Why mother Russia could not get to the moon

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US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — Perhaps the most famous words of the twentieth century were said on July 20, 1969: “This is a small step for man, but a giant leap for mankind.” Neil Armstrong uttered these words immediately after he became the first person to set foot on the surface of the moon.

Both the United States and the Soviet Union had the most ambitious space programs, but why was the United States the winner in this competition?

Wasteful spheres

Both Valentin Grushko and Sergey Korolev worked in the field of aeronautics. Glushko was engaged in the development of fuel for rocket engines and was a very pragmatic person. Korolev initially worked as an aircraft designer, but he was an excellent coordinator and organizer.

Under his leadership in the Soviet Union, the first successes in space exploration were achieved, and he was the driving force that ensured the successful implementation of the program to put the Laika dogs (the first dog in space) and Yuri Gagarin (the first man in space) into Earth orbit.

Glushko advocated the use of solid rocket fuel for the N-1 rocket. Such fuel is more stable, requires less maintenance work, and it has become increasingly important for the growing number of intercontinental ballistic missiles in the Soviet Union that were to be on constant alert.

As for Korolev, he was a supporter of the use of highly chilled liquid hydrogen, which has greater energy efficiency, but also requires more significant infrastructure to maintain the required temperature. In addition, the use of liquid fuels was more expensive.

A special commission was created to evaluate these two types of fuel, and it decided that a version of the engine with highly cooled fuel (which was supported by Korolev) with more power and requiring more resources would be implemented.

Glushko did not agree with this decision and continued to work on solid rocket fuel in parallel with the officially approved option. Although his shadow program turned out to be short-lived, it distracted him from his goal of sending a Soviet man to the moon. In addition, limited resources were used.

Death in a Soviet family

Sergei Korolev died on January 14, 1966 after a routine operation. He was 59 years old.

His death was a real blow to the Soviet space program. In the absence of his organizational and managerial abilities, the Soviet space program somehow continued to be implemented, but this was done inefficiently. Although his version with highly cooled liquid fuel won, work on a program to create the N-1 rocket ran into many problems.

Defective rockets

Soviet engineers had big plans for the N-1 rocket. Initially, its thrust was to be 600 tons – this is a very significant indicator.

To make it clear, it should be said that the SpaceX rocket from SpaceX will have a thrust at launch of 150 tons after completion of its development. The Saturn V rocket, the most powerful American rocket, had a maximum thrust of 140 tons. Of course, Soviet engineers ultimately agreed on more realistic payloads of 75 tons.

Despite the compromise reached by the engineers, the work on correcting the shortcomings and the tests carried out did not differ by special achievements.
Like many other issues related to the design work in the Soviet Union, everything was ultimately determined by the amount of money provided, and the main problem was formulated as follows: insufficient funding. The lack of money meant that somewhere it was necessary to cut corners, apply workarounds, and the most expensive expense item of any space program is testing.

The engines of the N-1 rocket were new in design, and perhaps too complex. In fact, 30 rocket engines were part of the N-1 rocket. This required careful attention to detail – all engines had to work and work at the same time.

As for the complexity of the design, here is the opinion on this issue of the Air and Space Magazine: “How can you synchronize the thrust itself and the thrust vectors of such a large number of simultaneously running engines? What happens if one of them fails? Such potential failures required serious attention, and they could be resolved through the construction of a new expensive ground-based test facility. However, the construction of such a complex would require a lot of money and a lot of time.”

All four test launches of the N-1 were unsuccessful – missiles were destroyed in the air, remained on the launch pad or exploded.

One of the attempts to launch this rocket led to one of the most powerful non-nuclear explosions in the history of mankind, and it was possible to observe it from a distance of over 58 kilometers. The launch pad, the construction of which took more than a year, was completely destroyed.

It was very important that none of these missiles passed fire tests before assembly on the launch pad.

July 20, 1969

The lack of a clear goal, coupled with the realization that the Soviet Union was seriously behind the United States in the nuclear arsenal, meant that funding would be redirected to a program to create Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons stockpiles.

By 1968, none of these reasons were of great importance. The United States, in fact, won the space ridge by launching a spacecraft on Christmas Day in 1968 with two astronauts (as in the text – note by the editor of InosMI) that circled the moon.

Nikolai Kamanin, the famous Soviet aviator and head of the Soviet Cosmonaut Training Center, made the following entry in his diary the next day: “The holiday is overshadowed by the realization of missed opportunities, and it’s also sad that there is no person named Valery Bukovsky among people flying to the moon , Pavel Popovich or Alexei Leonov. Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders headed for the moon. ”

Less than a year later, on July 20, 1969, the American flag was set on the surface of the moon.


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The article is written and prepared by our foreign editors from different countries around the world – material edited and published by Ordo News staff in our US newsroom press.

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