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The catastrophic night launch of the second N-1 rocket (vehicle No. 5L). The image 

shows the moment when the Emergency Rescue System began to operate.

228


After the Failure of N-1s No. 3 and No. 5

began to shut down. In 12 seconds all of the engines had shut down except 

for one—No. 18. The only operating engine began to turn the rocket about its 

transverse axis. Fifteen seconds into the flight, the solid-propellant engines of 

the emergency recovery system actuated, the fairing segments opened—and the 

Descent Module [of the L1], which had broken away from the launch vehicle, 

flew off into the darkness. Twenty-three seconds into the flight the rocket fell 

flat on the launch site. A series of violent explosions followed.

In a white flame, 2,500 tons of kerosene and liquid oxygen burned, illumi-

nating the steppe under the night sky for dozens of kilometers. The inhabitants 

of the town of Leninsk, 35 kilometers from the launch site, observed a bright 

glow, shuddering at the terrible thoughts. Their family and friends were there 

at the launch site. The blast waves blew out the windows not only in the build-

ings close to the launch site, but also in the residential areas of Site No. 113 

and even at Site No. 2—6 kilometers from the launch site.

The firing range chief did not grant permission for Afanasyev, Dorofeyev, 

Kirillov, and Moiseyev to exit the bunker and go to the surface until a half 

hour later.

22

 “When we emerged,” recounted Dorofeyev, “an unusual mist was 



still drizzling down. Drops of kerosene, which had not managed to burn, were 

falling to the ground. They had been lifted high into the sky by the blast waves 

and were now precipitating out in the form of rain.” The safety measures that 

the firing range command had taken proved to be effective. All reports about 

destruction ended with the reassuring words, “no one was harmed.”

“Wrong!” exclaimed Barmin in a fit of temper, shaken by what had happened. 

“There are many hundreds of people who were harmed—all of us who built 

the launch site. Now we have to rebuild it. We are the ones actually harmed.”

Barmin was in charge of the commission concerned with “ground destruc-

tion.” He assessed damage not in rubles, which were of little interest to anybody, 

but in deadlines—rebuilding would take at least a year, even with the most 

intensive all-hands effort. It seemed amazing that the second launch position—

the left launch pad located just 3 kilometers from the one that exploded—was 

practically unharmed.

“Flight testing can continue,” joked (with very bad timing) someone from 

the accident investigation commission that had just been created.

“Impossible,” objected Barmin. “I will not give my consent now for a 

launch until the rocket is modified so that the engines won’t shut down right 

over the launch site. Take it out into the steppe and blow it up there! You can 

 22.  The chief of NIIP-5, as the Tyuratam firing range was officially known, was Aleksandr 

Aleksandrovich Kurushin (1922–).

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Rockets and People: The Moon Race

slap together a couple dozen rockets if you want, but we only have one launch 

site, and even that one still needs to be modified.”

First thing in the morning, they began a cursory and then a rigorous study 

of the telemetry recordings. There were no particular differences of opinion 

about the source of the explosion. Everyone concluded that it had begun in 

engine No. 8. The investigators of the accident investigation commission 

painstakingly gathered the remains of the engine assemblies that had been 

strewn over a 1-kilometer radius from the launch site. Unlike the other 29 

assemblies, which had retained their external shape, the turbopump assembly 

of engine No. 8 was melted and mangled by the internal explosion.

The rocket could not survive after such an explosion. The lines in the adja-

cent engines were broken and damaged. A fire broke out, and with a snowballing 

effect the lower section of Block A [first stage] began to disintegrate. With its 

last breath, the KORD system managed to identify permissible limits violations 

for pressure and rpms in engines No. 7, 19, 20, and 21 and issue commands 

to shut them down. Telemetry did not determine how the other engines shut 

down. In the midst of the general chaos, engine No. 18 continued to operate 

right up until the crash—at least, that is what the telemetry experts reported. 

For inexplicable reasons, this fact sparked keen interest during spur-of-the-

moment debates, although it was obvious that it had nothing to do with the 

root cause of the accident.

From the author’s archives.

