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L-1 Lunar Circumnavigation Mission

The United States and the Soviet Union were in a race to send humans around the Moon in 1968, despite Soviet claims to the contrary. The Russians admitted only twenty years after the fact that they were involved in a serious race to the Moon with the United States, But at the time many leaders in the West believed the Soviet Union's claims at the time that it was not involved in a lunar program. Bad guesses, Soviet lies, and naive assumptions led them to accept Soviet denials. The Soviet Union was involved in at least two secret efforts to beat the Americans to the Moon. Moscow would have used the success as another means of demonstrating the superiority of the communist system, just as they had done with Sputnik in 1957 and Gagarin in 1961. Gagarin's flight had been a secret effort announced only after it succeeded. But the Soviet scientific and industrial complex was inadequate to this more complex task, and the Soviets eventually dropped their plans for both lunar circumnavigation landing programs.

Vladimir N. Chelomei's LK-1 became the primary manned lunar program in October 1961. In 1962 Khrushchev assigned Chelomei's OKB-52 group to prepare for a manned spacecraft intended for circumlunar flight. At this time there was no stated goal of a Moon landing. Chelomei's LK-1 circumlunar spacecraft featured a 2.8 meter diameter Apollo-type 3,800 kg reentry capsule, mounted atop a cylindrical service module which provided power and boosted the spacecraft on a translunar trajectory. Intended to be launched atop Chelomei's Proton booster, the 17,000 kg spacecraft carried 13,000 kg of propellant.

Chief Designer of the Soviet space program and head of Special Design Bureau-1 (OKB-1) Sergei P. Korolev approved a prospectus en titled, "Complex for the Assembly of Space Vehicles in Artificial Satellite Orbit (the Soyuz)" on 10 March 1962 This plan outlined a three-man spacecraft resembling what eventually became the Soyuz. This L-1 consisted of four modules: an attitude control module, a living module, a reentry/command module, and a service module, running from fore to aft. Once in orbit the L1 would dock with the stack of propulsion modules needed for the circumlunar mission. The L1 and the propulsion modules were launched separately on Vostok boosters.

Korolev approved a second prospectus, "Assembly of Vehicles in Earth Satellite Orbit" on 10 May 1963. The Soyuz Complex consisted of spacecraft designated A, B, and C. The manned Soyuz-A corresponded to the L1 vehicle of the earlier plan. Soyuz-B was an unmanned propulsion module launched dry, while Soyuz-C was an unmanned tanker for fueling the Soyuz-B in orbit. The Soyuz complex required five or six Vostok launch vehicles to conduct a mission around the Moon on a free-return trajectory.

The Soviet leaders rejected both of Korolev's plans and continued to support Chelomei's LK-1 project.

On 03 August 1964 Soviet Communist Party Central Committee Ukase 655-268 approved the Soviet manned circumlunar and lunar landing programs. In this directive the Chelomei bureau received final approval to build the LK-1 spacecraft to send two cosmonauts on a circumlunar mission by October 1967, the 50th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. But Chelomei fell from political favor after Khrushchev was removed from power on 13 October 1964, and the program for the circumlunar spacecraft was cancelled in August 1965.

Korolev and Chelomei were ordered to design a new circumlunar mission in late 1965, and that the two chief designers agreed on the basic configuration of the new L1 project in September 1965. The plan would use the Chelomei's UR-500K [Proton] booster. By September 1965 the multiple launches of components for Earth-orbit rendezvous was dropped in favor of a single launch using a four-stage Proton rocket. A stripped-down version of the Soyuz spacecraft (7K-L1) would be put into a free-return circumlunar trajectory by the Block-D upper stage Korolev was developing for the N1 rocket. A modified version of the first Soyuz spacecraft was designed for manned circumlunar flight.

On 14 January 1966 Korolev died unexpectedly during surgery, and was succeeded by Vasili Mishin. On 23 April 1967 Soyuz 1 was launched with cosmonaut V. M. Komarov aboard. A day later, Soyuz 1 made a safe reentry, but the main parachure did not deploy on schedule. The high descent velocity resulted the destruction of the ship, and the death of cosmonaut Komarov.

None of the Zond ("probe") missions were ever actually manned, although early plans did call for Zond 7 to have a crew. Ultimately, 3 manned circumlunar missions were to have occurred. Zond 1-3 were versions of unmanned probes to Venus and had nothing to do with the circumlunar Zond missions.

Cosmos 146 was a Soviet test pecursor to the Zond series, launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome aboard a Proton K rocket on 10 March 1967. It was launched into a planned highly elliptical earth orbit. The Block D stage functioned correctly in putting the spacecraft into a translunar trajectory. It was not aimed at the moon and no recovery of the spacecraft was planned or attemped. It was a successful mission that created a false confidence just before a string of failures that would follow.

Cosmos 154 was a Soviet test spacecraft launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome aboard a Proton K rocket on 08 April 1967. It was a precursor to the Zond series. It reached earth orbit but the Block D translunar injection stage failed to fire (ullage rockets, which had to fire to settle propellants in tanks before main engine fired, were jettisoned prematurely). The spacecraft burned up two days later when orbit decayed.

