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Launch of the first N-1 vehicle on 21 February 1969

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Launch of the first N-1 vehicle on 21 February 1969.

from the ground, said that the plume seemed unusually rigid, “it didn’t flap,” 

nd it was three or four times longer than the body of the rocket.

After around 10 seconds the thunder of the engines faded in the distance. 

e hall was completely silent. The second minute of flight had begun. And 

uddenly—the plume extinguished…. It was the 69th second of flight. The 

ery rocket drifted away without a plume from its engines. At a slight angle 

o the horizon, it was still moving upward; then it tilted over, and, leaving a 

moky trail, without breaking up, it began to fall.

It isn’t alarm and it isn’t dismay; it’s more a certain complex mixture of 

ntense inner pain and a feeling of absolute powerlessness that you experience 

hile watching a crashing rocket approach the ground. Dying before your 

yes is a creation with which you have become so intertwined over a period 

f several years that it sometimes seemed that this inanimate “article” had a 

oul. Even now it seems to me that each lost rocket has a soul made up of the 

eelings and experiences of the hundreds of creators of that “article.”

The first flight rocket fell along the flight route 52 kilometers from the 

aunch site. A distant flash confirmed: it’s all over! The strained, stressed, tightly 

ound string is broken. The last stage of work on the rocket begins. It’s time 

o look for what happened and why. The immediate start of the search is a 

edative that always brings relief. Barmin attempted to offer the first consola-

ion: “Don’t feel bad, the launch site is unharmed.”



















1969—The First N-1 Launch

On 15 May 1957, Barmin had breathed the same sigh of relief when he 

learned that the first Semyorka, which crashed in the 100th second of flight, 

did not damage the launch site. Back then, all of us, not just Barmin’s team, 

had not been too upset: after all, reaching 100 seconds the first time—that’s 

already an achievement. Now there are a lot more people, but far fewer people 

who can offer calming words and can crack a joke. The N-1 is indeed a very 

great rocket to be lost so easily and quickly after five years spent creating it.

Mishin was too 

impatient to wait for 

investigations lasting 

many days. Turning to 

Iosifyan, he said right 

there in the bunker 

that the turbogen-

erator was the culprit 

for everything. Only 

its failure could have 

caused the simultane-

ous shutdown of all 

28 engines. Minister 

Sergey Afanasyev—

also chairman of the 

State Commission—

appointed Mishin 

chairman of the accident investigation commission before he left the bunker. 

Iosifyan and Sheremetyevskiy were unusually insistent and proposed searching 

the impact area immediately and delivering the turbogenerators for verification.

The search team hunted for the turbogenerators. Surprisingly, they turned 

out to be whole and suitable for “repeat use.” They were immediately transported 

to the test rig at the Istrinskiy facility, and after minor repair they started up! 

Telemetry also confirmed that the turbogenerators had operated up until the 

moment of impact with the ground. Who then shut down all 28 engines at 

once, and what was the offense of the two engines—No. 12 and diametrically 

opposed No. 24—that switched off during liftoff from the ground? What kind 

of devil had made short work of all 30 engines?

From the author’s archives.

Senior management shown prior to the launch of the first 

N-1. From left to right, Anatoliy Kirillov, Vasiliy Mishin, 

Sergey Afanasyev, Boris Dorofeyev, and V. I. Snegirev.


Rockets and People: The Moon Race

All the telemetry recordings were sent to Site No. 10.


 The analysis 

bureau began its feverish round-the-clock deciphering. Scarcely 24 hours 

had passed when the first information emerged. At first it traveled like a 

rumor, then it began to be written up in reports, and finally it could be 

put out at the level of an accident investigation commission and then the 

State Commission.

At the end of this unusually long launch day I already knew that the 

shutdown of the first 2 engines during liftoff and of the remaining 28 during 

the 69th second of flight were prompted by a KORD system command. That 

night KORD system specialists, looking haggard from all the calamities that 

had come down on them, gathered in my hotel room. We wanted to have a 

talk without any outsiders eager for the latest news so that we could be the 

first to report to the higher-ups.

We had worked on the KORD system for three years! We could assuage our 

guilt for the failure only after a thorough study of the true causes. We would 

“brainstorm” all the possible scenarios. By morning we had drawn up a main 

list of experiments that needed to be conducted on the next flight model N-1 

No. 5L in Podlipki on the equipment and at NIIAP on the integrated stand.