N-1 rocket engine 

designer Nikolay 

Kuznetsov (left) and 

senior space forces official 

Andrey Karas (right).

The main heated 

arguments that flared 

up among the engineers 

were about the root 

cause. Kuznetsov and his 

entire team stood solidly 

behind the hypothesis of 

a “foreign object” in the pump. In their opinion, the steel diaphragm of the 

pressure pulsation sensor ended up in the oxidizer pump. They could not 

imagine any other foreign objects that could have become dislodged and then 

sucked into the oxygen pump. A study of the pressure sensor and experiments 

involving the forced breakaway of the steel diaphragm in question from its 

place did not clarify the situation. It was difficult to convince skeptics that the 

sensor was at fault. The assumption that the pump had exploded on its own, 

230


After the Failure of N-1s No. 3 and No. 5

without a “foreign object,” had dangerous implications. If the pumps exploded 

spontaneously, it meant that flight tests must not be continued. Kuznetsov’s staff 

categorically rejected any scenarios other than the foreign metallic object one.

Raykov dared to tell his hypothesis only to Mishin: “A ‘foreign object’ 

has nothing to do with it. Most likely an axial shift of the rotor occurred. The 

clearances in the pump are negligible. A very small bit of play in the bearings, 

combined with extreme tolerances and deformations, could result in the rotor 

striking the stator. Local heating of hundreds of degrees would occur in the 

liquid oxygen medium and an explosion is inevitable.”

Mishin wasn’t about to blame Kuznetsov. Together they had made the 

decision to clear the engines for flight, relying on the findings of the interde-

partmental commission, which in late 1967 had confirmed that the engines 

were fit for flight-development tests. Mentioning, even in the mildest of terms, 

that the explosion of the oxidizer pump could have been caused by design or 

process shortcomings meant the suspension of N-1 flight tests due to faulty 

engine technology. It was natural that Kuznetsov, all of his specialists, and even 

the military representatives argued that the explosion could only have been 

caused by the interference of a “foreign object.”

Just when meetings and heated debates of the accident investiga-

tion commissions were in full swing and we were working out schedules for 

rebuilding the launch site, we received news of the Apollo 11 Moon launch.

23

 

The next eight days of the Americans’ flight, the stunning stroll on the Moon, 



and the delivery to Earth of 25 kilograms of lunar soil samples might make 

high-ranking officials reconsider the N1-L3 program.

24

We watched the Apollo 11 flight on the television at TsNIImash. After the 



happy conclusion of the lunar expedition, Tyulin proposed stopping by the 

director’s office. There, over a glass of cognac, he said: “This is all Chertok’s fault. 

In 1945 he came up with a scheme to snatch von Braun from the Americans 

and didn’t manage to pull it off.”

“And it’s a very good thing that Vasya Kharchev and I failed in that under-

taking.


25

 Von Braun would have sat for some time in our country uselessly on 

an island, and then he would have been sent to the GDR, where as a former 

 23.  Apollo 11 was launched on 16 July 1969 with astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Edwin 

E. “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr., and Michael Collins.

 24.  The take on Apollo 11 was closer to 22 kilograms.

 25.  See Chertok, Rockets and People, Vol. I, Chapter 21.

231


Rockets and People: The Moon Race

Nazi he wouldn’t have been cleared to work anywhere.

26

 And so with the help 



of the Americans, he fulfilled not only his own dream, but also that of all 

mankind,” I replied bitterly.

Two N-1 failures due solely to the low reliability of the first stage should 

have been enough to halt flight tests, enact a thorough review of the strategy 

for testing reliability, and develop and propose a new project for an expedition 

to the Moon. Neither Mishin nor we, his deputies, dared to come out with 

such proposals. Neither the chairman of the expert commission—Academy 

of Sciences President Keldysh—nor Chairman of the State Commission and 

“Lunar Council,” Minister Afanasyev, nor Central Committee Secretary 

Ustinov, nor the Politburo standing over all of them told us to stop. Ustinov 

invited Glushko to a private conversation under some appropriate pretext. 