A Proton booster launch failure occured on 28 September 1967. One of the six engines in the Proton first stage failed to operate. The emergency escape system dragged the descent module free of the errant rocket.

Another Proton booster launch failure occured on 22 November 1967. One of the four engines in the second stage of the Proton failed to operate. The emergency escape system activated. The land landing rockets fired prematurely during parachute descent.

Zond 4 was launched on 02 March 1968 to a distance of 300,000 km from Earth, 180 degrees away from the moon. The announced purpose of the mission was to explore circumterrestrial space and to flight test newsystems and equipment. The launch was made in a direction away from the Moon in order to avoid complications from lunar gravity. Zond 4 was similar to the later Zond 5 in design, a cylindrical capsule approximately 4.5 meters in length and 2.2 to 2.72 meters in diameter, with two solar panels attached on opposite sides of the body spanning a total of about 9 meters. The spacecraft carried proton detectors and radio test relays among its instrumentation. This spacecraft was an unmanned test of the capsule and a precursor to manned spacecraft. Zond 4 was launched into Earth parking orbit as part of a Tyazheliy Sputnik (68-013B) station by the SL-12/D-1-e UR-500K Proton launcher. A Block D fourth stage put the probe out to 300,000 km distance. Its return to Earth was supposed to be made by a skip re-entry, but apparently an attitude control error led to the angle of attack being too steep, and the spacecraft entered at high speed over West Africa. Ground control set off the self-destruct mechanism over the Gulf of Guinea at an altitude of 10 km.

The 04 April 1968 unmanned Saturn/Apollo 6 mission was designed as the final qualification of the Saturn V launch vehicle and Apollo spacecraft for manned Apollo missions. Major problems occurred during the mission after liftoff. The Saturn V structure underwent a severe pogo oscillation. Due to a manufacturing flaw, structural panels were lost from the lunar module adapter. Two of the five second stage J-2 engines shut down prematurely. After two orbits, the third stage failed to reignite as planned.

A launch failure occured on 23 April 1968. The escape system was triggered mistakenly during nominal Proton second stage operation.

On 15 July 1968, another L1 launch had to be cancelled when engineers overpressurized the 4th stage oxidizer tank during testing. The resulting explosion killed three pad workers.

In early August 1968 George Low, the Apollo spacecraft program manager, put forward a daring idea: fly Apollo 8 on the Saturn V in December, with a dummy instead of the real LM, all the way to the Moon. NASA had designed seven types of Apollo missions to test the suitability and safety of all equipment in all mission phases. These were designated by letters A through G. A Lunar orbit mission was not among these planned profiles. On 17 August 1968 NASA Administrator Webb agreed to man Apollo 8 for an earth-orbital mission, but postponed the decision on a circumlunar mission until after the Apollo 7 flight. On 19 August 1968, Apollo Program Director General Samuel C. Phillips announced the earth-orbit mission to the press in Washington. Their main objective of Apollo 8 would be to test the spider-like lunar module [LM]. He said that while a circumlunar flight or lunar orbit were possible options. But he diminished the possibility so thoroughly, by saying repeatedly "the basic mission is Earth orbit", that the press at first mostly missed the point. NASA designed a flexible profile for Apollo 8 so that, depending on many factors, including results of the Apollo 7 flight, the agency could commit Apollo 8 to an Earth-orbit flight, or a flight to a few hundred or several thousand miles away from Earth, or to a lunar flyby, or to spending several hours in lunar orbit.

Zond 5 flew a successful circumlunar mission. Zond 5 was launched 14 September 1968 from a Tyazheliy Sputnik (68-076B) in earth parking orbit to make scientific studies during a lunar flyby and to return to Earth. En route to the Moon the main stellar attitude control optical surface became contaminated and was rendered unusable. Backup sensors were used to guide the spacecraft. On September 18, 1968, the spacecraft flew around the Moon. The closest distance was 1,950 km. High quality photographs of the Earth were taken at a distance of 90,000 km. A biological payload of turtles, wine flies, meal worms, plants, seeds, bacteria, and other living matter was included in the flight. According to the Russian Academy of Sciences, in the pilot's seat was a 175 cm tall, 70 kg mannequin containing radiation detectors. After Zond 5 had passed the moon there were surprises in store for those monitoring the flight at Jodrell Bank. On the night of 19-20 September, the craft was clearly observed by Jodrell Bank to be on the return swing and a Russian voice, presumably tape-recorded, was heard calling out instrument values, as though communications were being tested for a subsequent manned mission. Returning to Earth another attitude control sensor failed, making the planned guided entry impossible and forcing the spacecraft controllers to use a direct ballistic entry. On September 21, 1968, the reentry capsule entered the Earth's atmosphere, braked aerodynamically, and deployed parachutes at 7 km. The capsule splashed down in the backup area in the Indian Ocean at 32.63 degrees S, 65.55 degrees E and was successfully recovered, safely returning the biological payload. It was announced that the turtles (steppe tortoises) had lost about 10% of their body weight but remained active and showed no loss of appetite. The spacecraft was planned as a precursor to crewed lunar spacecraft. It represented the first successful Soviet circumlunar mission. Upon reentry, the gyroscope was disabled and the capsule came in at 20G's. It was recovered.

