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A panoramic view of two N-1

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A panoramic view of two N-1 

vehicles on their respective 

launch pads at Site No. 110 

at Tyuratam.


9.  “L3S” was the combined designation of the L-1S circumlunar vehicle and a dummy 

LK (as was launched on the first N-1 rocket in February 1969).


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

State Commission sessions. The protocol usually noted, “Make a joint rea-

soned decision on such-and-such a date, and have it approved by the technical 



 Per Mishin’s proposal, a State Commission decision set a deadline 

of 3 July for the launch readiness of N-1 No. 5.

Hundreds of testers, designers, engineers, technicians, and workers faced 

stressful work in the fierce heat that had set in. For the first time they had gotten 

an air conditioning system in the new big MIK and the atmosphere was quite 

tolerable. But at the launch site there was no reprieve from the direct rays of 

the sun. No. 3L was prepared in January and February when the temperature 

was –25°C [–13°F]. Back then, people who had run to the heated sheds to 

warm their frozen hands and rub their frost-bitten noses said that the summer 

heat was better. Now, when guzzling liters of water that couldn’t quench their 

thirst, those same testers recalled, “And when it was freezing cold you didn’t 

feel thirsty at all.”

On 1 June, I parted for a while from my comrades who were staying 

behind to work on No. 5L; packed my travel bag with a pile of letters, papers 

with instructions, and “off-the-record” comments; and hurried to the airfield 

From the author’s archives.

Another view, this from an aerial perspective, of two N-1s on the pad in 1969.

 10. The “technical manager” was the person on the State Commission (usually a senior 

designer or a chief designer from the design bureau) responsible for the overall technical aspects 

of the spacecraft itself. The “technical manager” headed the “technical management,” a subgroup 

of members of the State Commission responsible for particular subsystems of the spacecraft.


Rockets and People: The Moon Race

to depart for Moscow with Afanasyev and Mishin. On the airplane Afanasyev 

tipped us off that the previous evening Smirnov had telephoned him and, on 

behalf of Ustinov, asked us—TsKBEM management—to gather to discuss the 

program of upcoming N-1 launch vehicle launches.

On the morning of 3 June in Mishin’s office—formerly Korolev’s “big 

office”—a select company of chiefs gathered. We jokingly referred to similar 

gatherings as meetings of a “tight circle of limited people.” Keldysh, whom 

we told about this aphorism, was quite amused. In attendance were Serbin, 

Smirnov, Keldysh, Afanasyev, Tyulin, Litvinov, Kerimov, Pashkov, Tsarev, 

Pilyugin, Ryazanskiy, Barmin, Iosifyan, Mozzhorin, and Galin.


 From our 

side Mishin, Okhapkin, Bushuyev, Tregub, Abramov, Kryukov, and I attended.

Smirnov warned, “This meeting is very important—the Central Committee 

is very concerned about the status of the N1-L3 and about the state of affairs 

in general at TsKBEM. In view of the Americans’ successes,” added Smirnov, 

“the administration finds our failures particularly troubling. They would like 

to hear an objective report about the true status.”

Mishin had not prepared himself very thoroughly for such an imposing 

meeting. He briefly reported about the results of the accident investigation of 

the flight of N-1 No. 3L and about the status of the preparation of N-1 No. 5L. 

He announced the launch date: “Exactly one month from now—on 3 July.”

With an optimism that was natural for a chief designer, Mishin said 

that, despite its failure, the N-1 No. 3L launch had provided very important 

experimental material. We had learned the bitter lessons of using the KORD 

system, had protected it from interference, and therefore, in the upcoming N-1 

No. 5L launch, we could boldly go on with the circumlunar flight program. 

Without having consulted with his deputies, Mishin then promised to launch 

N-1 No. 6L in its full standard configuration for the execution of a circumlunar 

flight and return to Earth in unpiloted mode.

“All of our systems and instruments are fully equipped; the matter is in 

the subcontractors’ hands.”

Looking at the briefing sheet prepared for him earlier, Smirnov asked, “Is 

this really so? According to our information, there is still a very large amount 

of missing equipment.”

 11. These people were Party officials (I. D. Serbin), defense industry bureaucrats (L. V. 

Smirnov, S. A. Afanasyev, G. A. Tyulin, V. Ya. Litvinov, K. A. Kerimov, G. N. Pashkov, A. I. 

Tsarev, and Yu. A. Mozzhorin), scientists (M. V. Keldysh), and engineers and designers (N. A. 

