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Why Didn’t The Soviet Union Put a Man on the Moon?

Today on Far Future Horizons we ask the question in: Why Didn’t The Soviet Union Put a Man on the Moon?

It’s probably the most well-known peacetime battle between the USA and the Soviet Union, in both technological and ideological terms of the 20th century.

Sergei Korolev and Vladimir Chelomei

Although the USA won the race to the moon, if you’d been a betting person from the mid 1950’s to 1960’s, the chances are that you would have thought the Soviet Union had a very good chance of getting there first.

So why didn’t Russia put a man on the moon?

Soviet Lunar Lander - the LK (spacecraft)

At the time the Soviets were leading the space race, they had already started with the launch of Sputnik, then launched several probes to the moon, including one in 1959 that orbited and taken photos of the far side and by 1961 they were the first to put a man into space.

So when Kennedy made his now famous “We choose to go to the moon” speech in 1962 to rally public support, Khrushchev’s response was silence, neither confirming nor denying that they had a plan for a manned moon mission.

But at the time Khrushchev wasn’t really interested in competing with the US over the moon, he was more interested ICBM’s the Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles for the strategic rocket forces.
But there were others that had harboured plans for manned mission for a long time; these included the man whose name was a state secret and the most powerful man outside the Kremlin when it came to space.

Soviet Lunar Lander - the LK (spacecraft)

He was Sergei Korolev, outside the inner circle of the top space scientists, he was known only as the “Chief Designer” or by his first two initials SP, because the Soviet leadership feared that the Western powers would send agents to assassinate him.

The N1 Rocket: The Soviet answer to the Saturn V, and designed to carry cosmonauts to the moon.

Korolev was the man who was behind many of the soviet space successes and the head of the OKB-1 design bureau; he over saw Sputnik and the manned missions including the first man in space Yuri Gagarin. His authority extended over almost everything to do with space; his design group worked on missions to Mars and Venus, communications, spy and weather satellites, ICBM’s and the soviet manned moon missions.

Soviet N1 rocket compared to the U.S. Saturn 5

Korolev had a huge amount of control over the space program. In administrative power, he was almost a one man version of NASA covering areas that in the US were done across multiple aerospace companies and flight centres.

But even a man with his power and connections didn’t get everything his own way. He had to continuously fight against rival designers and design groups. Although Korolev wanted the moon missions, in 1960 the job was given to his rival, Vladimir Chelomei because of his patronage by Khrushchev but his lack of experience meant that progress was slow.

Why Russia Did Not Put a Man on the Moon? - The Secret Soviet Moon Rocket
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