Mishin, after making arrangements with the minister, made the decision 

to create a special commission to analyze the KORD system’s operation. “We 

don’t need a lot of people,” said Mishin. “Chertok will be the chairman.”

It wasn’t until early March, after arguments and calculations, and following 

repeated microanalysis of the telemetry films, that we began to establish a logical 

connection between all the events on board the rocket that had resulted in the 

tragic end. Analysis of such failures is truly a creative process and somewhat like 

the work of a criminal investigator getting to the bottom of a crime. However, 

the logic of cunning analysis available to lone geniuses such as Sherlock Holmes 

will not save you in these situations. A single human being is not capable of 

digesting all the multisystem and contradictory information, analyzing it after 

rejecting instructions from management and the hunches from people on the 

sidelines, and writing up incontrovertible findings. Dozens of people thought, 

pored over films, and argued.

After spending three sleepless days, the telemetry specialists provided 

unequivocal information: all of the engine shutdowns were prompted by 

KORD system commands. On 7 March there was a meeting of the techni-

cal management in which I felt myself to be the main culprit in the demise 

 14.  Site 10 was the other name of the city center at Leninsk, the major town built next to 

the launch range at Tyuratam.


1969—The First N-1 Launch

of the rocket. In keeping with the established tradition, the chairman of the 

investigation commission appoints each “suspect” to be his own investigator. 

My commission had the following membership: Vladilen Finogeyev—control 

system; Nikolay Sheremetyevskiy—electric power; Ivan Utkin—KORD system 

sensors; and Aleksandr Cherkasov—engines.


 By the time the commission had 

been created, the KORD system specialists and I had already pieced together a 

picture of the system’s behavior. Now we needed to explain it to all the other 

commission members, concisely write up our objective findings, and present 

them to the State Commission. “He who honestly seeks will always find” is a 

true statement for this sort of investigation.

I shall remind the reader that to monitor the operation of all the engines 

of Blocks A, B, and V, the KORD system used four control channels: pres-

sure in the combustion chambers; pressure pulsations in the gas generator; 

revolutions per minute, i.e., rotation speed of the turbopump assembly; and 

temperature of the gas generator. No deviations from normal operation were 

detected in the pressure and temperature channels. The channel monitoring 

the rotations per minute (rpm) of the Block A turbopump assembly activated 

upon receiving the command “ignition” and functioned normally until receiving 

the command “main.” Then, 0.34 seconds after the “liftoff” contact actuated, 

the control system shut down engine No. 12 after receiving a KORD system 

signal. The KORD system ostensibly reacted to the sharp increase in the rota-

tion speed of the turbopump assembly. We determined that the command was 

false. The control system executed it and, in accordance with the logic, shut 

down engine No. 24.

Studies conducted in KORD system laboratories and at NIIAP showed 

that the KORD system unit of engine No. 12 responded to external interfer-

ence, which occurred in the form of a spike of damped vibrations of voltage 

between the KORD system power buses and the hull; this spike occurred at the 

moment of detonation of the explosive cartridges opening the valves feeding 

propellant components to the engines upon receiving the command “main.” 

The frequency and amplitude of the electrical vibrations that occurred when 

the pyrocartridges detonated simulated the emergency mode—“racing” of the 

turbopump assembly. The KORD system did not tolerate this.

 15.  Ivan Ivanovich Utkin (1910–1985) was chief designer at NII IT—Nauchno-issledovatelskiy 

institut izmeritelnyy tekhniki (Scientific-Research Institute for Measurement Technology)—

responsible for developing various telemetry systems for Soviet missiles, launch vehicles, and 

spacecraft. This institute had been spun out of the larger NII-88. Aleksandr Vladimirovich 

Cherkasov was a deputy to Chief Designer Nikolay Kuznetsov at the Trud Design Bureau (KB 

Trud), which developed the engines for the N-1.


Rockets and People: The Moon Race

A spike of similar damping vibrations usually occurs in an electrical loop 

containing capacitance, inductance, and resistance if a sharp change in current 

strength “strikes” it. This strike was the impulse that activated dozens of pyro-

cartridges. The capacitance and inductance of the cable network determined 

the vibration frequency. The cable network, in addition to performing its main 

task, simulated a sort of “ringing loop.”