Actually, Ustinov wanted to hear the opinion of the nation’s most authoritative 

engine specialist about Kuznetsov’s engines. Glushko told Ustinov that he didn’t 

believe there was an evil spirit that tossed foreign objects into the pumps….

The larger the project being implemented by a nation’s resources and 

its people, the more clearly the features of an epoch stand out in its history. 

The sanctity of the Central Committee decisions was above criticism, and 

we all were tied to this dogma. Cosmonautics should have abandoned the 

dogmatism of artillery and missile technology. A fundamentally different 

approach was needed. A large rocket-space system must fulfill its primary 

mission on the very first attempt. To do this, everything imaginable needed 

to be tested on the ground and tested out before the first dedicated flight. 

Preliminary experimental flights are needed to test out only those systems 

and processes that basically cannot be simulated under ground-based condi-

tions. The Americans surpassed us in the practical implementation of this 

principle, and this enabled them, beginning in 1969, to take the position 

of the leading power in space exploration.

The first people who dared criticize our work methods were not scientists 

on expert commissions, but the military. Back when Korolev was still alive, 

they had prepared a démarche concerning the large number of failed Moon, 

Mars, and Venus launches. In 1965, I was present when Kirillov alerted Korolev 

that he had received the command assignment to prepare material incriminat-

ing the chief designers and industry in a large number of failures as a result 

 26.  Here, Chertok is alluding to the Germans who did end up going to the Soviet Union, 

who were all eventually housed in facilities on the remote island of Gorodomlya. See Chertok, 

Rockets and People, Vol. II, Chapter 3.

232


After the Failure of N-1s No. 3 and No. 5

of erroneous testing procedures. Subsequent triumphs, however, subdued the 

military’s aggression toward cosmonautics.

But four years later, in response to the failures of two N-1s, failures in 

the circumlunar flight program using the 7K-L1, and the failed launches of 

Babakin’s “Lunar excavators,” the Commander-in-Chief of the Strategic Rocket 

Forces, Marshal Nikolay Krylov, was finally persuaded to sign a letter addressed 

to Afanasyev containing constructive criticism directed at us.

27

 The letter said:



The results of the analysis of the two failed launches of the N1-L3 

complex, as well as the statistics from the launches of other sophis-

ticated rocket-space complexes show that the existing procedure for 

developmental testing of rocket-space complexes does not ensure 

that they have a high degree of reliability when they are released 

for [developmental flight testing]. The existing procedure of ground 

developmental testing of [rocket-space complexes] is basically analo-

gous to the developmental testing procedure for missiles, which, as 

a rule, are significantly simpler than a [rocket-space complex] like 

the N1-L3. At the same time, during the process of [developmental 

flight testing] of missiles, several dozen articles (from 20 to 60) 

are expended for their optimization to the required level of reli-

ability. When conducting [developmental flight testing] on heavy 

[rocket-space complexes] it is not possible to perform [such] prolonged 

troubleshooting during flight when it involves the consumption of 

a large number of launch vehicles. In view of this, it seems expedi-

ent to change the customary scope and nature of ground testing of 

these complexes before they are released for [developmental flight 

testing]. In our opinion, new methods for ground testing of heavy 

[rocket-space complexes] must be set up so that they are reusable, so 

that their component systems and assemblies have large service-life 

reserves, and so that engines and rocket blocks are tested without 

subsequent reassembly in order to expose production defects and 

[thus] undergo a breaking-in period.

28

We were aware of the main thrust of Krylov’s letter long before its official 



distribution. When a copy of the letter with the minister’s resolution reached 

 27.  The “lunar excavators” were the Ye-8-5 sample return probes. Four had failed in 1969 

(launches in June, July, September, and October 1969).

 28.  In the original text, Krylov uses the common Russian abbreviations for “developmental 

flight testing” (LKI) and “rocket-space complex” (RKK).