Pilyugin, M. S. Ryazanskiy, V. P. Barmin, A. G. Iosifyan, and Ye. N. Galin).


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

Igor Bobyrev had most likely prepared the briefing paper for Smirnov.



The other deputies and I often associated with him in the Kremlin offices of 

the VPK, not passing up the opportunity to ask for help to cover the deficit in 

equipment shipments, especially when we were dealing with outside ministries. 

Bobyrev himself traveled around to the organizations and knew about the 

actual state of affairs better than the other Kremlin officials of the VPK offices.

As was proper in such cases, I was supposed to come to Mishin’s aid. “It 

is feasible to complete the manufacture and delivery of all the missing instru-

ments for N1-L3 No. 6L this year,” I reported. “But after we receive them 

they will need to undergo a cycle of testing—a test run of all the systems in 

the complex.” Next I listed the most critical systems for this testing: the EKhG 

automatics, the NIIAP computer and its interface with the other systems, and 

Geofizika’s optical sensors.

Keldysh interrupted my wordy response and asked whether it would be 

possible to provide N-1 No. 6L and N-1 No. 7L in two versions. If the N-1 

No. 5L launch were to show insufficient reliability, N-1 No. 6L and N-1 

No. 7L could be equipped just with mockups and the launch vehicle itself 

could be tested out.

“Ultimately,” he said, “today we are arguing about instruments for lunar 

vehicles, without having a launch vehicle on which to send them to the Moon. 

It seems to me that we need to give people the opportunity to calmly pre-

pare and test out the LOK and LK—that’s where there are still so many 

unresolved problems, and independent of that, we need to speed up launch 

vehicle launches. Your L3S vehicle is, after all, not the LOK, but its ‘ersatz.’ By 

specifying a circumlunar flight at any cost, we once again tie our own hands. 

To this day we have been unable to reliably execute a circumlunar flight and 

return to the Earth using the special L1 vehicle. Where is the guarantee that 

the L3S will perform this mission better? In the coming year our task will be 

to optimize the launch vehicle.”

Tyulin supported Keldysh. He went further and said that we needed to 

think through backup plans for launches even with a dummy model instead 

of a vehicle. Mishin fervently objected. He promised to have N-1 No. 7L in 

full flight configuration enabling the LOK not only to be inserted into lunar 

orbit, but also to ensure the automatic landing of the LK on the lunar surface.

“We don’t need to make a mistake here,” broke in Bushuyev. “The N-1 

No. 6L launch is possible this year only in a simplified L3S version; we can’t 

 12.  Igor Timofeyevich Bobyrev was the deputy chief of a department within the Military-

Industrial Commission (VPK).


Rockets and People: The Moon Race

guarantee any circumlunar flight. We need to plan an insertion into Earth orbit 

or a highly elliptical orbit that does not involve the Moon.”

Serbin could not tolerate this hint at revising the Central Committee 

decision on the circumlunar flight, which he detected in the words of Keldysh, 

Tyulin, and Bushuyev.

“We have no right to abandon the circumlunar flight. If you pose a ques-

tion like that, then you need to report to the Central Committee about it,” 

he declared. Smirnov nodded his head in agreement; Afanasyev quickly jotted 

something down on his notepad. Everyone else kept quiet. The discussion 

ended with an instruction to the minister to look into the matter and give an 

additional report to the Central Committee.

They then talked about the N-11 model and a Mars landing expedi-

tion project.


 These discussions proceeded with breaks for tea and sandwiches, 

which Kosyakov provided in abundance. Okhapkin gave a passionate speech 

in defense of the N-11 rocket. Mishin rather tactlessly quipped that neither 

Keldysh nor Afanasyev had given the proper support to the so-obvious advan-

tages of this proposal.

Taking advantage of the fact that my tea-drinking neighbor was Pashkov, 

I asked, “And actually, Georgiy Nikolayevich, if we had begun with the N-11, 

as Korolev proposed, wouldn’t we already have a launch vehicle every bit as 

good as the UR-500, but safe, with the two upper stages of the N-1 already 

tested out? That was the way the Americans operated, first developing the 

Saturn IB. If you became acquainted with Chelomey’s UR-700 design, you’d 

see he came out with the very same idea: its upper stages were the already-

tested-out UR-500.”

“Now is not the time. The military is completely against the entire pro-

gram. We already have to fight to tear hundreds of millions away from purely 

military missions every year.”

