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the Soviets on the moon

lk in high lunar orbit

lk begins descent

lk touches down on lunar surface


LK "Luniy Korabl" Lunar Ship

For decades the Soviet Union denied that it ever raced against the US to put a man on the moon. It has only been in the last few years that Russian and Western experts have come forward with all the details of how the Soviets intended to get to the moon first - including prototypes of the secret spacecraft themselves.

lk schematic

The LK was the Soviet functional equivalent of the American Lunar Module, but with certain notable differences: the LK would have carried only a single Cosmonaut to the lunar surface and he would have had to "space walk" from the LOK (Lunar Orbiting Ship, approximately equivalent to the US Command Module) to the LK; the LK would have used the same engine for both final descent to the lunar surface and ascent back to orbit.

In 1964, 3 years after Kennedy's pledge to get an American to the moon and back, the Soviet Central Committee of the Communist Party formally stated its objective of putting a man on the moon. As before, the driving force to make this happen was Korolyev.

But he was too busy on planning his great N1 booster (on which the moon ships would be launched) to dedicate the time and energy to the actual design of those ships. The task of designing and building the LK went to the Yangel design bureau in the Ukraine.

Initial plans called for the first launch of the N1 to be in 1966, and the first lunar landing as early as 1967, 2 years before the Americans. Work proceeded on the LK, but numerous engineering difficulties arose: the low payload weight available allowed for almost no reserve fuel, thus making landing potentially more difficult. This in turn lead to numerous studies of various landing and cosmonaut egress configurations. There were problems with the landing radar and blatant mistakes made which cost precious time.

In the end, all these issues were apparently solved and several LK ships were built to various stages of completion. But all for naught: the N1 booster itself was never successfully launched and by the early 1970's -- as the Soviet will to get to the moon dried up -- the entire moon program was scrapped.

link to american ships

Deep Cold by Dan Roam. All text and images © 2001