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Rockets and People: The Moon Race

us in Mishin’s absence, Okhapkin in his capacity as first deputy assembled 

a meeting of his inner circle to discuss the wording of the response to the 

Commander-in-Chief’s démarche. Melnikov and I announced that we were 

in full agreement with Krylov’s proposals. As a matter of fact, we had pro-

posed the same thing a long time ago; and the Americans operate the same 

way. Our response needed to be that we accept the proposal of the Minister 

of Defense and to that end we consider the following necessary: to develop 

a reusable modification of Kuznetsov’s engines; to design and build a rig for 

technological firing tests (OTI) on Block A; and to perform the assembly 

of subsequent rockets only after each of the Blocks A, B, V, and G have 

undergone firing rig tests.

Some reacted to our stance with sarcastic remarks, although we were all 

of the same mind, all part of the same staff, and had passed through Korolev’s 

school. People argued with all earnestness. Okhapkin attempted to find an 

accommodating compromise. Summing up the results, he said essentially what 

we all anticipated and prepared in advance.

He noted that we had to propose a list of actions that we would introduce 

for the upcoming launches. We needed to show that measures were being taken 

in response to all probable causes for the failures, precluding the possibility of 

repeating them, and substantially increasing reliability. Specifically:







Increasing the stringency of the system for accepting the engines;

Modifying the oxidizer pumps at OKB-276, reducing the load on the 

bearings, and increasing the clearances;

Installing filters upstream from the pumps to protect against the intrusion 

of foreign objects;

Filling the aft compartment with nitrogen before launch and performing 

an in-flight nitrogen purge;

Introducing a Freon fire-extinguishing system;

Providing additional protection of instruments, cables, and the most criti-

cal structural elements against high temperature;

Relocating instruments, moving them to safer areas; and

Introducing inhibits to completely preclude the possibility of engine 

shutdown for the first 50 seconds of flight.

Arguments broke out over this last item.

“But what if the turbogenerators malfunction during the first seconds and 

all of the systems lose power?”

Petr Shulgin, Emil Brodskiy, and Sofya Lobanova—Iosifyan’s curators 

specializing in the pneumatic system feeding compressed helium to the turbo-

generator—helped me defend the honor of the autonomous turbogenerator. 

It had come to the point where the development of a sophisticated and heavy 

emergency power supply system using storage batteries might be required.

234


After the Failure of N-1s No. 3 and No. 5

Almost all the actions were approved after heated debates during the work 

of the accident investigation commission that analyzed the causes of the N-1 

No. 5L disaster. They increased the rocket’s reliability but did not guarantee 

that the launch facilities would remain intact in the event of a failure during 

the first seconds after liftoff. If an emergency situation occurred during the first 

seconds, it was imperative to divert the rocket further into the steppe. Such a 

requirement seemed completely unconventional: since the times of the V-2 all 

short-range, medium-range, and any other range and size of ballistic missiles 

had launched vertically. It would be only 5 to 6 seconds after launch that they 

would be at a relatively safe distance from the launch site. Before the failure 

of N-1 No. 5L, no one had dared violate this 25-year tradition.

A collective and intense use of intellect, with the participation of individu-

als who are truly creative, rather than obedient, almost always brings success. 

Here is a list of the authors in alphabetical order: Degtyarenko, Dorofeyev, 

Gasparyan, Shutenko, Vilnitskiy, Voropayev, and Zelvinskiy. These are the 

men who came up with the “method” and the “device” for which an inventor’s 

certificate was later issued. The invention guaranteed that the rocket would 

clear the area even if the electric power supply system of all the control surface 

actuators shut down, provided that the main engines were operating. Springs 

in the mechanisms of the control surface actuators, pre-armed for actuation 

in the event of an accident, set all the thrust control throttles of the first-stage 

engines in the proper position to divert the rocket “further into the steppe.” 

This invention found application not only on subsequent N-1 rockets, but 

also in an appropriately altered form 15 years later on the Energiya rocket.

From the author’s archives.



Shown here are senior specialists on the dynamics of rocket control at OKB-1: 

G. N. Degtyarenko, Ye. F. Lebedev, O. N. Voropayev, G. S. Vetrov, and L. I. Alekseyev.

235


Rockets and People: The Moon Race

Iosifyan considered the failure of the autonomous turbogenerator impos-

sible, and when discussing ideas for diverting the rocket he did not miss the 

opportunity to comment: “There will always be Eskimos who will try to teach 

Africans how to avoid heatstroke.”

