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Energiya cosmonaut Oleg Makarov in a

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Energiya cosmonaut Oleg Makarov in a 

signed picture given to Chertok.

 53.  The first three-person crew to fly a Soyuz after the Soyuz-11 disaster was the Soyuz T-3 crew 

(L. D. Kizim, O. G. Makarov, and G. M. Strekalov), who flew in November–December 1980.


The Hot Summer of 1971

The hot summer of 1971 ended with the decision to scuttle the first 

Long-Duration Orbital Station. Initially, the flight of the Salyut orbital station 

had been designed to last three months. After being in space for more than six 

months, the station proved to be completely functional. However, our hope 

to resume piloted expeditions to the first orbital station was gone. We had no 

transport vehicles. We could have continued operating the station to test out 

the reliability of on-board systems and to train ground services. However, after 

estimating the fuel reserves, the ballistics experts and planners came up with 

another proposal. In the event of excessive fuel consumption or the failure of 

the control system or power supply, the station would become uncontrollable. 

Gradually losing altitude, it would enter the dense layers of the atmosphere, and 

everything that didn’t burn up would end up who knows where. International 

complications might arise. Georgiy Degtyarenko, who was in charge of a 

group of analysis and computation departments, approached Mishin with a 

memorandum. He proposed that while Salyut was still controllable and there 

was enough fuel to issue a command for a retroburn, we should arrange for the 

station’s safe descent into the Pacific Ocean. Mishin consented. The proposal 

met no objections in the ministry or in the VPK.

On 10 October 1971, commands were issued from Yevpatoriya to orient 

the station in orbital mode. When telemetry confirmed the stable operation 

of the control system at the calculated time, the propulsion system fired a ret-

roburn. On 11 October 1971, the Salyut station, launched into space on 19 

April, entered the dense layers of the atmosphere and plunged into the Pacific 

Ocean as a gleaming meteorite.

The experience of scuttling the Salyut came in handy as a conflict-free way 

to end the operation of all subsequent Salyuts until it came to Salyut-7. DOS 

Salyut-7 was inserted into orbit on 19 April 1982. This is the only station 

in the history of cosmonautics that experienced “freezing” and subsequent 

reanimation in space.


 Salyut-7 remained a fully operational station after the 

appearance in space of the Mir orbital station.


 It is very difficult to control 

two stations at the same time in piloted mode. However, after four years of 

operation it was possible to prolong the station’s existence in unpiloted mode 

and obtain invaluable experience in terms of the service life of various sys-

tems. The Salyut-7 station was transferred to elevated orbit in August 1986. 

According to the prognosis, it could have continued to exist for another 10 

 54.  Chertok is referring to the loss of control of Salyut-7 in early 1985 and the subsequent 

rescue mission of Soyuz T-13.

 55. The Mir core module was launched on 19 February 1986.


Rockets and People: The Moon Race

years, but the Sun interfered with the ballistics experts’ calculations. Its activity 

increased the density of the upper layers of the atmosphere, and the station 

began to rapidly descend in uncontrolled mode. By late 1990 there were no 

longer any fuel and electric power reserves for a concerted scuttling operation. 

According to data received from the space monitoring services, the remains of 

the station were supposed to collide with Earth’s surface in early 1991. In this 

regard, the foreign mass media whipped up passions, denouncing the raining 

down of red-hot fragments of the station on heavily populated areas of Earth.

On 7 February 1991, Salyut-7 entered the dense layers of the atmosphere. 

Unburned remains reached Earth in the mountainous terrain of Chile. To 

the great disappointment of fans of space spectaculars, there was no news of 

destruction or victims from the impact site. Fans searching for the station’s 

remains, hoping to obtain unique souvenirs, came away empty-handed.

The Mir orbital complex, which owes its birth to the first Salyut, was also 

scuttled in the ocean after working in orbit for more than 15 years.


 For the 

developers of the station and for all those who controlled its flight for years, this 

was collective hara-kiri. There were no technical justifications to sink in the ocean 

such a unique space facility as Mir. But the Russian budget at the end of the 20th 

century could not sustain the expenditures to maintain the performance capacity 

of a piloted orbital station launched by the Soviet Union in 1986.

A group of American scientists, who banded together to form the Space 

Frontier Foundation, addressed an open letter to Russian President Boris 

N. Yeltsin with an appeal not to scuttle the Mir station, but to transfer it to 

a more elevated orbit, to wait there until Russia experienced better times and 

then continue its active life.


“In and of itself, the pressurized volume of the station is of enormous 

value. Salyut-class space stations (very similar to Mir) often executed flight in 

automatic mode….”