But why did this “ringing” cause only engine No. 12 to shut down? We 

performed an experiment on the integrated stand at NIIAP with a real cable 

network and real KORD system instruments. The investigative experiment 

confirmed the hunch that the parameters of the long lines of the cable net-

work in the area of engine No. 12 were the most critical. The culpability of 

the KORD system in shutting down this engine with a false command was 

proven unequivocally. At the discretion of the layout designers, the subsequent 

assembly and length of the cables for the other engines could also prove “criti-

cal.” In these “presumed” instances, in the very first second, so many engines 

could shut down that the rocket would not take off. In this horrible scenario 

the destruction of the launch pad was inevitable. However, the remaining 28 

engines held up until the 69th second. “Like the 28 Panfilovtsy heroes out-

side Moscow in 1941,” joked Kirillov grimly.


 And all of them to a man fell 

simultaneously. Why?

What other “ringing” occurred there? The answer came from other inves-

tigating groups. Rigorous analysis showed that during the 6th second of 

flight, elevated vibrations caused the sample probe sensor tube measuring the 

gas pressure downstream from the turbine to break off. Twenty-five seconds 

into the flight, the fuel pressure sensor tube upstream from the gas generator 

broke off. “Acid” gas at a temperature of 340°C [644°F] spewed out through 

the ruptured tube and mixed with kerosene gushing out of the other broken 

tube. A cloud of fuel mixture formed and burst into flame 55 seconds into the 

flight. The fire engulfed a large portion of the aft section of Block A. Sixty-eight 

seconds into the flight, the flame that was raging in the aft section burned 

through the insulation of the cable network, including the alternating current 

 16. This is a reference to an event early in World War II, on 18 November 1941, when 

28 soldiers of the 1075th rifle regiment under the command of Major General Ivan Panfilov 

were said to have held off an advance of German tanks; all but three soldiers were killed. Their 

actions were immortalized in later Soviet accounts of the war. Anatoliy Semenovich Kirillov 

(1924–1987) was, at the time, the deputy chief of the Tyuratam range (NIIP-5). He was one of 

the oldest “testers” in the Soviet space program, having been responsible for launch operations 

for a generation of Soviet ballistic missiles and then space launch vehicles.


1969—The First N-1 Launch

1,000-Hertz power cables. These cables and the cables of the KORD system’s 

sensitive channels were bound in common bundles.

The 1,000-Hertz current of the power system of the functional turbogen-

erator found its way to the KORD system’s sensitive inputs, which perceived it 

as inadmissible pulsations in the gas generators. Twenty-five volts of interfer-

ence (given a maximum permissible value of 15 volts) penetrating through the 

fire-damaged insulation bypassed all the filters and shut down all 28 engines 

virtually simultaneously. Moreover, this interference also passed upward to the 

KORD system units of Blocks B and V.

The causes for the demise of the first N-1 flight rocker were unequivocally 

identified. Mishin’s main commission and my commission on the KORD 

system developed measures that would be introduced immediately on the 

next N-1 No. 5 flight model. The cable bundles were made separate. They 

reinforced the thermal insulation around the engines wrapping them with an 

asbestos blanket. For the KORD system units themselves, they devised a protec-

tive system for the power circuits. And working according to the principle of 

“God helps those who help themselves,” despite the objections of Kuznetsov’s 

organization, they decided to disconnect the pulsation monitoring channel 

from the execution of the emergency shutdown command and keep it just for 

telemetry. After analyzing everything that had happened and approving anti-

fire and anti-interference measures, the State Commission made the decision 

to launch N-1 No. 5L in June 1969.

When it came down to signing the certificate of findings, I recalled the 

dispute between Voskresenskiy and Korolev concerning the integrated stand 

for the development testing of Block A, the first stage. What had happened 

with No. 3L was not a random occurrence, but the logical result of our econo-

mizing on the development of a stand for ground testing. Subsequent events 

completely confirmed this truth.

Having returned from the firing range after such a painful failure, I arranged 

with my deputies and department chiefs to hold a wide-ranging discussion of 

our mistakes and the lessons that each developer should take away from this 

event. We held a conference of sorts in this regard at the very end of February. 

I had reckoned on celebrating my birthday on 1 March.


 Feeling not the least 

bit festive, I announced that I had no plans to mark the event and asked that 

nothing interfere with work.