When all the actions had been evaluated in terms of labor intensity 

and deadlines, we came up with a disappointing picture. After gathering one 

more time in Okhapkin’s office before the final approval, we realized that it 

would take at least a year to implement all the proposals along with the addi-

tional experiments. Our engine specialists Melnikov, Sokolov, and Raykov, 

who had achieved success in their own developments of the multiple-firing 

engines for Block D and who had seen enough of the experience of Kuznetsov’s 

OKB-276, announced that they were developing new design specifications. In 

their opinion, it was completely feasible to develop reusable main engines. This 

would make it possible to radically 

increase the engines’ reliability. But 

these engines would not be avail-

able before 1972. Echoes of similar 

conversations and attitudes made 

their way to ministry offices, the 

VPK, and the Central Committee.

From the author’s archives.



B. A. Sokolov (left) was a leading 

engine specialist at TsKBEM who 

worked on the N1-L3 program 

while G. N. Degtyarenko (right) 

worked on spacecraft and rocket 

control.

Yet another day of celebration was drawing nigh—the 100th anniversary 

of the birthday of V. I. Lenin. In the Politburo, Afanasyev, Smirnov, and 

Ustinov would inevitably be asked, “What’s going on with our lunar program? 

You promised by the 100th anniversary to land a cosmonaut on the Moon, 

who would plant a Soviet flag and place a bust of Lenin beside it. Then you 

decided to argue that we don’t want to take that risk and we would first send 

an automatic spacecraft that would drill, collect lunar soil, and deliver at least 

100 grams to the Earth. But that’s not working out, either!”

During the last seven years of his administration, Khrushchev secured 

indisputable precedence for the Soviet Union in space exploration and put to 

shame the most powerful nation in the capitalist world—the U.S. But after 

236


After the Failure of N-1s No. 3 and No. 5

overthrowing Khrushchev, Brezhnev’s cohorts eroded these achievements, and in 

the most important arena of space, America had now surpassed the Soviet Union.

The highest-ranking political leadership viewed success in space as an effec-

tive factor of ideological influence on its people and the peoples of the Warsaw 

Pact nations. Brezhnev could not invite foreign guests to a lunar launch of 

Soviet cosmonauts like the Americans could. Nevertheless, in late 1969 he dared 

to fly with a Czech delegation to the firing range and drove out with them to 

the left-hand N-1 launch site, which had remained intact.

29

 An impenetrable 



fence surrounded the launch site to the right, which was “under repairs.” Traces 

of the recent fire and explosions weren’t visible. An N-1 engineering mockup 

stood on the left-hand launch site.

30

“This rocket will enable us to go beyond the limits of the solar system”; 



that, according to the accounts of members of his entourage, was how Brezhnev 

ad libbed, showcasing the miracle of Soviet rocket technology.

In critical circumstances, the mind often works more intensely and the 

search for new ideas produces greater results than during periods of relaxation 

after a victory. Everyone jumped at the idea of immediately organizing a group 

flight of three piloted Soyuzes as a proposal that would partially restore our 

cosmonautics program. After the docking of Soyuz-4 and Soyuz-5 in January 

1969 came the announcement that “the world’s first orbital station was Soviet.” 

We needed to solidify this important triumph in space by performing another 

docking and broadening the program of experiments. In particular, working 

with the Ye. O. Paton Institute of Electric Welding in Kiev, we began to study 

the possibility of performing a welding experiment under conditions of weight-

lessness in a vacuum. Future President of the Ukrainian Academy of Science 

Boris Paton assured us that they would be able to create the experimental 

conditions for these purposes by the required deadline.

