo 8 with lunar module in tow" (for co-planar rendezvous tests) or an "Apollo 10" type of mission (with the LK actually engaging in descent simulation tests) had the appearance of the most reasonableness in light of the extant hardware and its known development. An unmanned soil-sample return via Proton rocket was also thrown into the mix. But some analysts looking at the NSA intercept data argued that the SIGINT coming from the N-1 preparations indicated a full-blown Moon landing, with personnel on board.[12]

Furthermore, it was also thought by some analysts--based on the NSA's SIGINT reception captures beginning in the latter part of June 1969 that showed two boosters on their respective pads contemporaneously--that perhaps one rocket was to have been the back-up vehicle to the other booster, and would have been slated to be used had the primary N-1 failed during its ascent, and in turn would have allowed the Soviets to keep their lunar mission chronology on time, even with less than a 24-hour turnaround if necessary to still stay ahead of the Americans.[12]

This perception of the two on-pad rockets was an additional contributing indicator to US intelligence of the "specialness" of the early July mission preparations.[12] (Based on presently available information, it is not known whether the analysts reviewing the NSA SIGINT intercepts could distinguish that the 5L vehicle was flight-rated, while the 1M1 training rocket was not).

However, it appears--based on information uncovered by both Charles Vick and Heinz-Eyermann-that both rockets were nearly mirror images of each other in functionality, and so therefore it can be reasonably concluded that their signal patterns would also be indistinguishable.[7, 96] The 1M1 had been on the pad since late May, agreeing with the "seven weeks" mentioned by the German documentarian's sources, and 5L was transported out to its pad on June 19-exactly two weeks prior to its July 3 launching.

The ultimately accepted viewpoints found their way in print contemporaneously in September 1969, as well as several years later in 1974.[97, 98] As previously discussed in the Quest article serialization, it was expected that the N-1 mission to Earth orbit would include an entire lunar landing mission platform that included a lunar lander and propulsion stage, which would be followed in turn by a launch of a manned Soyuz.[97]

The complete mission scenario of what the Soviets intended (as interpreted by US intelligence) showed up in the volume Soviet Conquest from Space in which author and CIA informant Peter N. James (whose reports were read in the Nixon White House[99]) explicitly states that:

".The Soviet secret plan was to use the [N-1] to launch an unmanned Zond-type spacecraft and its accompanying circumlunar propulsion system, complete with prototype hardware and mock-up lunar [landing module] stage, into Earth orbit. A few hours later, Soviet cosmonauts would be launched with the standard launch vehicle.. Thus the Soviet plan was to send cosmonauts on a circumlunar trajectory before Apollo 11, so they could test their lunar hardware and simulate a future manned lunar landing from the safety of a manned Moon ship that would loop around the Moon and return to Earth. With the cosmonauts in the vicinity of the Moon conducting tests, the unmanned Luna spacecraft. would attempt to soft land, pick up several ounces of lunar soil, and return to Earth."[98]

Furthermore, the ending for this scenario was expected to have been that the cosmonauts would return to Earth escorting (in some sequence and distance) the Luna soil-sample-return mission. The return trajectory of the Russian space spectacular would be on the "in bound" trajectory to Earth at the same time that Apollo 11 would be only on its "out bound" trajectory towards the Moon.[97]

James' scenario was confirmed in largest part by the recent publication of the recollections of former NASA Associate Administrator Robert Seamans. In his volume Project Apollo: The Tough Decisions, Seamans provides commentary on what he knew about the USSR's manned lunar landing plans, and the overall scenario concept that he describes therein corroborates in largest part with what was put down in Soviet Conquest from Space of the mid-1970s:

"It's my understanding that the Russians planned to explore the Moon with the lander and then rendezvous and dock with the Soyuz in a maneuver similar to the crew transfer practiced.in mid-January 1969. A rendezvous also would have occurred earlier, in Earth orbit. The N-1 would ferry the Earth-escape rockets, lunar propulsion systems, and lunar lander into orbit, followed by the cosmonauts aboard the Soyuz, who would rendezvous and dock with their lunar chariot."[100]

It seems that Seamans is indicating in his description of the Soviet lunar event that activities were to have involved some maneuvering by the lunar lander while in selenocentric orbit (similar to Apollo 10).

One item that NASA officials, as well as US intelligence analysts had access to, were three-dimensional scaled maps of various sections of the Tyuratam Cosmodrome. "Area J," as the bi-pad complex was called by US intelligence analysts, was the focus of extreme interest throughout the 1960s and 1970s (due to its centrality in the Moon race), and even resulted in a three-dimensional scaled model of the site to be built a number of times-with rockets included. One such diorama was built of the "Area J" complex in early 1969, by the National Photographic Interpretation Center's three-dimensional model shop. Two photographs of this model diorama (from the CIA's museum) published with this article are representative of several hundred constructed from the early 1960s until the shop closed in 1996.  These three-dimensional models were needed to aid interpretation and analysis of overhead imagery, and to more easily visualize the resulting intelligence. This particular map model in the photographs is about six feet square, and covers approximately one square mile of the actual Tyuratam Cosmodrome.

And there is an additional, as well as curious, coda to the Borman visit that is connected to the Soviet aspiration to send cosmonauts to the Moon--which was only revealed by the astronaut when he returned to the US. On July 12, 1969 at Cape Kennedy, the NASA astronaut told reporters that on July 9 in a meeting with Soviet President Nikolai Podgorniy, the topic of Soviet exploration of the Moon was fielded. Podgorniy told Borman that the USSR was "planning to send large manned space stations into orbit around the Moon."[91]

It might be possible to say that what Podgorniy meant was not space stations in the sense of Salyut or Mir, but perhaps of the Tyazheliy sputnik variety-a "heavy satellite" (orbital station-type platforms from which a satellite could be launched from)--such an interpretation could possibly be made in regards to a 7K-L1S and LK in tandem.

It is apparent from both published and interview disclosures that what the Russians are currently and officially promulgating as to what took place in July 1969 is incomplete. As further US intelligence documents and other materials become declassified and made available to researchers, the spotlight will shine ever more brightly on the shortcomings of the current Russian story of what happened, and the Russians will have some explaining to do.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list