Pashkov was right in the sense that the chiefs who had come out to this 

gathering with us today had their heads crammed with more than just lunar, 

let alone Mars, missions. The famous “little civil war” had flared up between 

the camps of Yangel and Chelomey. The selection of either of the two models 

 13.  The N-11 was intended as a medium-lift capacity launch vehicle that would use ele-

ments of the larger N-1. Its first two stages were supposed to be modified versions of the N-1’s 

second and third stages (Blocks B and V), while its third stage would be a new stage (Block S


using a high-energy liquid hydrogen–liquid oxygen engine.


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

of strategic missiles ran into several billion rubles.


 Competing for scales of 

expenditures with the land-based strategic nuclear missile forces, the navy and 

atomic scientists had also proposed their own doctrine of “nuclear retaliation.”

Socializing with Isanin and Makeyev at the latest Academy meeting, I 

already knew that work of unprecedented proportions was under way to rearm 

the fleet with ballistic missile submarines, each of which was equipped with 

16 of Makeyev’s missiles.


 In the next five years there were plans to build 

more than a dozen strategic missile submarine cruisers. The conversation with 

Makeyev took place in a festive mood—the two of us had just been elected to 

the Academy of Sciences.


“You must excuse me,” said Makeyev, “as you know, I don’t like to brag, 

but the atomic submarine cruiser with our 16 missiles is as expensive as the 

From the author’s archives.

Shown here are Chief Designer Viktor Makeyev (center) and Ye. N. Rabinovich 

congratulating Chertok (left) on his 60th birthday in 1972.

 14.  Chertok is referring here to the “little civil war,” an acrimonious dispute between the 

two giants of the Soviet missile industry, Chelomey and Yangel, over the development of third-

generation ICBMs for the Strategic Rocket Forces. Unable to decide between two very expensive 

options, Brezhnev and the Soviet Defense Council opted to develop systems proposed by both 

designers. See Chertok, Rockets and People, Vol. III, pp. 148–154.

 15.  As chief designer of TsKB-16 from 1946 to 1970, Nikolay Nikitich Isanin (1904–1990) 

headed the development of several generations of Soviet military naval ships, including nuclear 


 16.  Both Chertok and Makeyev were elected Corresponding Members of the Academy of 

Sciences in November 1968.


Rockets and People: The Moon Race

N-1, and perhaps, as complex. We are constantly working on new designs. In 

two or three years, at a maximum, along with ships, we are going to deliver 

cruisers with intercontinental ballistic missiles. Find the time to come over 

and see for yourself.”

I am very sorry that I didn’t find the time and didn’t make the trip out to 

Miass to see Makeyev. I found out about the tough problems with the sub-

marine missile control system after visiting Semikhatov in Sverdlovsk.



years later, shipbuilders put the manufacture of atomic submarine cruisers on 

line. Missiles literally had to be made “like sausages” in order to arm them. In 

modern terminology this was sleek and high technology.

Ustinov was also absorbed in a new undertaking: Nadiradze’s mobile missile 

complexes. Afanasyev opposed the development of such missile systems outside 

his ministry. With that stance he spoiled good relations with Ustinov. All of 

these problems addled the minds of our bosses far more than the prospects of 

the Moon and Mars.

Nevertheless, at this meeting Keldysh came out in support of Mars expedi-

tion studies that we had begun back when Korolev was still with us. He asked 

Mishin to briefly report on the status of the project. The Mars expedition 

project called for the preliminary assembly of an interplanetary expedition 

complex in Earth orbit. The main modules of the complex were an interplan-

etary orbital vehicle, a Mars landing vehicle, a module for the return trip to 

Earth, and a nuclear reactor–based power plant. The power plant supported 

the operation of electric rocket engines in interplanetary orbit en route to 

Mars and the return of the expedition to Earth orbit. The expedition would 

take two to three years. The use of artificial gravity was assumed. At that time 

the medical community did not believe that human beings would be able to 

maintain their health and performance under conditions of weightlessness for 

more than two or three months.

Work on the Mars expedition project was enthralling. But it distracted 

our main gurus from current problems that couldn’t tolerate delays. Mishin’s 

Mars report was received very unenthusiastically. On the contrary, the chiefs 

who had gathered let it be known that it was a total waste of our time. Only 

Keldysh spoke out in favor of continuing operations, “but not to the detri-

ment of the L3.”

 17.  From 1953 to 1992, Nikolay Aleksandrovich Semikhatov (1918–2002) served as chief 

designer of SKB-626, the primary supplier of guidance and control systems for Soviet naval 

ballistic missiles. In 1992, he became a full member of the Academy of Sciences. SKB-626 is 

currently known as N. A. Semikhatov NPO Avtomatiki.