Mir was a unique science complex that made it possible to conduct research 

in the fields of astrophysics, biotechnology, space medicine, ecology, geophys-

ics, and materials science. The construction in space of the Mir multimodule 

orbital station lasted 10 years. In February 1986, the first module—the core 

module—was inserted into space. The Mir complex comprised seven modules, 

 56.  The full Mir complex reentered on 23 March 2001.

 57.  The Space Frontier Foundation was established in 1988. In February 1998 it called on 

then–Russian President Boris Yeltsin to reverse plans to destroy the Mir space station as part of 

its “Keep Mir Alive” campaign.

 58.  Izvestiya, No. 53 (24 March 1998); “Tsentr MAKS,” Vestnik no. 8 (1998). See also 

http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewpr.html?pid=4204 (last accessed 11 August 2011).


The Hot Summer of 1971

which housed 11.5 tons of science equipment produced in 27 countries.



Each expedition to Mir brought new experience and new information on the 

construction of space structures, the control of large space facilities, and the 

optimization of the reliability of numerous systems.

More than 3 billion U.S. dollars were spent on the creation and opera-

tion of Mir. According to the assessments of cosmonauts and the developers 

of the different systems, the station’s service life was far from exhausted. The 

International Space Station’s operational capabilities reached Mir’s level in terms 

of its operational capabilities by 2003. So was it necessary to scuttle the Mir

There were more people in favor of scuttling the station in Russia than in the 

U.S. Russian supporters of scuttling the station justified their position by the 

fact that the cost of operating Mir was 220 to 240 million dollars per year. 

The Russian budget didn’t provide for such expenditures. During the time of 

the so-called “reforms,” the once-mighty rocket-space power was subjected to 

such an economic defeat that against the background of the across-the-board 

impoverishment of the people, expenditures on space science and technology 

seemed an intolerable luxury. The historical paradox is that during the first 

decades after the profoundly grueling World War II, the Soviet Union allo-

cated 100 times more resources annually for the development of rocket-space 

technology than Russia does today.

In October 1998, I visited Germany with a group of Russian and European 

cosmonauts. My meetings with people involved with the European space pro-

grams and representatives from the mass media showed me that the European 

space community did not understand why we needed to scuttle Mir. At that 

time the struggle to save Mir had only just begun. They said that after Mir was 

scuttled, Russia would cease to be the leader in human spaceflight, thousands of 

jobs for highly skilled specialists would be lost, Russia would sustain a grievous 

loss of scientific and technical potential, and the country would experience yet 

another political defeat. The fully operational, unique Mir station was scuttled 

in the Pacific Ocean on 23 March 2001.

But let’s return to 1971. In addition to the rush jobs to modify the 

Soyuz, during the second half of 1971, design work was started up on three 

spacecraft modifications: one for servicing the Almaz orbital station (7K-TA), 

one for the Soyuz-VI military-use complex (7K-S), and one for docking with 

the U.S. Apollo (7K-TM, or Soyuz-M).

 59.  These six other modules were Kvant (launched in 1987), Kvant-2 (1989), Kristall (1990), 

Spektr (1995), the Docking Module (1995), and Priroda (1996).


Rockets and People: The Moon Race

The designs of each of these vehicles differed substantially from the Soyuz 

already flying. A lot of new technology was packed into the Soyuz (7K-TM) 

for rendezvous and docking with the Apollo. For the first time, the 7K-S 

spacecraft called for a computer-aided control system. This was a qualitative 

leap for which we had been preparing for 10 years. If you add to these projects 

the changes that we introduced into the subsequent DOS designs, then today 

it is easier to understand that past in which we “forgot” about the Moon race. 

Our immersion in DOSes and Soyuz modifications drastically reduced the pace 

of work on the lunar vehicles of the L3 complex. Even Keldysh, absorbed for 

a month with investigations into the causes of the Soyuz-11 and N-1 No. 6L 

disasters, stopped pestering us about L3 lunar vehicle problems. Studies of the 

causes of the N-1 No. 6L failure required serious gas dynamics experiments. 

The hot summer of 1971 ended with such a [long] list of modifications for the 

N-1 launch vehicle that, according to the most optimistic schedules, it would 

be a year before the next launch of N-1 No. 7L.


Chapter 17

The Last N-1 Launch

In July 1972, a ministerial order authorized the restructuring of Korolev’s 

OKB-1, which had been called the Central Design Bureau of Experimental 

Machine Building (TsKBEM) since 1966. The bravest subcontractors poked 

fun at us with regard to this abbreviation: “As before, we will give preference 

in our work to Mishin’s organization. It used to be that everything was clear: 

Korolev’s organization was called OKB-1, and Chelomey’s was OKB-52. Any 

fool could see that OKB-1 was many times more important. Now under 

Mishin they’re calling you TsKBEM, and Chelomey’s organization is simply 

TsKBM. For your previous services you’ve been granted a one-letter advantage. 