Zond 6 on 10 November of 1968 also completed a circumlunar mission. Zond 6 was launched on a lunar flyby mission from a parent satellite (68-101B) in earth parking orbit. The 5375 kg spacecraft, which carried scientific probes including cosmic-ray and micrometeoroid detectors, photography equipment, and a biological payload, was a precursor to manned spaceflight. Zond 6 flew around the moon on November 14, 1968, at a minimum distance of 2420 km. Photographs of the lunar near and farside were obtained with panchromatic film. Each photo was 12.70 by 17.78 cm. Some of the views allowed for stereo pictures. The photos were taken from distances of approximately 11,000 km and 3300 km. Controlled reentry of the spacecraft occurred on November 17, 1968, and Zond 6 landed in a predetermined region of the Soviet Union. Gasket failure caused a depressurization of the (unoccupied) crew compartment.

Apollo 8 rolled out to the pad on 09 October 1968. The Apollo 7 mission ended successfully with splashdown on 22 October 1968. On 12 November NASA made its decision public - Apollo 8 would fly a lunar-orbital mission beginning 21 December 1968.

Zond 7 was originally scheduled for 09 December of 1968, with a crew of Alexei Leonov and Oleg Makarov. A decision on whether or not to man this mission was to have been made around 01 December 1968. After Zond 6 failed to land safely, a decision was made to postpone a piloted Zond mission until January 1969. By that time, the United States had already flown Apollo 8 around the moon.

Apollo 8 was launched on 21 December 1968 with a crew of Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot James A. Lovell, Jr., and Lunar Module Pilot William A. Anders. A third-stage burn injected the Apollo spacecraft into translunar trajectory. Orbit insertion took place on 24 December into an elliptical 310.6 km by 111.2 km lunar orbit. Two orbits later a second burn placed Apollo 8 into a near-circular 110.4 by 112.3 km orbit for eight orbits. The crew photographed the lunar surface, both farside and nearside, obtaining information on topography and landmarks as well as other scientific information necessary for future Apollo landings. Additionally, six live television transmission sessions were done by the crew during the mission, including the famous Christmas Eve broadcast in which the astronauts read from the book of Genesis. All systems operated within allowable parameters and all objectives of the mission were achieved. The transearth injection burn took place on 25 December at 06:10:16 UT after a total of 10 lunar orbits. Apollo 8 splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on 27 December 1968.

A Proton booster launch failure occured on 20 January 1969. The second and third stages of the Proton rocket performed poorly, so the vehicle had to be destroyed. The launch escape system functioned as designed.

Rescheduled for March 1969 with a crew of Alexei Leonov and Oleg Makarov, the Zond 7 mission was restructured after the Soviets decided not to fly any of the manned circumlunar flights. Zond 7 finally did fly, unmanned. The 5979 kg Zond 7 was launched on 07 August 1969 towards the moon from a mother spacecraft (69-067B) on a mission of further studies of the moon and circulmunar space, to obtain color photography of the earth and the moon from varying distances, and to flight test the spacecraft systems. Earth photos were obtained on August 9, 1969. On August 11, 1969, the spacecraft flew past the moon at a distance of 1984.6 km and conducted two picture taking sessions. Zond 7 reentered the earth's atmosphere on August 14, 1969, and achieved a soft landing in a preset region south of Kustanai. It was the only Zond flight which could have gotten a crew back to Earth unharmed.

Zond 8 was originally planned for May 1969, carrying a crew of Valery Bykovsky and Nikolay Rukavishnikov. It was flown -- unmanned -- as a purely research circumlunar mission on 20 October of 1970. Zond 8, with a mass of 5375 kg, was launched from an earth orbiting platform, Tyazheliy Sputnik (70-088B), towards the moon. The announced objectives were investigations of the moon and circumlunar space and testing of onboard systems and units. The spacecraft obtained photographs of the earth on October 21 from a distance of 64,480 km. The spacecraft transmitted flight images of the earth for three days. Zond 8 flew past the moon on October 24, 1970, at a distance of 1110.4 km and obtained both black and white and color photographs of the lunar surface. Scientific measurements were also obtained during the flight. Zond 8 reentered the earth's atmosphere and splashed down in the Indian Ocean on October 27, 1970. Mishin claimed that its ballistic reentry and splashdown in the Indian Ocean were planned. Afanaseyev and other sources state that Zond 8 suffered control problems. According to this account, as had happened before, the guidance system failed and reentry was at 20G's.

Zond 9, originally planned for July 1969, carrying a crew of Pavel Popovich and Vitali Sevastyanov, never flew.

The Soviet government finally decided to cancel the L1 project in 1970.

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Page last modified: 10-04-2016 19:06:18 ZULU