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

“At OPM we’ve also looked into such possibilities.


 I must say,” declared 

Keldysh, “that if the N-1 launch vehicle flies reliably and if it’s modified, 

making the third stage operate on [liquid] hydrogen, then the dual-launch 

scenario might prove sufficient for a piloted flight to Mars. I am not in favor 

of diverting efforts to the N-11 now. We already have the UR-500 with the 

same capabilities. We need to quickly test out the N-1.”

Mishin assured everyone that we were working on the Mars project without 

diverting people from the L3, but had not abandoned the hydrogen block for 

the fourth stage, and in a year we would have it ready for rig testing.


At the very end of the conversations, after glancing at his papers, Smirnov 

asked Mishin, “You promised the flight of three Soyuzes before the October 

Revolution anniversary. Can I convene a commission to make a decision and 

report to the Central Committee?” Coming to Mishin’s aid, Bushuyev and I 

attested that preparation was under way for the program, which entailed the 

docking of two Soyuzes, while a third one would fly around them and provide 

television coverage. Litvinov supported us saying that the only things holding 

us up for the time being were technical bugs with Igla.

At the mention of Igla, Afanasyev looked at me and said, “These launches 

are extremely important for us. Let Chertok stay here and resolve all the issues 

with his friend Mnatsakanyan and look after the docking assembly. Disgracing 

ourselves with the piloted Soyuzes is the last thing we need right now. They’re 

all we have for the time being.” This instruction was one of the reasons why I 

was not at the firing range on the day of the launch of No. 5L.

At the mention of docking assemblies, Klyucharev came to my aid and 

chimed in, “Docking assemblies are being manufactured. They are very complex 

mechanisms, but we have mastered them. Machine tool builders and the Azov 

Optical-Mechanical Factory have helped us a lot.”

On that note, the high-ranking guests who had been in conference with 

us for almost 4 hours went their separate ways after first agreeing that in late 

June, when prompted by State Commission chairman Afanasyev, they would 

gather at the firing range for the launch of N-1 No. 5L.

 18.  The OPM—Otdeleniya prikladnoy matematiki (Department of Applied Mathematics)—

provided significant mathematical modeling support for the Soviet missile and space programs. 

It was originally established as part of the V. A. Steklov Mathematics Institute of the Academy 

of Sciences (MIAN) in 1953 but spun off as an independent Academy body, the Institute of 

Applied Mathematics (IPM) in 1966. It is known today as the M. V. Keldysh Institute of Applied 


 19. This “hydrogen block” was known as Block S


 and was equipped with two 11D56 

engines developed by KB Khimmash headed by Chief Designer Aleksey Isayev.


Rockets and People: The Moon Race

However, the minister did not turn a deaf ear to the “Martian” conversa-

tions. On 30 June [1969], Afanasyev issued an order obligating Chelomey, 

over the course of a year, to develop a design for a Mars complex comprising 

the UR-700M (or UR-900) launch vehicle and the MK-700M Mars vehicle. 

After learning about this and having been officially relieved of my duty to fly 

out to the firing range to take part in the launch of N-1 No. 5L, I found the 

time to discuss proposals for the Mars expedition control system….

In August 1997, Igor Gansvindt dropped by to see me. In the 1960s he 

was the lead planner of the piloted vehicle’s landing control system for both the 

Mars landing and its touchdown on Earth after returning from the expedition. 

At that time, he handed over a sketch of the vehicle, which he had received 

with the baseline data for designing the landing control system, and handwrit-

ten notes of my report. Gansvindt recalled that in the summer of 1969 I had 

convened a large technical conference with all the subcontractors concerned 

and delivered an audience-inspiring report about the makeup and structure of 

the Mars expedition control system. If it hadn’t been for my inimitable hand-

writing, I might have questioned the authorship of the “Martian” manuscript. 

But I confess that a quarter century later I read this document with as much 

interest as I had read Aleksey Tolstoy’s famous Aelita 75 years before.


But my modern-day “Martian” activity didn’t end there. A week after my 

conversation with Gansvindt, a BBC team that had flown in from London 

descended on me to make a television documentary about the history of Mars 

explorations. I told them about the incidents described in my third book, 

Rockets and People: Hot Days of the Cold War, in the chapter “The Cuban Missile 

Crisis…and Mars.”

“We hadn’t even dreamed of such success—finding a living participant of 

the first Mars rocket launch during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis! The world 

stood on the brink of an exchange of nuclear missile strikes across the Atlantic, 

and you were preparing for a launch to Mars!”

