The Space Race: Soviet Lunar Program--Soyuz (1965-68)

Space Race Soyuzk
Figure 1.--Vladimir Mikhaylovich Komarov (Влади́мир Миха́йлович Комаро́в) (1927–1967) was a Soviet test pilot and aerospace engineer chosen as a cosmonauts. He was in the first group only 3 years after sputnik selected for the program as part of Air Force Group One (1960). He was was surely the most highly experienced and well-qualified candidate. He had some medical issues, but his persistence and skill set kept him in the program. He was involved in space vehicle design, cosmonaut training and evaluation and public relations. He was selected to command the first Soviet multiman Voskhod 1 spaceflight that presented a number of technical innovations in the Space Race. Here he is with his childen, we think in Star City. Komarov was eventually chosen for the demanding task of commanding Soyuz 1, the program to tke the Soviet Union to the moon. The Soviets were rushing the program because of the progress the Americans were making. and Soyuz was not yet ready. The capsule crashed after re-entry (1967).

In sharp contrast to the American space program conducted in the bright light of the world media, the Soviet program was conducted in a strange combination of deep secrecy and propanganda spotlight. The Soviets did not even release the name of the genius who oversaw their program, rocket engineer Sergei Korolev. Premier Khrushev even refused to give the Nobel Prize Committee his name when they wanted to award him the Nobel Prize. Missions were not announced in advance, but only afterwards and if they were successful. Many failures were kept secret. Only after Mikhail Gorbachev's glasnost policy did we learn about the failures (1980s). It looked for a time like the Soviets would be the first to the moon. Khruschev at first failed to fund it because of the enormous cost. Only after the American program gained momentum did he change his mind--just before he was rmoved fom office (1964). By that time, however, the Soviets had lost much of their lead. And the rush to keep up with the Americans brought disasters. Notable setbacks occured just as Apollo was achieving a series of sucesses: the deaths of Korolev (only then was his name made public), Vladimir Komarov (Soyuz 1 crash), and Yuri Gagarin (fighter jet mission) (1966-68). Korolev death from a routein procedure was not a failure of the space program, but an indtement of the Soviet medical system. Korolev's successor was Vasily Mishin, a competent engineer, but was much less respected by the Cosmonauts. His failure is variously blamed on a flawed N-1 program or overly political administration. Korolev had prestige to stand up to the leadeship, Mishin did not. Soyuz was the progrm that was to carry the Soviets to the moon. Their mamoth N-1 rocket was intended to power the manned lunar missions. nd it looked likethey were going to be first. The catastrophic exposion of the N-1 was the largest non-nuclear explosion in history. Important individuals involved in the program were killed. As a result, the Soviets decided not to put a man on the moon. If they coudn't be first, it would only highlight their falling behind the Americans.


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Created: 4:34 PM 6/5/2007
Last updated: 4:16 PM 5/29/2016