But on the other hand, Chelomey is a general designer, and Mishin is simply 

a chief designer.”


The fundamental difference in the new TsKBEM structure was that chief 

designer [Mishin] had chief designers of specific rocket and space complexes 

subordinate to him. Boris 

Arkadyevich Dorofeyev was 

named chief designer of the 

N-1 launch vehicle. Vladimir 

Andreyevich Borisov became 

the chief designer of the main 

payload for the N-1, i.e., 

the system that comprised 

From the author’s archives.

N-1 Chief Designer Boris 

Dorofeyev shown at the 

periscope during a launch.


1.  In December 1956, the aviation industry introduced the rank of “general designer” to 

denote a rank higher than the usual “chief designer.” Other sectors of the Soviet defense industry 

did not adopt this higher rank until the early 1970s. In the 1960s, for example, Korolev and 

Mishin were chief designers while Chelomey was a general designer.


Rockets and People: The Moon Race

the lunar vehicles: LOK, LK, and booster Blocks G and D. Yuriy Pavlovich 

Semyonov was in charge of the entire complex of orbital stations, i.e., DOS-7K. 

Igor Nikolayevich Sadovskiy was named chief designer of the updated 8K98P 

[or RT-2P] solid-propellant rocket complex. Bushuyev obtained the position 

of chief designer of the Soyuz-Apollo project and, consequently, of the 7K-TM 

vehicle (or Soyuz-M) for docking with Apollo. In addition, by government 

decree, Bushuyev became director of the Soviet portion of the Soyuz-Apollo 

program. Shabarov was in charge of work on the military 7K-S vehicle.

In the early 1970s, the small book Fiziki shutyat [The Physicists Are Joking

was very popular in scientific-technical circles.


 By analogy with the fun-loving 

physicists, the smart alecks in our organization proposed issuing the secret 

publication Raketchiki shutyat [The Rocket Scientists Are Joking]. Among other 

witticisms, one was asked to answer the question, “How many chief designers 

need to be appointed at TsKBEM (former OKB-1) in place of one S. P. Korolev 

in order to confuse American intelligence officers in the field once and for all?”

The 7K-OK Soyuzes that were already flying, the multipurpose orbital 

complex project, Mars-75, and nuclear propulsion systems remained officially 

without chief designers.

Mishin was directly in charge of ongoing piloted flights and all prospective 

areas of endeavor. Each of Chief Designer Mishin’s deputies was responsible for 

the group of related departments organizationally united in complexes. They 

made me a deputy chief of the enterprise and the chief of Complex No. 3, 

which contained 11 departments for motion control systems, electrical and 

radio engineering, antenna feeder systems, electromechanical devices, and 

actuators. The 11 departments entrusted to me were divided into three clusters, 

each of which was supervised by my deputies—Rauschenbach, Kalashnikov

and Yurasov.

Sergey Okhapkin was appointed as Mishin’s first deputy. Main design 

Complex No. 2, which Deputy Chief Designer Viktor Simakin managed, and 

material engineering Complex No. 8, where Anatoliy Severov was in charge, 

remained under his authority. Mishin retained control over design computa-

tional analysis Complex No. 1, including the computer center. Engine-related 

matters and nuclear power topics were combined in Complex No. 5, which 

deputy chief designer Mikhail Melnikov managed. Mishin also retained control 

over Melnikov’s activity.


2. This work was a collection of science-related humor compiled by Yu. Konobeyev, 

V. Pavlinchuk, N. Rabotnov, and V. Turchin and published in 1966 by the Mir publishing 

house, Moscow. Subsequent collections were The Physicists Continue To Joke [Fiziki prodolzhayut 

shutit] and The Physicists Are Still Joking [Fiziki vsye yeshche shutyat].


The Last N-1 Launch

Isaak Khazanov, the chief engineer of the 

experimental factory colocated with TsKBEM.

From the author’s archives.

There was no Complex No. 4. This 

number was supposed to be left for the pro-

duction portion of TsKBEM. However, our 

Factory of Experimental Machine Building 

(ZEM) was so big and independent that it 

never occurred to anyone to equate it with 

a complex.


 After Roman Turkov, Viktor 

Klyucharev became the factory’s direc-

tor and Isaak Khazanov became its chief 

engineer. In addition, Klyucharev had the 

status of first deputy chief of TsKBEM. The 

factory was an independent administrative 

entity, which had its own “post box,” its 

own accounting department, and its own bank account. We shared the same 

territory, Party committee, professional committee, Komsomol committee, and 

various social organizations, as well as a health resort in Kislovodsk, recreation 

facilities, and pioneer camps.