The young British woman leading the team peppered me with questions. 

She was very well versed in the history of all of mankind’s attempts to send 

automatic interplanetary stations to explore Mars and promised that British 

television viewers would be receptive. In December that same year I received 

a videocassette from the BBC in which I discovered my own “talking head.” 

However, Academician Sagdeyev, the former director of the USSR Academy 

 20.  Aelita (1923) was one of the earliest and most famous space fiction novels of the Soviet 

era. Written by Aleksey Nikolayevich Tolstoy (1883–1945), it was made into an equally famous 

motion picture in 1924.


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

of Sciences’ Institute of Space Research (IKI), who moved to the U.S. after 

his marriage to the granddaughter of President Eisenhower, proved to be in 

the forefront and unrivaled in the documentary….


The failure of N-1 No. 3L was a painful but instructive example of 

what happens when new methods for testing the reliability of complex rocket-

space systems are disregarded. Catastrophic failures that developed during the 

first launch should have occurred earlier during integrated firing rig tests on 

the flight-ready first stage. Now we were paying for the fact that Korolev had 

resigned himself to the draft plan’s lack of requirements for the construction of 

a rig for such tests. With the exception of the deceased Leonid Voskresenskiy, 

we all had humbly consented to this. We in Korolev’s camp sympathized with 

the rebel Voskresenskiy, but no one dared side with him publicly.

The history of our aviation and the first years of atomic and rocket technol-

ogy are rich with examples of the successful borrowing from outside experi-

ence in order to catch up. After World War II, our science, technology, and 

industry quite successfully, rapidly, and efficiently duplicated German V-2 

missiles, which we called R-1, and the American B-29 Flying Fortress, which 

we called the Tu-4. Such duplication (right down to exact reproduction) was 

not only permitted, but it received the status of governmental decrees. Yet, the 

reliability-testing methods that the Americans used during the development 

of Saturn V proved to be unattainable in our rocket industry’s economy. In 

rocket technology the “maybe it will work” method didn’t work. We had not 

yet conducted a radical restructuring.

Mishin got drawn into arguments with Kamanin over the list of 

candidates for the lunar expedition crews. This irritated Bushuyev and me; it 

seemed premature to us. It was presumed that, by virtue of their positions, 

Bushuyev and Mishin would champion our interests. After the list was finally 

approved at the most recent meeting on that issue, Mishin announced that we 

would complete an expedition to the Moon before the end of 1970. Corporate 

solidarity and years of discipline would not permit the exercise of active rebel-

lion or disobedience.

 21.  The IKI—Institut kosmicheskikh issledovaniy—was the primary space science research 

institution within the Academy of Sciences. It was established in 1965. Roald Zinnurovich 

Sagdeyev (1932–) served as director of IKI from 1973 to 1988. He emigrated to the U.S. in 

1990 and currently is Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Physics at the 

University of Maryland in College Park, MD.


Rockets and People: The Moon Race

Mishin made the decision to launch N-1 No. 5L for a circumlunar 

flight. Therefore, together with NIIAP, we assembled a hybrid complex (retain-

ing the L3S designation) from the systems of the 7K-L1, new developments 

of the future LOK, flight-worthy Blocks G and D, and also the Lunar Vehicle 

(LK) cargo mockup. Instruments installed in the L1 Descent Module were 

supposed to control Blocks G and D according to the circumlunar flight pro-

gram, after which all three N-1 stages would actuate normally. Only the SAS 

equipment on the L3S was completely standard.

Since the times of Korolev, our ballistics specialists had been considered 

the most critical thinkers on our staff. But an order is an order, and hoping 

for a safe circumlunar flight, the ballistics specialists had calculated the launch 

time for 3 July, 2318 hours. And what if such a miracle actually happened?

I was among the enthusiasts who had gathered, as usual, in Podlipki, in 

the large office of the chief—the running commentary from the bunker came 

here. Rather than relying on my own impressions, I am forced to describe 

everything that happened during the second launch based on information 

received from participants and eyewitnesses, and using documentary evidence.

The launch of N-1 No. 5L proceeded precisely according to the calcu-

lated time. As the engines of Block A were building up for operation 0.25 

seconds before liftoff from the launch pad, peripheral engine No. 8 exploded. 

The remaining engines operated for a certain period of time, and the rocket 

lifted off. It managed to lift off vertically for 200 meters, and then the engines 

From the author’s archives.

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