Nevertheless, without asking for my consent, Nikolay Golunskiy led a 

group of telemetry specialists—none of whom were officially subordinate to 

 17.  Chertok turned 57 in 1969.


Rockets and People: The Moon Race

me—and burst into my office with a bottle of cognac. After brief speeches 

listing my shortcomings and my achievements blown out of all proportion, 

Golunskiy grabbed his guitar and strummed our old firing range song of 

unknown authorship. The words made us nostalgic because this song appeared 

soon after our space triumphs of the early 1960s.

I shall take the risk of reproducing the lyrics in their entirety. As for the 

tune, each performer selected one according to his or her own fancy.

The rocket is filled, of course, not with water,

And it’s high time to push the launch button.

Come on, friend, let’s get out of the way,

If only it would fly away, God forbid we should have to drain it.


I know, my dear friends, many years will pass by,

And the world will forget our all our pains,

But in the wreckage of many a rocket

The mark we made always remains.

Let us be stumbling drunk tomorrow,

The rocket flew away; pour another glass.

We finished the job, and now it’s time to hit the road,

Now let Comrade Levitan talk himself hoarse.


Rockets are flying to points unknown,

Cosmonaut heroes—too many to count,

Space maps fill the plotting boards,

And they’ve given us our travel orders again.


Hotels with bedbugs and dusty roads—

All of this, old pal, we had to endure.

Let the newspapers write that we live like gods.

Let’s crumple the newspaper and go…for a stroll.



Chapter 11

After the Failure of N-1s 

No. 3 and No. 5

We were not capable—not at the highest levels of political leadership, not 

at the ministerial level, and especially not within our rocket space engineer-

ing community—of concentrating our efforts on a single mission of “crucial 

national importance”: a lunar landing expedition. Having realized that it was 

impossible to catch up with the U.S. in the execution of a piloted circumlunar 

flight and an expedition to the lunar surface, we continued to expend our 

resources on a number of disparate goals: on an unpiloted circumlunar flight 

using L1 vehicles; on the automatic delivery of lunar soil; on accelerating the 

piloted flight program using 7K-OK model Soyuz vehicles; and on designing 

new, more advanced vehicles—modifications of the Soyuzes.

In March 1969, the accident investigation commissions and groups con-

cluded their investigation into the causes of the failure of the first launch and 

From the author’s archives.

These two images show the N-1 being erected on its pad at Site No. 110.


Rockets and People: The Moon Race

developed the latest batch of measures to increase the reliability of the N-1 

rocket. The technical management gave the “green light” to prepare for the 

launch of rocket N-1 No. 5L. Why not N-1 No. 4L? For planning reasons, 

rocket N-1 No. 4L had been set aside “in reserve” so that a whole series of 

modifications, which they had not managed to implement for N-1 No. 3L 

and N-1 No. 5L, could later be performed on it.

From the author’s archives.

These three images show the N1-L3 stack being prepared (lower inset) in the MIK 

and then being transported to the launch pad.


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

From 3 through 13 March, the U.S. successfully conducted the experi-

mental flight of the entire Apollo 9 space complex in Earth orbit.


 After this the 

Americans announced the program for the next two flights, having confirmed 

that a lunar landing expedition was planned for July of that year.

The TsKBEM staff headed by Mishin bore primary responsibility for 

compensating for the psychological damage inflicted on domestic and world 

public opinion, which had sincerely believed in the absolute priority of the 

socialist world in space. I cannot say that feelings of dismay or despondency 

reigned among my comrades on our staff. On the contrary, we were so busy 

with other programs under way at the same time that we simply did not have 

time to be demoralized. In conversations among ourselves we agreed that it was 

impossible to achieve victory advancing over a whole broad front. We needed 

to stop and concentrate our efforts on a single area, or perhaps two areas, as 

the Americans had done.

On one of these working evenings Pilyugin called me up on the “Kremlin 

line” and reported with indignation: “Aside from the fact that Chelomey is 

once again proposing his UR-700 in place of the N-1, he is now planning to 

adapt this design for a flight to Mars. I’ve been informed that Afanasyev is 

preparing an order in this regard. I will not take part in this risky venture.”

I knew about Chelomey’s work at OKB-52 (renamed TsKBM) in Reutov 

and at his branch in Fili on a design for the super-heavy UR-700 launch 

vehicle and the LK-700 lunar vehicle. All of my friends and I were miffed by 

this blatant redundancy.