31

Meanwhile, all we had on hand were Soyuzes, and we were rushing to 



squeeze out of them everything that they were capable of giving us. In April 

 29.  This was officially known as Site No. 110L.

 30.  This visit to Tyuratam that Chertok describes was code-named Operation Palma-3 and 

took place on 23–24 October 1969. The visiting delegation included Czech President Ludwig 

Svoboda. The hosts included Leonid Brezhnev, Aleksey Kosygin, Marshal Andrey Grechko, and 

Marshal Nikolay Krylov. During the trip, the Czech visitors were shown launches of UR-100 

and R-36 ICBMs.

 31.  Boris Yevgenyevich Paton (1918–) is a well-known Ukrainian scholar of metallurgy and 

the technology of metals. Besides serving as the President of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences 

from 1958, Paton also headed the Ye. O. Paton Institute of Electrical Welding, named after his 

famous father.

237


Rockets and People: The Moon Race

we still did not have a clear program of subsequent piloted Soyuz flights. May 

passed under the impression of the successful landing on Venus of Venera-5 

and Venera-6 and of the lunar orbital flight of Apollo 10. On 14 June, the liftoff 

to the Moon of Babakin’s Ye-8-5 fell through for the second time. Thus, our 

hope to surpass the Americans in delivering samples of lunar soil to Earth 

melted away.

Our third Ye-8-5 “Lunar excavator,” announced as Luna-15, lifted off on 13 

July, flew to the Moon, and entered lunar orbit. But its soft landing failed—for 

inexplicable reasons the spacecraft crashed into the surface of the Moon. They 

decided to launch the next “Lunar excavator” in September. Accident investi-

gation commission sessions continued through July 1969. During breaks we 

discussed the Apollo 11 flight, which had flown to the Moon on 16 July. We 

had not had the occasion to experience such a conjunction of personal defeat 

and foreign triumphs since wartime.

We had a small celebration in August in connection with the successful 

flight of 7K-L1 No. 11, called Zond-7. On 8 August, L1 No. 11 lifted off; 

on 11 August, it executed a pass around the Moon, and on 14 August, after 

plunging twice into Earth’s atmosphere, it executed a soft landing [on Earth]. 

On 22 August, Pravda published black-and-white images of Earth delivered by 

the station before it dropped behind the rim of the Moon. Spectacular color 

photos appeared in magazines. These color shots became very popular as gifts 

for space-related anniversaries.

The last two 7K-L1 programs—Zond-7 and Zond-8—owe a great deal 

to the energy of lead designer Yuriy Semyonov. It was up to him to keep in 

check the centrifugal forces of four leading organizations—TsKBEM, NIIAP, 

TsKBM, and ZIKh.

32

 In any case, Chairman of the State Commission for the 



L1 Tyulin said that he resolved many issues with Semyonov more quickly and 

simply than with Mishin.

In August, the program for the group flight of three Soyuzes finally materi-

alized. Two Soyuzes would dock and form an orbital station with a mass of 13 

tons. A third Soyuz, maneuvering around this station, would confirm via televi-

sion that the station actually existed. Preparation for the flight, which involved 

three vehicles and seven cosmonauts, took place in a very tense atmosphere. 

The process of fitting out the vehicles caused continuously missed deadlines, 

so tests at the monitoring and testing station (KIS) had to be hurried up to 

 32. These were the four principal organizations responsible for the Zond/L-1 project: 

TsKBEM was the lead developer of the L-1 spacecraft and the Block D stage, NIIAP developed 

control systems for the L-1, TsKBM (and its Fili Branch) designed the Proton-K rocket, and 

ZIKh manufactured the Protons.

238


After the Failure of N-1s No. 3 and No. 5

accommodate the readiness deadlines of the systems, frustrating previously 

approved plans. Once again part of the problems carried over for followup 

work at the firing range.

