Signed N1 rocket photo
    by Alexei Leonov
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Zond Lunar Program...                     See the Buran program >>>

Since the first successful Vostok manned flights, the russians started to prepare a manned lunar landing. The success of the first crew of 3 (Voskhod 1 mission, in 1965) opened the skies for an actual lunar program and possible lunar landing around 1967 (to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the October Revolution). However, like the 1967 Apollo fire, the russians also had some setbacks, namely the Soyuz 1 mission that killed Komarov in 1967 and also the failures of the N1 rocket launches (the equivalent to the Apollo Saturn V rocket).

From the hundreds of unmanned russian flights in the 1960's and 1970's, it was recently possible to link some of those flights to a lunar Zond program:

Mission Date Objectives
Zond 4a 22 Nov 1967 First unmanned circum-lunar flight, failed to reach earth orbit
Zond 5 14 Sep 1968 Successful unmanned circum-lunar flight, returned to earth after 7 days in space, splashed down in the Indian Ocean
Zond 6 10 Nov 1968 Similar to Zond 5 but with controled landing in Soviet Union
Zond 7 7 Aug 1969 Similar to Zond 6, took colour pictures of the moon
Zond 8 20 Oct 1970 Similar to Zond 7, night splash down in Indian Ocean

Besides these Zond missions, in the early 1970's, the russians also tested the actual lunar module and lunar lander on "unidentified unmanned missions". The Cosmos flights linked to these tests are Cosmos 379, 382, 398 and 434.

Crew assignment

Although a few of the early russian manned missions had objectives linked to a future lunar program, the first (and only) group of cosmonauts assigned to the Zond lunar program was only officially created in January 1968. It is said that moon preparations were made as early as Valery Bikosvky's Vostok 5 flight, when the mission break a record of 5 days in space. The "Lunar Group" of 18 cosmonauts had the following names (three cosmonauts are yet to be identified):

Cosmonaut Details
Yuri Artyukhin Flew on Soyuz 14, died 1998
Pavel Belyaev Flew on Voskhod 2, died 1970
Valery Bykovsky Flew on Vostok 5, Soyuz 22, Soyuz 31
Georgi Dobrovolski Flew on Soyuz 11, died 1971
Georgi Grechko Flew on Soyuz 17, Soyuz 26, Soyuz T-14
Pyotr Klimuk Flew on Soyuz 13, Soyuz 18, Soyuz 30
Valery Kubasov Flew on Soyuz 6, Soyuz 19, Soyuz 36
Alexei Leonov Flew on Voskhod 2, Soyuz 19
Oleg Makarov Flew on Soyuz 12, Soyuz 27, Soyuz T-3, died 2003
Adrian Nikolayev Flew on Vostok 3, Soyuz 9, died 2004
Pavel Popovich Flew on Vostok 4, Soyuz 14
Nikolai Rukavishnikov Flew on Soyuz 10, Soyuz 16, Soyuz 33, died 2002
Vitaly Sevastyanov Flew on Soyuz 9, Soyuz 18
Valeri Voloshin Never flew
Anatoli Voronov Never flew, died 1993
??? Never flew
??? Never flew
??? Never flew

With the failure of the large N1 rocket, it is speculative to determine the actual mission assignments of each cosmonaut, however, from the information revealed by missions directors and the cosmonauts, the first early group, prepared for a circum-lunar mission in 1967/68 consisted of:

Prime crew Back up crew Second Back up crew
Alexei Leonov
Oleg Makarov
Valery Bykosvky
Nikolai Rukavishnikov
Pavel Popovich
Vitali Sevastyanov

On a later stage, after the success of the Apollo 8 mission, the russian prepared for the actual moon landing, adjusting the crews for the following missions:

Mission Date Prime crew
First Lunar Landing 1969 Alexei Leonov + Oleg Makarov
Second Lunar Landing 1970 Valery Bykosvky + Nikolai Rukavishnikov
Third Lunar Landing 1970 Pavel Popovich + Vitali Sevastyanov


This photo shows the transport of a 7K-L1 circumlunar spacecraft on its Proton booster on the way from the assembly building to the launch pad at Tyura-Tam. Note the cluster of solid-propellant rocket engines at the top of the launch escape tower. The hatch on the external fairing for cosmonaut entry into the actual spacecraft can be seen in the foreground as a dark oblong shape