The aforementioned reorganization of TsKBEM took place a little over 

six years after the death of Korolev. Nevertheless, Korolev’s people remained 

in all the key posts of complex chiefs, their deputies, and chiefs of the main 

departments and production facilities. A journalist wrote that those in Korolev’s 

entourage were not just people, but personalities! Each one! I agree. They were 

not very obedient, but they were intelligent, unique individuals who loved 

their work and couldn’t think of life without it. Not one of them, as the result 

of their many years of righteous labor, acquired a stone mansion or made a 

fortune that could compare in any way to what the bosses of Russia today 

acquired in the 1990s.

The majority of chiefs of complexes and departments came from families 

of simple workers and intelligentsia. All of them carved out their own way to 

rockets. We didn’t belong to the stratum of the “creative intelligentsia.” For 


3.   The ZEM was formerly known as Factory No. 88 where the original NII-88 had been 

established in 1946.


4.  The Komsomol was officially known as the All-Union Leninist Communist Union of 

Youth (Vsesoyuznyy leninskiy kommunisticheskiy soyuz molodezhi—VLKSM). This nationwide 

organization was the youth wing of the Communist Party, organized to inculcate the values of 

an ideal socialist society.


Rockets and People: The Moon Race

some reason humanities experts, and after them, the various news media, do 

not classify physicists and other representatives of the exact sciences, much 

less engineers, among the so-called “creative intelligentsia.” Yes, we were tech-

nocrats. We didn’t have time to jealously keep up with belles-lettres, we rarely 

went to the theater, and we didn’t always manage to see new films. We were 

not righteous men in the Christian sense. But I cannot recall examples of 

turpitude, underhanded schemes, or treachery. We worked and enjoyed the 

companionship of people just like us, subcontractors. Each of us felt a respon-

sibility to the nation and to history. We were more like clear-eyed devotees 

than blind fanatics. With rare exceptions, each person in a managerial post 

was a member of the Communist Party. However, it wasn’t a utopian idea 

of building Communism and destroying parasitic Western imperialism that 

united us. We had captured an advanced foothold in worldwide scientific and 

technical progress and understood that we would not be able to hold onto this 

foothold, much less expand it, without the help of the entire industrial sphere 

and all branches of the nation’s science and economy. For that reason, each of 

us was touched by the words of the song:

…Our work is simple,

Our concern is this:

That our homeland will live—

That’s all that there is—

Identifying ourselves with triumphs in space, our attitude toward the 

unlimited praise for achievements in other areas of science and economics 

was not without irony.

A wicked anecdote came out in the 1970s: “What is Soviet authority plus 

electrification of the entire nation? It’s when everybody is burnt out.”



weren’t burnt out about anything. For the majority of us, years of working 

with Korolev were like a school that had no written rules of conduct. This 

school selected people of action. For them, the daily struggle with problems 

and difficulties became a customary way of life. Here, each one proved him- or 

herself, striving for self-expression, like an artist creating a painting. No one 

attempted to shirk responsibility, no matter what happened. Therefore, to act 

rather than talk, to take risks, to influence the course of events as decisively 

as possible—this was our working style. Those who burned out were quickly 


5.  This is a play on Lenin’s famous rallying call that “Communism is Soviet power plus 

electrification of the whole country.”


The Last N-1 Launch

weeded out. It is possible that many in our midst lacked refinement, etiquette, 

tact, and good breeding. But we all shared an appreciation for a sense of humor, 

showed consideration for a comrade’s work, and tried, if needed, to come to 

their aid.

Criticism of national economic policy was not at all prohibited. Sometimes 

it was conducted openly and officially on what were referred to as “political 

instruction days.” Once, I received a warning from the TsKBEM economic 

planning department that, according to financial figures, by year-end the com-

plex entrusted to me would violate the plan. Antonina Otreshko, the chief of 

the economic planning department, explained to me: “You failed to fulfill the 

plan in terms of volume by an entire 10 million rubles.”

At that time, that was a very sizeable amount. They had begun an audit. 

I argued, “Antonina Pavlovna, you are quite familiar with how our work goes, 

you’ve seen for yourself that all the work assigned to our complex has actually 

not only been fulfilled, but we have even saved these same 10 million rubles 

for the enterprise. Instead of handing them over to a subcontractor, we have 

done the work ourselves for our own salary.”