When I started up a conversation about this with Tyulin, he said: “I 

objected, but as you know, my relationship with the minister is very compli-

cated. If you and Mishin mess up with the N-1, he needs other proposals, even 

if only in the form of a draft plan.”

Much later, by the time that our N1-L3 program had been shut down and 

the UR-700/LK-700 design had been placed in the archives, we established 

completely normal relations with Chelomey. At one of the regular meetings 

of our Academy department, after inviting me to the canteen for a “glass of 

tea and cookies,” Chelomey asked an unexpected question: “Admit it, if 10 or 

12 years ago they had accepted my proposal for the UR-700, we would now 

have a launch vehicle for both lunar and Mars expeditions that no one would 


1.  During the Apollo 9 mission, astronauts James A. McDivitt, David R. Scott, and Russell 

L. Schweickart performed a complex set of maneuvers in Earth orbit involving the Command 

and Service Module (Gumdrop) and the Lunar Module (Spider).


Rockets and People: The Moon Race

be able to shut down. Three UR-700 stages have completed the debugging 

stage, and now everyone needs them.”


I had to admit that the UR-700 launch vehicle had its advantages. The 

design of the new rocket was based on the three-stage UR-500K, which had 

already been in service. The UR-500 was installed as the second stage [of the 

UR-700], whose first stage was undergoing development. The latter consisted 

of nine blocks with a single RD-270 engine in each of them. The total thrust 

of the first-stage engines near the ground was 5,760 tons. This made it possible 

to insert into orbit a payload with a mass up to 140 tons.

“We would have a launch vehicle that was just as good as the Saturn V, 

but with the advantage that the three upper stages would always be in series 

production, regardless of the lunar program,” said Chelomey.

In this sense he was right. For the Mars expedition, Chelomey proposed 

a new version of the launch vehicle: the UR-900. The very same UR-500 

comprised the second, third, and fourth stages of this launch vehicle. Unlike 

the UR-700, the first stage had 15 RD-270 engines. According to the design, 

the UR-700 had six RD-270 engines. This made it possible [for the UR-900] 

to insert a mass of up to 240 tons into a near-Earth reference orbit.

At one time Glushko had proposed RD-270 engines with a thrust of 640 

tons to Korolev for the N-1. They were developed for use with high boiling com-

ponents—geptil (unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine) and nitrogen tetroxide.

“Can you imagine, Vladimir Nikolayevich, what would have happened if 

a rocket such as the UR-700 or, God forbid, the UR-900 came crashing down 

near the launch site? All of our pads and all the facilities would be turned into 

a dead zone for 15 to 20 years.”

“Well, first of all, they wouldn’t come crashing down because now the 

engines of your general designer Valentin Petrovich Glushko are failsafe. And 

second, the Pyatisotka [UR-500] flies without a hitch using these propellant 

components and hundreds of combat missiles have been standing on duty 

in silos and at sea on submarines for years. The fear of these components is 

quite exaggerated.”

But in 2007, I realized that I had been right. Many years ago I had posed 

a somewhat provocative question to Vladimir Chelomey. By the beginning of 

the 21st century the Proton rocket had proven itself to be completely reliable. 

The Proton launch vehicle did not let us down during the construction of the 

Mir station and the Russian segment of the International Space Station. The 


2.  Chelomey is alluding to the notion that the upper stages of the UR-700 were derived 

from the UR-500K (Proton) and therefore already developed and tested.


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

leaders of friendly Kazakhstan grumbled about ecological troubles that resulted 

from first stages falling onto the steppe after exhausting their fuel, but they 

tolerated them. However on 6 September 2007, a Proton came down en route 

after 140.7 seconds of flight. Wreckage fell 50 kilometers to the southwest 

of Dzhezkazgan, poisoning a large area of formerly pristine steppe with the 

toxic propellant components of the second stage.


 Launches were temporar-

ily halted. Russia promised to pay Kazakhstan a large sum for the economic 

damages inflicted….