N1 rocket

In 1960, Sergei Korolev proposed a giant booster capable of launching 40 to 50 metric tons (88,000 to 110,000 lb) into low Earth orbit. This projected rocket, with ten times the payload capacity of the existing Vostok booster, was called the N1. V. P. Glushko, the Soviet Union's premier rocket propulsion expert, felt that it would be prohibitively expensive to build immense oxygen-hydrogen engines like the F-1's that would power the American Saturn V. Instead, he proposed large engines burning unsymmetrical dimethyl hydrazine (UMDH) and nitrogen tetroxide (N2O4). These propellants, used in the American Titan, are storable and ignite on contact. But they are less efficient than Liquid oxygen and kerosene, and are highly toxic. Korolev instead chose to power the lower stages of his super booster with liquid oxygen and kerosene. Glushko took his technology to the Chelomei design bureau, which selected his engines to power the UR500 Proton booster. Korolev turned to the design bureau of Nikolai Kuznetsov (NK) for the N1's engines. In its original form, the first stage of the N1 was to be propelled by a ring of 24 engines. Air would be vented into the space inside the ring, where external combustion of exhaust gasses was supposed to augment the rocket thrust.

The N1 stood 105 meters (344 ft) tall and weighed 2788 metric tons (6.1 million lb) fully fueled. This compares with 110.7 meters (363 ft) and 2913 metric tons (6.4 million lb) for the American Saturn V. The first three stages of the N1, blocks A, B, and V, each took the form of a truncated cone containing a spherical kerosene tank above a larger liquid oxygen (LOX) tank. The first stage, Block A, was powered by 30 NK-33 engines, together producing 4620 metric tons (10 million lb) of thrust. This far exceeded the 3469 metric ton (7.65 million lb) thrust of the American Saturn V Moon rocket. The N1's "KORD" (Russian acronym for control of the work of the engines) system steered the rocket in pitch and yaw by throttling the 24 fixed outer engines. Roll control was maintained by routing engine turbine exhaust through six swivelled nozzles. Arrayed around the base of the N1's first stage were four grating stabilizers, each consisting of a cross hatched array of metal strips (acting as fins) held in a horizontal frame. After a first stage burn of 110 seconds, the second stage was to ignite its eight NK-43 engines for a 130-second burn. Finally, the third stage would insert the L-3 complex into orbit with a 400-second burn of its four NK-31 engines.

A rare photo of two N1 rockets ready for lift-off

N1 launch failures

On February 21, 1969 the first test of the N-1/L-3 vehicle took place at Tyuratam. At 12:18 P.M. Moscow time, the spacecraft launched; within seconds the KORD system shut down engines 12 and 24. At 66 seconds an oxidizer line leading into one of the engines erupted due to acoustic vibrations and a fire developed. At 70 seconds into flight the KORD system shut everything down and the escape tower jettisoned its precious payload. Why did this happen? In a great rush to get the program underway, Korolev and his successor Mishin decided not to test the 30 engines in a test stand due to expense and program delays. Only single engine tests were performed and the KORD system never went through any test at all..

On July 3, 1969 the second attempt was made to launch the N-1/L-3 mission. A metal object fell into the number 8 oxidizer pump which caused its engine to explode. The rest of the engines in the first stage, already on fire, were shut down. The rocket, very briefly airborne, fell back onto the launching pad and exploded; the emergency escape system functioned perfectly as the L-1 vehicle once again escaped a conflagration.

While the Soviets continued to test successfully their lunar landers and orbiters through November of 1972 the massive N-1 seemed never able to fly. On June 27, 1971 immediately after launch the N-1 began to experience severe roll control problems and by 51 seconds the vehicle was totally out of control. The KORD system shut down the engines which had been functioning beautifully and the vehicle was destroyed.

In 1972 when the Americans announced the termination of Apollo the Soviets planned to set up a modest base on the Moon and carry out much more extensive explorations. All of these plans depended on the operation of the N-1 with its next flight occurring on November 23, 1972. The liftoff was without incident and all systems worked until 90 seconds after launch when the six central core engines shut down as planned. The abrupt shut down of fuel flow caused pressure which ruptured the fuel lines and caused a fire which exploded the first stage 107 seconds into the launch. Since the N-1 was within 3 seconds of stage separation when it was destroyed, engineers developed a plan to continue the separation and continuation of the rocket launch even with such a malfunction, but the government would not let these hard workers continue with their program.

N1 mission Date Description
1st flight 21 Feb 1969 First N-1 launch; failure at T+69 seconds
2nd flight 3 Jul 1969 Second N-1 launch; failed immediately
3rd flight 27 Jun 1971 Third N-1 launch; failed at T+51 seconds
4th flight 23 Nov 1972 Fourth N-1 launch; failed at T+107 seconds

The lunar program is revealed

After the successful moon landings of the Apollo program, and following the various N1 launch failures, the russian lunar program was put on hold in 1972 and eventually canceled in 1974.

After years of denial by the russian authorities, only in the 1980's the first rumors of the existence of a russian manned lunar program were confirmed by some of the early cosmonauts. Bykovsky and Sevastyanov were among the first to reveal the identities of the first russians trained for a lunar mission, and were later followed by Makarov and Leonov, that in the 1990's showed to the western sources the actual moon landing modules still present in Russia.