“Now that is an unforgivable sin,” objected Otreshko. “It’s time to get 

used to our perverse planning system. If we planned to allocate ‘x’ amount 

of rubles for you, then you must spend them or at least show that they were 

spent. If you can’t, that means the plan was not fulfilled. Instead of a bonus 

for saving money, you’re going to receive a reprimand, and your whole staff 

will lose bonuses.”

We were obliged to comply with this system. We had to write off large 

sums of money, in no way raising our salary. In nondefense industries, get-

ting carried away with the amount of money hampered the solution of many 

problems. Echoes of the battle with so-called “cosmopolitanism” also made 

themselves known.


 In nondefense industries, in one stroke they would reject 

foreign experience just because it was foreign. At the same time, they passed 

up opportunities that came to light through their own experience, the results 

of scientific research, since realizing them would involve strenuous work and 

risk and might disrupt the tranquil life of a staff accustomed to constant 

smoke breaks.

On the way toward the improvement of automobiles, combines, bath-

room fixtures, footwear, industrial goods, household appliances, and many, 


6. “Cosmopolitanism” was a code word to broadly denote excessive “subservience” to 

Western ideas but had distinct anti-Semitic overtones in the late 1940s and early 1950s during 

the late-Stalinist era.


Rockets and People: The Moon Race

many other things; on the way toward high quality and a sharp increase in 

the range of products, stood a habit that had been nurtured for years—to 

value quantity more than anything: units, tons, meters, and liters, rather 

than the quality of the articles. Increasing quantity under the slogan “Catch 

up and overtake…” is historically quite understandable.


 But the times had 

changed, and the volume-quantitative practices in planning and report-

ing remained. The human being proved to be the most conservative link 

in scientific-technical and economic progress. The scales of the economy 

grew tremendously, while the customary standards, which at one time had 

been quite reasonable, proved to be extremely harmful once the times had 

changed. At the individual levels of the economy, quantity simply turned into 

a genuine fetish. The fierce battle for the quantity of shells, cannons, tanks, 

and airplanes had been quite necessary for victory during World War II. 

During the last years of the Cold War, the quantity of these essential military 

commodities sharply declined, but instead the range of items expanded due 

to the emergence of numerous types of rockets and nuclear warheads. The 

fight for new kinds of weaponry resumed. This continuous fight for a plan 

based on quantity entered our consciousness like a religion, like worshipping 

an all-powerful Moloch.

Vasiliy Ryabikov came to see us at TsKBEM in early 1971. My contact 

with him had begun back in Germany. I wrote about this in my first book.



I recall that People’s Commissar for Armaments Ustinov had sent his first 

deputy, Vasiliy Ryabikov, to find out about the V-2 and rocket technology and 

what was going on in Bleicherode. He was the first of the managers from the 

Ministry of Armaments to decide that this was what the ministry needed to 

be involved in after or even instead of cannons, and, of course, at the expense 

of the number of cannons.

In the early 1950s, Ryabikov was in charge of the special committee for 

the creation of air defense systems.


 In 1957, he was chairman of the State 

Commission for launches of the first R-7 rocket. Ryabikov came to see us in 

1971 as first deputy chairman of Gosplan to find out what we were involved 



 He did not conceal his satisfaction about what he saw and heard.


7.  “Catch up and overtake” was a prominent slogan of the Stalin years, coined in reference 

to the Western industrialized nations.


8.  See Chertok, Rockets and People, Vol. I, p. 323.


9.  Between February 1951 and June 1953, Ryabikov was chief of the Third Main Directorate 

(subordinate to Beriya’s Special Committee), which was responsible for the development of the 

Moscow air defense system.

 10.  From 1965 to 1974, Ryabikov was the first deputy chairman of Gosplan.


The Last N-1 Launch

Over lunch we were having what had become a habitual conversation about 

the delay and even stagnation in other branches of the economy. Ryabikov said, 

“Yes, there are latent processes that our economists are unable to properly explain. 

In our society the amount and rate of development mean the same thing. But now 

this is a political error, which is not so easily corrected. Here’s a typical example for 

you. Our machine-tool industry in due course mastered the production of pretty 

good general-purpose machines, and their production continued to increase. The 

machine-tool builders ended up with very high labor productivity performance 

indices in series production. But on the whole, the economy loses from this 

because we need new specialized machines of considerably higher quality. The 

machines, of which we produce record numbers, lag behind the world standard by 

10 years. And so for you we are forced in each decree to insert a clause allocating 

hard currency for the importation of modern machine tools, instruments, and 

laboratory equipment. I assure you that what we acquire abroad is technically 

not as sophisticated as your technology. But we need serious economic reforms 

in order to master the production of similar equipment in our other branches of 

industry. Until we have decided what needs to be done to make industry itself 

vitally interested in renewal, then let it be at the expense of quantity. You achieved 

this, but at what price! For you [rocket scientists], for the atomic scientists, for 

those who ensure our parity in strategic armaments with America, we are creating 

the necessary conditions but at a very high price. You deserve this. But for all the 

others, who, by the way, feed you, we cannot create these conditions.”

