Russian manned lunar programs

For more than a decade, beginning in 1959, the Soviet Union made a concerted effort to be the first to send humans around the Moon and the first to achieve a manned landing. But whereas the Apollo program unfolded in a blaze of publicity, details of the Eastern aspect of the Moon race only began to emerge with the advent of Perestroika and the subsequent breakup of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. Essentially, the Soviet Moon effort was three-pronged. The L-1 program was aimed at a manned circumlunar loop without a landing, and involved the use of unmanned Zond craft to flight validate the hardware. The L-3 program was designed to put a cosmonaut on the Moon's surface. Finally, the Luna series consisted of a variety of automated flyby, orbiter, hard- and soft-lander, sample-return, and rover vehicles. Only 20 of about 60 Soviet launches of all types of lunar craft in 1959–1976 were successful.



Sergei Korolev's design bureau began work in 1965 on a manned spacecraft called L-1 intended to carry two cosmonauts on a single loop around the Moon. From the outside, the L-1 looked like the three-part Soyuz spacecraft but lacked its spherical orbital module. Other major differences were less obvious, including a modified propulsion system, a beefed up heat-shield, and long-range communication systems. Because of repeated equipment failures, the L-1 never flew with a crew. However, unmanned L-1 spacecraft traveled to the Moon five times from 1968 through 1970 as Zonds 4 to 8. These missions tested the spacecraft and the maneuvers necessary for a manned mission.



Korolev also began designing spacecraft for a manned lunar landing mission, and some hardware was built under Vasily Mishin's direction. This program, known as L-3, included an orbiter and a lander. The prototype lunar lander was successfully tested in Earth orbit, without a crew, three times in 1970–1971 under the name Cosmos. The Soviet lunar lander, known as the Lunar Cabin (LK), was half the size and one-third the mass of the Apollo Lunar Module, and intended to carry one cosmonaut to the Moon's surface while the Lunar Orbiter Cabin (LOK) remained in lunar orbit with the second crewmember. The program depended on the development of a super-rocket known as the N-1. By the time the N-1 was ready to test launch, the LK and LOK were still being built so a modified L-1 spacecraft known as the L-1S was used as the primary payload. The N-1 was supposed to place the L-1S and a dummy LK on a trajectory toward the Moon. Once there, the L-1S alone would enter lunar orbit to take high-resolution photos of proposed landing sites and then return to Earth with the exposed film. For the mission, an Orientation Engine Module (DOK) would be attached to the front of the L-1S to slow it enough to place it into lunar orbit, after which the DOK would be jettisoned. The L-1S would then use its own propulsion system, located in the Instrument Module, to accelerate out of lunar orbit for the return to Earth. The spacecraft would perform a double-skip reentry as in previous L-1/Zond flights as a test of the nearly identical LOK Descent Module. However, four successive failures of the N-1's huge 30-engine first stage left the L-3 program in tatters.


Realizing that the Moon race was lost the Soviets attempted to beat Apollo 11 at the last moment with an automated sample return, but Luna 15 crash-landed just as Armstrong and Aldrin were on their way back from the surface. Subsequently, the Soviets switched their main goal in manned spaceflight to establishing a permanent presence in Earth, adapting their Moon-era hardware to launch a number of Salyut space stations and using Soyuz spacecraft to ferry crews and supplies for missions of increasing duration. Their lunar ambitions were confined to large robotic sample-return, rover, and orbiter missions in the form of Lunas 16 through 24.


Soviet launches related to manned lunar programs
official name development
launch date launch
Cosmos 133 7K-OK # 2 Nov 28, 1966 Soyuz Destroyed on reentry
- 7K-OK # 1 Dec 14, 1966 Soyuz Destroyed on launch pad
Cosmos 140 7K-OK # 3 Feb 7, 1967 Soyuz Lost pressure during descent; fell in Aral Sea
Cosmos 146 7K-L1 # 2P Mar 10, 1967 Proton Tested Block D
Cosmos 154 7K-L1 # 3P Apr 8, 1967 Proton Second firing of Block D; failure
Soyuz 1 7K-OK # 4 Apr 23, 1967 Soyuz Planned docking. Komarov in crash landing
- 7K-L1 # 4 Sep 28, 1967 Proton First stage failure
Cosmos 186 7K-OK # 6 Oct 27, 1967 Soyuz Docked with Cosmos 188
Cosmos 188 7K-OK # 5 Oct 30, 1967 Soyuz Docked with Cosmos 186
- 7K-L1 #5 Nov 22, 1967 Proton Second stage failure
Zond 4 7K-L1 # 6 Mar 2, 1968 Proton Reentry craft destroyed during reentry
Cosmos 212 7K-OK # 8 Apr 14, 1968 Soyuz Docked with Cosmos 213
Cosmos 213 7K-OK # 7 Apr 15, 1968 Soyuz Docked with Cosmos 212
- 7K-L1 # 7 Apr 23, 1968 Proton Escape system self-initiated
- 7K-L1 # 8 Jul 14, 1968 Proton On-pad explosion killed one person
Cosmos 238 7K-OK # 9 Aug 28, 1968 Soyuz Test flight
Zond 5 7K-L1 # 9 Sep 15, 1968 Proton Flew around Moon; returned and recovered
Soyuz 2 7K-OK Oct 25, 1968 Soyuz Rendezvous with Soyuz 3
Soyuz 3 7K-OK Oct 28, 1968 Soyuz Attempted docking with Soyuz 2 failed
Zond 6 7K-L1 # 12 Nov 10, 1968 Proton Flew around Moon; crashed upon return
Soyuz 4 7K-OK Jan 14, 1969 Soyuz Docked with Soyuz 5
Soyuz 5 7K-OK Jan 15, 1969 Soyuz Docked with Soyuz 4; crew transfer
- 7K-L1 # 13 Jan 20, 1969 Proton Second stage failed
- 7K-L1S Feb 21, 1969 N-1 First N-1 launch; failure at T+69 seconds
- 7K-L1S Jul 3, 1969 N-1 Second N-1 launch; failed immediately
Zond 7 7K-L1 # 11 Aug 8, 1969 Proton Flew around Moon; successfully recovered
Soyuz 6 7K-OK Oct 11, 1969 Soyuz  
Soyuz 7 7K-OK Oct 12, 1969 Soyuz Attempted docking with Soyuz 8 failed
Soyuz 8 7K-OK Oct 13, 1969 Soyuz Attempted docking with Soyuz 7 failed
- 7K-L1 Ye Nov 28, 1969 Proton Test of N-1 upper stage; failed on launch
Soyuz 9 7K-OK Jun 1, 1970 Soyuz  
Zond 8 7K-L1 # 14 Oct 20, 1970 Proton Flew around Moon; successfully recovered
- T2K Nov 24, 1970 Soyuz Lunar lander test in Earth orbit
Cosmos 382 7K-L1 Ye Dec 2, 1970 Proton Successful test of N-1 upper stage in orbit
- T2K Feb 26, 1971 Soyuz Lunar lander test in Earth orbit
- N1-L3 Jun 27, 1971 N-1 Third N-1 launch; failed at T+51 seconds
- T2K Aug 12, 1971 Soyuz Lunar lander test in Earth orbit
- 7K-LOK Nov 23, 1972 N-1 Fourth N-1 launch; failed at T+107 seconds