The Soviet Reach for The Moon – Free e-book

The Soviet assault on the Moon spanned a period of 18 years and required over 60 rocket launchings. Although the Herculean effort fell short of its final objective of manned space flight to the Moon, Soviet successes were many and historic: the first unmanned fly-by of the Moon, the first impact of a man-made object on the Moon, the first photographs of the Moon’s far side, the first soft-landing on the Moon, the first lunar satellite, the first automated return of lunar soil to Earth, and the first robotic lunar rover. In addition to greatly expanding man’s knowledge about the Earth’s long-time companion, these missions were critical in establishing the feasibility and technology of manned expeditions.

The story of Soviet lunar exploration is one of three separate, but complementary and contemporary, programs. The pathfinder Luna program utilized a wide variety of automated vehicles representing three generations of space technology to set the requirements of the manned missions to follow and to test the ability and ingenuity of Soviet spacecraft engineers. In their wake, L-1 manned spacecraft of the Zond program were to circumnavigate the Moon and thereby to perfect further the techniques and systems necessary for the next and final stage. Unlike its American counterpart, the Soviet L-3 manned lunar landing program, which envisioned sending a lone cosmonaut to the lunar surface, was distinct from the manned lunar precursor flights, relying instead on a dramatically different set of hardware.

A core cause of the Soviet loss of the Moon race was an inability to develop and to perfect the vital launch systems needed to place the spacecraft into Earth orbit: the Proton and the N-1 launch vehicles. Political intrigue and a failure to marshal the aerospace industry on a high priority national program clearly contributed to the extensive delays which were atypical of most Soviet space programs. In retrospect, a duplication of effort and the competition for resources were probably ultimately responsible for the eventual demise of both the L-1 and the L-3 programs.