It wasn’t until 18 September that Smirnov conducted a session of the VPK, 

which made its final decision concerning the group flight of three Soyuzes in the 

first half of October. I was at that session, and in keeping with tradition, after 

the reports of Mishin and the other chief designers, I confirmed the readiness 

of the control systems of all three vehicles to execute the program. Cosmonauts 

Georgiy Shonin and Valeriy Kubasov (Soyuz-6); Anatoliy Filipchenko, Vladislav 

Volkov, and Viktor Gorbatko (Soyuz-7); and Vladimir Shatalov and Aleksey 

Yeliseyev (Soyuz-8) reported their readiness to execute their mission with 

enviable pride and optimism. Everyone was in high spirits and shared the 

hope that we would emerge from a streak of back-to-back failures. The color 

photographs of Earth and the Moon marked the beginning of an upswing in 

our mood and a strengthening of faith in our efforts.

On 19 September, Tyulin convened the State Commission on the L1, 

which after two successful circumlunar flights suddenly found empowerment, 

and Mishin even hinted about a possible piloted circumlunar flight on the 

L1 in 1970.

“Now if we can finally get the Ye-8-5 to the Moon and back five days from 

now,” fantasized Tyulin.

On 23 September, the first three stages of the UR-500 operated normally, 

but the Block D failed to work through to the second firing, and the entire 

lunar complex stayed in Earth orbit, receiving the name Kosmos-300.

Our nation possessed enormous capabilities. However, during this period 

in history, there was no one at the helm of power capable of soberly analyzing 

the course of events, of displaying farsightedness, and of altering the official 

political course without regard for the established dogmas. In space politics, 

the Politburo under Brezhnev lacked the boldness of Khrushchev’s time.

NASA management, inspired by its historic triumph, sent a report to the 

President of the United States’ special committee on space in September 1969.

33

 

The document summarized the first results of the Americans’ work in the field 



of the “peaceful” use of space and contained proposals concerning the program 

of operations for the next few decades. The military aspects, which the Pentagon 

managed, were not considered in the report. Throwing aside all my work, I read 

 33. Here, Chertok probably means the NASA Space Task Group, which issued a report 

in September 1969 entitled “The Post-Apollo Space Program: Directions for the Future.” The 

recommendations from the report were heavily influential in informing the Nixon administra-

tion’s policies for the post-Apollo era. See http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/pao/History/taskgrp.html.

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Rockets and People: The Moon Race

this 130-page document as if it were an absorbing novel. After reading any novel, 

it can be set aside and forgotten. Even now, after almost 40 years, this report 

serves as an object lesson in the advantages of a centralized government techno-

cratic planning system [i.e., NASA] in developing large-scale systems. The most 

capitalistic country in the world, despite Marxist teaching about the anarchy of 

production, despite the infamous democratic principles of the free market and 

private initiative, created the most powerful state organization in the world, 

which develops nonmilitary space programs and coordinates and monitors the 

activity of all the nation’s organizations in the field of space exploration. NASA 

management considered highly qualified experienced personnel to be a primary 

national asset. NASA had close ties with industrial firms and universities. This 

relationship increased NASA’s capabilities many times over.

In 1969, NASA had a staff of 31,745. Of this number, 13,700 were sci-

entists and engineers. The total number of personnel at that time who worked 

on NASA programs reached 218,345. In terms of numbers of personnel, we 

had just as many as the Americans, and even surpassed them. Without excep-

tion, all scientists and engineers worked only in government organizations, 

and as subsequent association with the Americans has shown, they were just 

as qualified and experienced.

What, then, was their advantage? The U.S. had a single unified govern-

ment organization, which was endowed with the exclusive rights to develop 

nonmilitary space programs and received funding from the federal budget to 

finance them. In the USSR, each head, chief, or general designer came forward 

with his own concept for the development of cosmonautics based on his own 

capabilities and personal, subjective views. Rare enthusiasts attempted to occupy 

themselves with the development of an integrated long-range plan for decades 

into the future. The plans proposed by the head government organizations were 

reviewed in five places: in the head ministry, MOM; in the General Staff [of the 

armed forces]; in the Central Directorate for Space Assets (TsUKOS), which 

was subordinate to the Commander-in-Chief of the Strategic Rocket Forces; 

in the Central Committee; and in the apparat of the Council of Ministers, 

the VPK. Next, they were coordinated with dozens of ministries and, if they 

managed to make their way through, they were approved by a decision of the 

Politburo and the Council of Ministers. Each project participant received 

separate funding from the state budget according to these plans. Even in the 

offices of the VPK and in the Kremlin our cosmonautics management system 

was sometimes called “state feudalism.”