Ryabikov was right; to achieve political and strategic parity for the military-

industrial complex and for the science supporting it, conditions were created—

at the expense of the whole nation’s resources—that other branches of industry 

could not even dream of. They weren’t envious of us; they believed in us and 

relied on us. We didn’t always live up to these expectations. However, decades 

later the world realized that the output of our military-industrial complex 

surpassed similar articles from the leading capitalist nations, not only in terms 

of quantity, but also in terms of quality.

The last (fourth) launch of N1-L3 No. 7L took place on 24 November 

1972, but to this day arguments continue as to whether it was necessary to 

conduct it. Did we do the right thing? For me and for the majority of those 

who participated in the ambitious rocket epic, everything that happened back 

then with the N-1 was a personal tragedy.

On 15 August 1972, Mishin held a meeting of the N-1 Council of 

Chief Designers. All the chiefs gave positive reports on their systems and 

gave their unanimous support for launch preparation. On 21 August, the 

State Commission concurred with the proposals of the Council of Chiefs and 

approved the schedule of operations. A week later, Mishin fell ill.


Rockets and People: The Moon Race

But I should relate this in the order it happened. Mishin was admitted to the 

kremlevka (hospital for dignitaries) in Kuntsevo.


 His first deputy, Okhapkin, 

began to perform his chief designer duties. He tried to delve into each unre-

solved matter. Not having mastered the art of passing the buck, Okhapkin was 

literally smothered by the plethora of problems, for which he was personally 

responsible, and by the burden of the cares that had befallen him.

One Sunday he nevertheless managed to break away to relax at his dacha 

in Zagoryanka.


 As his wife Klavdiya Alekseyevna later recounted, Sergey 

Osipovich came home from a stroll in the forest (he was an avid mushroom 

hunter) with an unusual gait. The doctors were later amazed that he managed 

to get home at all: he was having a stroke. Through the efforts of our patrons

Okhapkin also ended up in the hospital in Kuntsevo. The minister gave factory 

director Klyucharev the responsibilities of chief of enterprise [i.e., TsKBEM] 

and those of chief designer to me.

Now I began to suffocate. After the death of the Soyuz-11 crew in June 

1971, a long period of spacecraft systems modifications had begun. During 

this period we did not have any piloted flights. To a certain extent this eased 

my situation. From July 1971 through April 1972, the Americans had carried 

out two more expeditions to the Moon.


 Their lunar successes had applied 

considerably more pressure to our psyches than the secret information con-

cerning the latest upgrading of hundreds of Minuteman missiles and their 

placement on duty. In terms of the total number of strategic nuclear assets 

and, above all, of intercontinental ballistic missiles, we were steadily catching 

up with the U.S. None of us believed in the real possibility of a nuclear missile 

shootout, but this didn’t reassure anyone.

At the very beginning of September 1972, Minister Afanasyev summoned 

me. Anatoliy Kirillov was in his office.

“Something has happened at the firing range again.” I had a sinking feel-

ing inside.

Until June 1969, Kirillov had been deputy chief of NIIP-5, known today 

as Baykonur.


 Without retiring from active military service, he transferred to 

work in the offices of the Ministry of General Machine Building. Officially, 

Kirillov performed the duties of deputy chief of the Third Main Directorate, 

 11.  Kuntsevo is a district on the western outskirts of Moscow.

 12.  Zagoryanka is a village of dachas northeast of Moscow, in Shchelkovo Rayon.

 13.  These were the Apollo 15 and Apollo 16 missions, respectively.

 14. NIIP—Nauchno-issledovatelskiy i ispytatelnyy polygon (Scientific-Research and Testing 



The Last N-1 Launch

but actually he was one of the minister’s closest advisers on the flight testing 

of space systems.


“Do you see what we have ahead of us at the firing range this next month?” 

began Afanasyev, addressing me from afar. “I hope that we complete preparation 

of N-1 No. 7L. It’s getting to the point that the launch is possible at the end 

of October. But we have a crisis on our hands with the technical management: 

Mishin and his first deputy, Okhapkin, are in the hospital. I have inquired about 

their condition, and the answers I got were not encouraging. Neither one of 

them will be able in the near future to go out to the firing range and take part 

in the work of the State Commission. They promise to restore Mishin’s health 

and release him no sooner than the end of the year, and Okhapkin had a real 

stroke. We don’t need doctors to know what that means. We’ve had consulta-

tions here, including with Keldysh, and have decided: until Mishin gets back, 

you are being appointed acting technical manager of the State Commission 

for the launch of N1-L3 No. 7L.”