In 1969, Reshetnev, Kozlov, and Babakin provided consolation with 

the successful launches of Molniya-1, Kosmos reconnaissance satellites, and the 

Venera automatic interplanetary stations. Two dozen various Kosmos spacecraft 

were launched during the first six months of 1969. Our newspapers, which 

observed a ban on information about the American lunar successes, finally 

had the opportunity to fill their front pages with flights of enthusiasm over 

the successful arrival of Soviet automatic interplanetary stations Venera-5 (16 

May) and Venera-6 (17 May) on Venus. A pennant bearing an image of Lenin 

in bas-relief and the emblem of the Soviet Union was delivered to the surface 

of Venus. On 19 May 1969, the front pages of all of our newspapers were 

filled with salutes from the Central Committee, Supreme Soviet, and Council 

of Ministers to the scientists, designers, engineers, technicians, workers, and 

all the staffs and organizations, thanks to which “our Soviet motherland had 

secured one more outstanding victory in space exploration.”

Correspondingly, in the same order, “scientists, designers, engineers, techni-

cians, and workers” who had been involved in the development, launch, and 

flight support of the interplanetary stations, and also in receiving and processing 

scientific information, reported to the Central Committee, Supreme Soviet, 

and Council of Ministers about the successful execution of the program: 

“We dedicate this achievement of Soviet science and technology to the 100th 

anniversary of the birth of the organizer of the Communist party, founder of 

the Soviet state, and standard-bearer of workers all over the world Vladimir 

Ilyich Lenin.”


The evening before, 18 May, we were watching television coverage of the 

Apollo 10 liftoff and flight to the Moon, and the next morning, 19 May, we 

attempted to find information in the newspapers about the Americans’ piloted 


3.  The launch was operated by International Launch Services (ILS) to carry JCSAT-11, a 

satellite owned by the private Japanese satellite operator JSAT Corporation. Because of a failure 

in the second stage, the satellite failed to reach Earth orbit.


4.  Pravda, 19 May 1969. Lenin’s 100th birthday was celebrated on 22 April 1970.


Rockets and People: The Moon Race



 It proved anything but simple to track down more than a modest report 

on this event, even in the very back pages.

After meeting with Babakin, I congratulated him warmly and tried to joke 

about the fact that the latest “Venusian” successes were thanks to the January 

resolution “On the Plan of Work for Research on the Moon, Mars, and Venus 

using Automatic Stations.” Babakin beamed, but swore good-naturedly and 

complained that excessive attention from the “brass” was already beginning to 

grate on his nerves and distract him from his work. These achievements to a 

certain degree compensated for the failure of the “lunar excavator,” the Ye-8-5.


“We timed our landing on Venus specially so as to muffle the Apollo 

liftoff,” Babakin laughed it off.

In Yevpatoriya and at the firing range we often met with television corre-

spondent Yuriy Valeryanovich Fokin.


 He was firmly entrenched in our rocket-

space community, and we all treated him with great respect, understanding how 

difficult it was for him to water down information about cosmonautics, leaving 

only the ceremonial window dressing. So, we heard from him, or perhaps it was 

from some other representative of the press, that before the Apollo launches 

newspaper, radio, and television journalists fly out to Cape Canaveral from every 

nation except the Soviet Union. And it wasn’t the American authorities who 

prohibited this, but our own Soviet governmental agencies. International rules 

of etiquette require reciprocity. If our correspondents accepted an invitation 

and visited Cape Canaveral, then we would be obliged to invite Americans to 

our firing range for some launch. In those days even thinking such a thought 

could not be tolerated.

At the press conferences devoted to Venera-5 and -6, in response to foreign 

journalists’ cautious questions about our plans regarding the Moon, Keldysh 

gave vague explanations: that we had no intentions of being the first to send a 

human being to the Moon, or that we believed that a great deal could be learned 

using automatic stations before the need arose to risk landing a human being.

It is very difficult, from the standpoint of common sense, to explain the 

total blackout of space information where no state secrets were concerned. 

During a discussion of this problem within our “inner circle,” we concluded 


5. The Apollo 10 mission, lasting from 18 to 26 May 1969, was the final dress rehearsal 

of the first piloted lunar landing. During the mission, astronauts Thomas P. Stafford, John W. 

Young, and Eugene A. Cernan performed a complex series of maneuvers in lunar orbit in their 

CSM (Charlie Brown) and LM (Snoopy).


6.  The Ye-8-5 was the design designation of the lunar sample collector developed under 

Babakin. It was created using the basic design of Babakin’s lunar rover, the Ye-8.