There are many reasons mentioned for the failure of the program, the constant pressure from Khruschev and the following political leaders didn't lead to a "risk free" program. It is said tha more then 500 different organizations and 26 ministries and government departments were involved in the program, and after Korolyov's death, with was virtually impossible to find a team leader that could make the N1 rocket reach a safe launch status.

Bikovsky, Leonov, Sevastyanov and Makarov were among the first to reveal the secrets of the russian manned moon program

Soviet launches related to manned lunar programs

Official name Development name Launch date Launch vehicle Notes
Cosmos 133 7K-OK # 2 Nov. 28, 1966 Soyuz Destroyed on reentry
- 7K-OK # 1 Dec. 14, 1966 Soyuz Destroyed on launch pad
Cosmos 140 7K-OK # 3 Feb. 7, 1967 Soyuz Lost pressure during descent; fell in Aral Sea
Cosmos 146 7K-L1 # 2P Mar. 10, 1967 Proton Tested Block D
Cosmos 154 7K-L1 # 3P Apr. 8, 1967 Proton Second firing of Block D; failure
Soyuz 1 7K-OK # 4 Apr. 23, 1967 Soyuz Planned docking. Komarov in crash landing
- 7K-L1 # 4 Sep. 28, 1967 Proton First stage failure
Cosmos 186 7K-OK # 6 Oct. 27, 1967 Soyuz Docked with Cosmos 188
Cosmos 188 7K-OK # 5 Oct. 30, 1967 Soyuz Docked with Cosmos 186
- 7K-L1 #5 Nov. 22, 1967 Proton Second stage failure
Zond 4 7K-L1 # 6 Mar. 2, 1968 Proton Reentry craft destroyed during reentry
Cosmos 212 7K-OK # 8 Apr. 14, 1968 Soyuz Docked with Cosmos 213
Cosmos 213 7K-OK # 7 Apr. 15, 1968 Soyuz Docked with Cosmos 212
- 7K-L1 # 7 Apr. 23, 1968 Proton Escape system self-initiated
- 7K-L1 # 8 Jul. 14, 1968 Proton On-pad explosion killed one person
Cosmos 238 7K-OK # 9 Aug. 28, 1968 Soyuz Test flight
Zond 5 7K-L1 # 9 Sep. 15, 1968 Proton Flew around Moon; returned and recovered
Soyuz 2 7K-OK Oct. 25, 1968 Soyuz Rendezvous with Soyuz 3
Soyuz 3 7K-OK Oct. 28, 1968 Soyuz Attempted docking with Soyuz 2 failed
Zond 6 7K-L1 # 12 Nov. 10, 1968 Proton Flew around Moon; crashed upon return
Soyuz 4 7K-OK Jan. 14, 1969 Soyuz Docked with Soyuz 5
Soyuz 5 7K-OK Jan. 15, 1969 Soyuz Docked with Soyuz 4; crew transfer
- 7K-L1 # 13 Jan. 20, 1969 Proton Second stage failed
- 7K-L1S Feb. 21, 1969 N-1 First N-1 launch; failure at T+69 seconds
- 7K-L1S Jul. 3, 1969 N-1 Second N-1 launch; failed immediately
Zond 7 7K-L1 # 11 Aug. 8, 1969 Proton Flew around Moon; successfully recovered
Soyuz 6 7K-OK Oct. 11, 1969 Soyuz  
Soyuz 7 7K-OK Oct. 12, 1969 Soyuz Attempted docking with Soyuz 8 failed
Soyuz 8 7K-OK Oct. 13, 1969 Soyuz Attempted docking with Soyuz 7 failed
- 7K-L1 Ye Nov. 28, 1969 Proton Test of N-1 upper stage; failed on launch
Soyuz 9 7K-OK Jun. 1, 1970 Soyuz  
Zond 8 7K-L1 # 14 Oct. 20, 1970 Proton Flew around Moon; successfully recovered
- T2K Nov. 24, 1970 Soyuz Lunar lander test in Earth orbit
Cosmos 382 7K-L1 Ye Dec. 2, 1970 Proton Successful test of N-1 upper stage in orbit
- T2K Feb. 26, 1971 Soyuz Lunar lander test in Earth orbit
- N1-L3 Jun. 27, 1971 N-1 Third N-1 launch; failed at T+51 seconds
- T2K Aug. 12, 1971 Soyuz Lunar lander test in Earth orbit
- 7K-LOK Nov. 23, 1972 N-1 Fourth N-1 launch; failed at T+107 seconds


N1 rocket on launch pad, rare signed photo by Alexei Leonov, member of the prime crew of the canceled first russian circum-lunar mission


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