And one more important feature distinguished the American organization 

of work from the Soviet. NASA management, its administration, and thou-

sands of scientists and engineers bore no responsibility for arming the Army 

and Navy with nuclear missiles. Their time, intellect, and enthusiasm were 

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After the Failure of N-1s No. 3 and No. 5

devoted solely to the lunar landing expedition and to the problems of blazing 

a trail into space for humankind and for automatic stations.

Our head ministry, which was responsible for implementing each space 

program, bore even greater responsibility for producing combat missiles. The 

head organizations, their chief designers and leading specialists, who developed 

the nuclear missile shield, were “soldiers of the Cold War” and at the same 

time labored on a second front—space.

NASA’s report began on what was for us an unexpected downbeat note:

At the moment of our space program’s greatest triumph, the U.S. is 

going through a critical period. The decisions made this year will 

determine the nature of operations in space for several decades to 

come. At stake is the leading role of the U.S. in scientific and tech-

nical progress, the faith of 200 million Americans in their country, 

its achievements, and the practical advantages, which the broad 

program provides for the people, whose money in the form of taxes 

makes it possible….

However, further on came several unexpected proposals:



One of the main elements of the recommended program for the 

development of non-military projects in space is the creation of a 

long-duration habitable station in near-Earth orbit to accumulate 

experience in long-duration human space flight, to obtain practical 

benefit from observation of the Earth and near-Earth space, and 

also for the performance of scientific experiments.

34

They proposed building the first habitable station in near-Earth orbit no 



later than 1977. Between 1980 and 1984, base-stations were supposed to appear 

in near-Earth orbit with a crew of 50 persons, and by 1989 their number would 

increase to 100. Truly “dreams, dreams, where is your sweetness!”

35

Now, the U.S. together with Russia, Western European nations, and Japan 



are building the International Space Station (ISS), which, according to plan, 

 34.  It is possible that Chertok is quoting from a source other than the Space Task Group’s 

September 1969 report since there is little match between what he reproduces here and the 

original text of the Space Task Group’s report.

 35. These lines are from Yevgeniy Onegin (more commonly known in English as Eugene 

Onegin), the famous 1830s-era novel written entirely in verse by Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin 

(1799–1837).

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Rockets and People: The Moon Race

should have a crew of just six persons by 2009, with an active service life of 

15 years. At first, it was assumed that by 2002 it would have a total of 8 to 10 

crewmembers. Actually, in the first decade of operation (up until 2008), most 

of the time there was a crew of just three on the ISS. The crew numbers 10 

members only during “visiting expeditions,” which the Space Shuttle delivers 

to the Station.

36

Later, the 1969 report describes missions that must have staggered the 



imagination not only of “average Americans,” but also seasoned congressmen:

The continuation of flights to the nearest planets—Mars and Venus, 

and then to Jupiter and other distant planets of the Solar System—

Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto.

The primary scientific mission of these flights was to search for extraterrestrial 

life. An expedition to Mars could take place as early as 1981! As far as the further 

use of vehicles from the Apollo program was concerned, it was assumed that 

eight more expeditions to the Moon would be carried out from 1970 through 

1972. From 1978 to 1980, the Americans were preparing to build a habitable 

station in near-Earth orbit, and from 1980 through 1983 they were on the verge 

of beginning construction of a habitable base station on the Moon.

What a historical paradox! In the USSR, our lunar program crisis was a 

result of failures and disasters. The Americans’ crisis—at the moment of their 

greatest triumph—was because they hadn’t yet decided what to do next. And 

there was one more paradox: neither the Americans’ triumph, nor our failures, 

nor subsequent joint efforts helped implement the plans of 1969!

 36.  Chertok wrote these words in 2008. In more recent times, beginning with Expedition 

20 in 2009, there have been missions consisting of six astronauts/cosmonauts, some of whom 

arrive on the Station on different flights.

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Chapter 12



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