Such a twist of fate came as a complete surprise to me, and I fervently 


“But, Sergey Aleksandrovich, Boris Dorofeyev was appointed chief designer 

of the N-1 by your order. He’s already been living at the firing rang for a long 

time and isn’t involved with anything but the N-1. He knows and feels this 

vehicle better than any of us. His deputy, Georgiy Degtyarenko, complements 

Dorofeyev beautifully in terms of all the design and theoretical problems. This 

pair is completely competent. And as for me, I’ll be involved anyway in the 

preparation of those systems for the development of which I am personally 

responsible. Just recently, you lambasted me in Ustinov’s presence for making 

a mess of things with the transport vehicles’ control systems and all manner 

of other things.”

“You don’t need to repeat all this to us. This launch might determine 

the fate of the N-1. It needs triple monitoring or even more. We must 

make decisions very responsibly. We are certainly not releasing Dorofeyev 

from his chief designer duties. But in the absence of Mishin, either his 

first deputy must be in charge of engineering for the complex as a whole, 

or the next one in line, and Okhapkin is ill. So we have decided that this 

will be Chertok. Incidentally, the technical management is made up of 

chief designers from related organizations, with whom you have worked 

 15. The Third Main Directorate was one of several main directorates in the Ministry of 

General Machine Building. Each main directorate was responsible for a single thematic area 

dealing with the development of missiles and spacecraft.


Rockets and People: The Moon Race

for many years. Matters of prestige are important for them. It’s easier for 

us to deal with them if the technical manager is a member of the Academy 

of Sciences.


 You will always find common ground quickly with Pilyugin, 

Ryazanskiy, Iosifyan, Bogomolov, Lidorenko, and Shishkin.


 And I give 

you my word; I will help with Barmin and Nikolay Kuznetsov. Dementyev 

promised me personally to check on the status of affairs with Kuznetsov’s 

engines and to confirm whether a decision about their clearance for launch 

will be necessary.”

Before departing from the ministry, I stopped in to see Gleb Tabakov. 

He had recently been relieved of his job as chief of NII-229 and appointed 

deputy minister.


 He was in charge of engine topics for the ministry and 


Regarding my meeting with the minister, he said, “I have complete infor-

mation on the status of affairs at OKB-276. Despite the more or less success-

ful testing of individual engines on EU-15 and EU-16 in Zagorsk, I am not 

confident about Block A [the first stage].


 Say what you will, but of the three 

failures, two occurred due to the engine systems. Kuznetsov understands this 

and his shop is working at full speed on the reusable engine. I reported to the 

minister and even advised that we wait for the new engines. Don’t rush with 

the launch! But he doesn’t yet know how to do this.”

Tabakov was unable to say anything more encouraging.

Thus I became a direct participant in the launch preparation of N1-L3 

No. 7L and the subsequent analysis of the last flight. Do I now regret this 

confluence of circumstances? I suppose not. What happened in the flight was 

already predestined, lurking in the propulsion system long before the rocket was 

prepared at the firing range. No matter who had served as technical manager, 

he could not have prevented what happened in flight. The failure of N-1 No. 

7L could have been avoided only if the decision had been made to cancel the 

flight, to stop flight tests. But we’ll discuss this below.

 16.  Chertok had become a corresponding member of the Academy in 1968.

 17. Oleg Nikolayevich Shishkin (1934–) was the director of NII izmeritelnoy tekhniki 

(Scientific-Research Institute of Measurement Technology).

 18.  Tabakov had been appointed deputy minister of general machine building in March 


 19.  EU-15 and EU-16 were the names of two static test stands located at the premises of 

NII-229 in Zagorsk. EU-15 was designed to test the Block B second stage, and EU-16 was 

designed to test the Block V third stage. Individual engines of the Block A first stage were tested 

on the EU-87 static test stand.


The Last N-1 Launch

In September 1972, I arrived at the firing range in this new capacity. 

Dorofeyev, Degtyarenko, Simakin, Gutskov, and all the other old hands of 

the big MIK gave me a warm reception. From the first day, we established a 

relationship of trust and working rapport. Dorofeyev, who had been managing 

N-1 testing for some years now, made sure that rapport was excellent both 

with the military leadership of the firing range and with the engineering staff 

of the Sixth Directorate’s military testers.

