Soviet Moonshot

Soviet Moonshot

:"This article deals only with preparations for manned flight to the Moon by the USSR. For information about the unmanned spacecraft sent to the Moon by the USSR see Luna programme."

Details of the Soviet Moonshot ("N1/L3") were kept intensely secret until the arrival of "glasnost". The plan was hindered by the death of Sergei Korolev in 1966 and the disaster of Soyuz 1 in 1967. Following the success of Project Apollo in 1969, materials and personnel were switched to other programs. The entire project was cancelled in 1974.

Korolev's Soyuz concept

Although the Soviet leadership had made public pronouncements about landing a man on the Moon and establishing a lunar base as early as 1961, there was no apparent active planning. Korolev initially promoted the Soyuz A-B-C circumlunar complex concept in which a two-man craft would rendezvous with other components in Earth orbit to assemble a lunar excursion vehicle, the components being delivered by the proven R-7 rocket.

A competing mission was developed by Vladimir Chelomei to use a UR-500 rocket (later renamed the Proton rocket) to launch a orbiting flight.

Chelomei's project had the lead until 1964 when a change of Soviet leadership swung behind Korolev.

Korolev's N1-L3 plan

After Korolev was forced to abandon orbital assembly of a lunar vehicle, he planned to use his proposed heavy lift booster, the N-1 rocket, to deliver a lunar vehicle in a single launch. The problem was that the N-1 as originally designed did not have enough power to send a manned landing mission. Korolev carried on for a year with the hope of improvising a solution but his death ended this.

Korolev's final plan for a manned landing adopted the same method of lunar orbit rendezvous as Project Apollo.

LOK Command Ship - Lunniy Orbitalny Korabl (L3)

A variant of the Soyuz craft, the Soyuz 7K-L3 "Lunniy Orbitalny Korabl" (LOK) Command Ship or L3, would carry a two-man crew atop a single three-stage N-1 booster.

A fourth stage pushed the LOK, the Block D fifth stage and the 'LK' Lander (not to be confused with Chelomei's LK circumlunar capsule) toward the moon. The Block D fifth stage engine slowed the 'LOK' and 'LK' into lunar orbit.

LK Lander - Lunniy Korabl

Following the coast to the moon, one cosmonaut would spacewalk from the LOK to the "Lunniy Korabl" (LK) lander and enter it.

He would then separate the Block D stage and LK from the LOK and descend towards the moon using the Block D's engine.

Lunar landing

After Block D exhausted its fuel, the 'LK' lander was to separate and complete landing using its own engine. As originally planned, an earlier unmanned probe of the Luna programme would act as a beacon for the LK. The lone cosmonaut would collect moonrocks and hoist the Soviet flag.

Earth return

After a day on the lunar suface the LK's engine would fire again using its landing leg structure as a launch pad. To save weight, the engine used for landing would also blast the LK back to lunar orbit for an automated docking with the LOK. The cosmonaut then would spacewalk back to the LOK carrying the moon rock samples, with the LK being cast off. After this, the LOK would fire its rocket for the return to Earth.

Launch schedules

As of 1967, the L1/L3 launch schedules were:

L1:2P -Develop Block D stage -Feb or Mar 67:3P -same -Mar 67:4L -Unmanned lunar flyby -May 67:5L -Unmanned lunar flyby -Jun 67:6L -Manned lunar flyby -Jun or Jul 67:7L&8L -Manned lunar flybys -Aug 67:9L&10L -Manned lunar flybys -Sep 67:11L&12L -Manned lunar flybys -Oct 67:13L -Reserve spacecraft L3:3L -Develop LV & Blocks G&D -Sep 67:4L -Reserve:5L -LOK/LK unmanned -Dec 67:6L -LOK/LK unmanned -Feb 68:7L -Manned LOK/unmanned LK -Apr 68:8L -Manned LOK/unmanned LK -Jun 68:9L -Piloted LOK/unmanned LK with LK landing on Moon -Aug 68:10L -First men land on moon -Sep 68:11L -Reserve:12L -Reserve


In 1966 two cosmonaut training groups were formed.

One group was commanded by Vladimir Komarov and included Yuri Gagarin, and was to prepare for qualification flights of the Soyuz in Earth orbit and a Proton launched cis-lunar mission (Gagarin, Nikolayev, Komarov, Bykovskiy, Khrunov; Engineer-Cosmonauts: Gorbatko, Grechko, Sevastyanov, Kubasov, Volkov).

The second group was led by Alexei Leonov and concentrated on the landing mission (Commanders: Leonov, Popovich, Belyayev, Volynov, Klimuk; Engineer-cosmonauts: Makarov, Voronov, Rukavishnikov, Artyukhin). As a result, Leonov has the strongest claim to have been the Soviets' first choice for first man on the moon.

After Komarov's death in Soyuz 1 in 1967, Gagarin was taken out of training and the groups were restructured. Despite the Soyuz 1 setback, the Soviets successfully rehearsed the automated docking of two unmanned Soyuz craft in Earth orbit in 1968 and with the manned Soyuz 4 and Soyuz 5 joint mission in early 1969 tested the other key mission elements.

A total of 18 missions were related to the N1-L3 project. For details, see the table at the bottom of the article.


The success of Project Apollo in putting American astronauts on the Moon in 1969, which was the believed ending to the Soviet moon program, although plans were drawn up until the early 1970s. Four N-1 launches were attempted but all were failures, despite engineering improvements after each crash. The second launch attempt on 3 July 1969, just 13 days prior to the launch of Apollo 11, was a catastrophic failure which destroyed both the rocket and the launch complex. Subsequently, the Soviets decided to concentrate on the development of space stations, gaining several firsts in the process, and also a long-term Mars program, which continues to the present day. [citeweb|title=Russia plans first men on Mars|url=,,2089-1678539,00.html||accessdate=2008-02-07]

The LK was flown unmanned once in 1970, and twice in 1971 in Earth orbit and proved its design. A replica of it now stands in Disneyland Resort Paris.


ee also

*"First on the Moon" - a Russian mockumentary
*LK Lander
*N1 rocket
*Sergei Korolev
*Soviet space program
*Project Apollo
*Soviet space program conspiracy accusations
*Zond (Soyuz 7K-L1)
*LOK (Soyuz 7K-L3)
*Zond program


External links

* [ The Soviet Manned Lunar Programme]
* [ Why did the Soviet Union lose the Moon Race?]

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