I posted last week about the claims that NASA faked the Apollo programme.
This idea is so stupid it doesn’t deserve dignifying by engaging. Apollo happened. A demonstration of what can be done when political will, technology and funding come together, buoyed on a wave of popular enthusiasm.
Besides which, if there had been a hoax of this kind, the Soviets would have known at once - they were actively tracking American activities – and yelled long and loud. After all, the Soviets lost – and that highlights the real moon hoax. The Soviet pretence, after 20 July 1969, that they had never been in the race in the first place.
Actually they were in it, for real – they’d spent billions of roubles on everything from spacesuits to rockets to lunar spacecraft. The problem was that their programme started late, was under-funded, and ran foul of in-fighting. Most of the top designers hated Sergei Pavlovich Korolev (1907-1966), the man responsible for the amazing R-7 rocket (still used today as the “Soyuz booster”) and who was behind the early Soviet space spectaculars.
It was Korolev who got the Soviets so far ‘ahead’ in 1957-61 that US President John F. Kennedy laid down the moon gauntlet.
What the Americans didn’t know was that the Soviet spectaculars were only possible because Korolev was a brilliant engineer. He could do stuff nobody else could. Then, in 1966, Korolev died – tragically – during botched cancer surgery.
His OKB-1 bureau carried on under Vasili Mishin. Efforts were made to send a manned 7K-L1 (‘Zond’) spacecraft on lunar flyby using the UR-500 ‘Proton’ booster, spurring NASA to send Apollo 8 into lunar orbit in December 1968, lest they be upstaged. Meanwhile the gigantic N-1 booster – the Soviet equivalent of the Saturn V - was made flight-ready, but there were problems balancing the thirty first stage engines. The initial test flight, in early 1969, ended with a first stage failure.
If Korolev had lived, this might have been resolved. Alexei Leonov, first man to walk in space, certainly thought so. However, by early 1969 the best estimate was that the N1 would not be man-rated before 1974. There was hope that a disaster on the US side might set Apollo back – but it never did; and so, in mid-1969, the Brezhnev administration began insisting they had never been in the race, turning to a crash space station project which, they insisted, had been their goal all along.
Actually, it hadn’t. What’s more, they kept pushing their moon programme along – it wasn’t cancelled until mid-1972. And they kept working on the N-1, which flew (and failed) for the third and final time in November 1972. Back then it was a deadly Cold War secret; today the video, inevitably, is on YouTube – here. New bureau chief Valentin Glushko decided to cancel the N-1 on the back of that failure. And so the Soviet moon dream ended. But politically the cosmonauts probably wouldn’t have been allowed to go in any case.
The truth didn’t emerge until after the fall of the Soviet Union. Today the Soviet LK (Lunar Cabin) lander and space-suit are on public display, monuments to the Cold War – and to the real moon hoax, the Soviet denial that they’d ever been in the race.
All of which points to an interesting counter-factual. As matters stood the Soviets came close to beating the Americans on fly-by around the Moon, anyway, in 1968. If Korolev had lived, the race could have been very, very close indeed.
Sounds like fodder for a Stephen Baxter-style novel to me. Thoughts?
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013