7.  Yuriy Valeryanovich Fokin (1924–2009) was a famous Soviet TV journalist of the 1960s 

and the host of the popular news program Estafeta novostey [Relay News].


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

that the reason was the obtuseness or stupidity of the Central Committee staff. 

However, among the Party officials we mixed with and who sponsored us, I 

never met anyone who was either stupid or obtuse. When asked point-blank 

why there were information bans, they could not give any clearly defined 

answer. It made Academy of Sciences President Keldysh look foolish.

On 29 and 30 May, the technical management and State Commission 

convened at the firing range to officially “close” all the incidents regarding 

the launch of N-1 No. 3L and to make the decision to launch N-1 No. 5L. 

At a conference in Litvinov’s office, the Minobshchemash section rehearsed its 

presentation for the next day’s State Commission meeting.


 For the umpteenth 

time I repeated my account of the KORD system’s behavior on N-1 No. 3L 

and gave assurances that all necessary measures had been implemented on N-1 

No. 5 and testing had confirmed their effectiveness.

“We are powerless to predict the behavior of the system if the cable net-

works are damaged by fire,” I said. “The most unpredictable connections can 

occur when cable insulation breaks down.”

“It’s best not to mention that in the State Commission,” advised Litvinov.

Barmin disrupted the peaceful dialogue at this meeting.

“The failure of N-1 No. 3L could also have occurred 50 seconds sooner. 

Who can guarantee that this will not happen? If the rocket isn’t immediately 

diverted farther away, we are putting all the launch facilities at risk. I propose 

to let the control specialists completely inhibit the ability for the engines to 

shut down for the first 15 to 20 seconds and during that time the rocket will 

move a safe distance away.”

Because of his proposal, we started to argue, as a result of which Barmin 

agreed not to bring this up in the State Commission, while Dorofeyev, 

Finogeyev, and I promised to give it some thought and work it out. We obvi-

ously did not have time to come up with these measures in time for No. 5L.

In the State Commission meeting on 30 May in the conference hall of the 

big MIK, Mishin gave the report on the failure of N-1 No. 3L and proposals 

for N-1 No. 5L. Afanasyev still insisted that I give a more detailed account of 

why the KORD system shut down operational engines when there was a fire 

in the aft section. Barmin reported on the readiness of all the ground fueling 

and launching systems. He kept his promise not to raise the issue of preventive 

engine shutdown inhibits. As for the rest, the commission proceeded rather 


Minobshchemash was shorthand for the Ministry of General Machine Building 

(Ministerstvo obshchego mashinostroyeniya).


Rockets and People: The Moon Race

amicably until it came to the matter of verifying the status of the upcoming 

N-1 No. 6L rocket. The commission got “hung up” on this problem because, 

beginning with the N-1 No. 6L, Mishin promised to insert the Lunar Orbital 

Vehicle (LOK) capable of flying around the Moon as part of the “payload” 

rather than mockup L3S-type vehicles.


Lidorenko asked whether anyone had investigated using a test procedure 

on the electrochemical generators (EKhG) at the monitoring and test facility. 

Electrochemical generators require liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. How 

does one work with such an explosive mixture if there are dozens of testers right 

around the corner? Finogeyev tried to calm everyone down, announcing that 

they were optimizing the procedure beforehand on a rig at their NIIAP facility in 

order to have a reliable EKhG equivalent and that the fueling process would take 

place only at the launch site. Ovchinnikov assured Afanasyev and the military 

officers, who had begun to pose difficult questions, that everything had been 

thought through. The EKhG would not be fueled with hydrogen until it was 

on the launch pad and the safety of the operation had been verified many times.

One was not supposed to close sensitive issues in State Commissions with-

out a good explanation. Afanasyev proposed, “Set up a commission to review 

this problem under the leadership of Comrade Lidorenko and appoint Comrade 

Finogeyev as his deputy. And who shall we have from TsKBEM?” I suggested, 

“Ovchinnikov, Penek, Kupriyanchik, and Sosnovik. And put some military 

types on the commission, 

subject to approval.”

“I’ll ask those who guar-

antee the safety of hydrogen 

on board to sign in blood,” 

stated Afanasyev.

Similar commissions, 

as a rule, were set up when 

issues requiring additional 

tests and time arose during 

From the author’s archives.

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