Emil Brodskiy and Boris Filin, who had supervised the testing and numer-

ous modifications of the L3, did not pass up the opportunity to tease me: “So, 

Boris Yevseyevich, they dragged you away from the Podlipki dacha and spa 

resort? Instead, here you have no days off. There’s only a few papers, but you 

have daily briefings. They won’t let you get bored.”

They had already rolled the rocket out to the launch site, and there, on 

30 August, the first preliminary tests began to work out the ground-to-spacecraft 

communications. The telemetry recordings of the tests served up one headache 

after another. At one of the meetings of the technical management, Aleksandr 

Mrykin delivered a report in which he recapitulated the results of the previous 

three N-1 flight tests.


 “We have only just begun testing on N-1 No. 7L, and 

we already have 17 serious anomalies for 17 control system instruments and over 

100 for telemetry measurement systems,” he announced. “Given these statistics, 

we should think more conscientiously about the advisability of the launch.”

In addition to the official heavily attended meetings of the technical man-

agement, our inner circle gathered in a hotel room in order to calmly discuss 

the progress of preparation and to determine the main tasks of each chief for 

the next few days. At one such meeting Anatoliy Kirillov, who had arrived 

with me, described the “general disposition” like this:

“As everyone knows, Earth is held up on three whales. Science has proven 

that even without these three whales, Earth will stay put in its orbit. And here 

for us, three whales isn’t enough. With our N-1 rocket we are capable of holding 

on only with four. The first whale is the head organization, TsKBEM. Sergey 

Pavlovich’s best students represent it here. The second whale is the military 

testers and all the services of the firing range. This whale has accumulated 

such experience that we can easily rely on it. The military supports the most 

daring proposals of the technical management. All of the officers associated 

with N-1 have been dreaming for a long time of coming up from the ranks like 

 20.  Until April 1965, Lieutenant General Mrykin was the first deputy chief of the Ministry 

of Defense’s Main Directorate of Missile Armaments (GURVO). At retirement age, he transferred 

to TsNIImash to the position of deputy director of the institute without retiring from active 

military service.


Rockets and People: The Moon Race


the one who is launching the piloted vehicles and DOSes. The third whale is 

production, and above all, the Progress Factory in Kuybyshev. The people there 

are first-rate and flawless. But we need to put things right when it comes to 

checking out all the modifications. In my opinion, there isn’t always complete 

clarity between the first and third whales. I hope that Dmitriy Ilyich Kozlov 

will help us in this matter. He’s flying in tomorrow. Well, and the fourth whale 

is the most unreliable—our subcontractors. In my opinion, our new technical 

manager [i.e., Chertok] needs to pay particular attention to this whale. For the 

first time the N-1 has two on-board computers, and for the first time the N-1 

is equipped with standard Blocks G and D and with a LOK that is not exactly 

standard. We’ve had so many problems with the subcontractors that without 

the personal intervention of the technical manager we will be threatened with 

constant breakdown of the preparation schedule.”

“You forgot about the fifth whale,” I added. “Engines.”

“No, I didn’t forget. I am afraid that engines are not one of those whales 

that hold us up. Ministers Afanasyev and Dementyev have agreed that they will 

personally provide the flight clearance certificate for those batches of engines 

that were selected for the LKI [flight-developmental tests] of No. 7L. For the 

whole package, not counting the lunar vehicle, the N-1 has 48 engines, includ-

ing the control thrusters. At the launch site, if necessary, we can replace any 

instrument. But if we have to replace any engine, this means the N-1 returns 

to the MIK. Then the launch will be postponed by a month, and perhaps 

even more.”

The replacement of any instrument during the process of testing at the 

engineering facility is, in fact, routine. Replacement at the launch site is an 

unpleasant event, but permissible. Replacing engines was a complicated opera-

tion that required factory conditions.

At one of these meetings I asked Dorofeyev and Degtyarenko once again to 

give a run-down of all the ways that rocket No. 7L differed from the preceding 

ones. Although all the modifications were described in engineering reports and 

I had kept track of them to the extent possible over the course of the year, when 

we added everything up in a calm conversation, we realized that essentially 

we were beginning the flight testing of a new rocket with this fourth launch.

All three previous launches of rockets No. 3L, No. 5L, and No. 6L were 

failures. The first two launches were actually firing tests of the 30 first-stage 

engine assemblies. It wasn’t until the third launch of N-1 No. 6L that we were 

able to test out the control dynamics for the first time with all the first-stage 

engines functioning properly. And then we ran into the roll instability. Fourteen 

seconds into its flight the rocket began to spin, and after 50 seconds it was 

gone. This failure was the fault, above all, of the gas dynamics specialists and 

the TsNIImash and TsAGI scientists consulting with them.

The Last N-1 Launch

From the author’s archives.

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