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The Space program of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (Russian? ? ?; translit. Kosmicheskaya programma v SSSR), commonly known as the Soviet space program, was the national space program of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) active from 1930s until disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The Soviet Union's space program was mainly based on the cosmonautic exploration of space and the development of the expandable launch vehicles, which had been split between many design bureaus competing against each other. Over its 60-years of history, the Russian program was responsible for a number of pioneering feats and accomplishments in the human space flight, including the first intercontinental ballistic missile (R-7), first satellite (Sputnik 1), first animal in Earth orbit (the dog Laika on Sputnik 2), first human in space and Earth orbit (cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin on Vostok 1), first woman in space and Earth orbit (cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova on Vostok 6), first spacewalk (cosmonaut Alexei Leonov on Voskhod 2), first Moon impact (Luna 2), first image of the far side of the Moon (Luna 3) and uncrewed lunar soft landing (Luna 9), first space rover (Lunokhod 1), first sample of lunar soil automatically extracted and brought to Earth (Luna 16), and first space station (Salyut 1). Further notable records included the first interplanetary probes: Venera 1 and Mars 1 to fly by Venus and Mars, respectively, Venera 3 and Mars 2 to impact the respective planet surface, and Venera 7 and Mars 3 to make soft landings on these planets.
The rocket and space program of the USSR, initially employed captured scientists from the German rocket program, was performed mainly by Soviet engineers and scientists after 1955, and was based on some unique Soviet and Imperial Russian theoretical developments, many derived by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, sometimes known as the father of theoretical astronautics.Sergey Korolev (also transliterated as Korolyov) was the head of the principal design group; his official title was "chief designer" (a standard title for similar positions in the USSR). Unlike its American competitor in the "Space Race", which had NASA as a single coordinating agency, the USSR's program was split among several competing design bureaus led by S.P.Korolev, Kerim Kerimov, Mikhail Yangel, Valentin Glushko, Vladimir Chelomei, Viktor Makeyev, Mikhail Reshetnev.
Because of the program's classified status, and for propaganda value, announcements of the outcomes of missions were delayed until success was certain, and failures were sometimes kept secret. Ultimately, as a result of Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of glasnost in the 1980s, many facts about the space program were declassified. Notable setbacks included the deaths of Korolev, Vladimir Komarov (in the Soyuz 1 crash), Yuri Gagarin (on a routine fighter jet mission) and the Soyuz 11 crew between 1966 and 1971, and development failure of the huge N-1 rocket (1968-1973) intended to power a crewed lunar landing, which exploded shortly after lift-off on four uncrewed tests.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia and Ukraine inherited the program. Russia created the Russian Aviation and Space Agency, now known as the Roscosmos State Corporation, while Ukraine created the National Space Agency of Ukraine (NSAU).
The theory of space exploration had a solid basis in the Russian Empire before the First World War with the writings of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (1857-1935), who published pioneering papers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and in 1929 introduced the concept of the multistaged rocket. Practical aspects built on early experiments carried out by members of the reactive propulsion study group, GIRD (founded in 1931) in the 1920s and 1930s, where such pioneers as Sergey Korolev--who dreamed of traveling to Mars:5--and the German-Russian engineer Friedrich Zander worked. On August 18, 1933, GIRD launched the first Soviet liquid-fueled rocket Gird-09, and on November 25, 1933, the first hybrid-fueled rocket GIRD-X. In 1940-41 another advance in the reactive propulsion field took place: the development and serial production of the Katyushamultiple rocket launcher.
During the 1930s Soviet rocket technology was comparable to Germany's, but Joseph Stalin's Great Purge severely damaged its progress. Many leading engineers were killed, and Korolev and others were imprisoned in the Gulag.:10-14 Although the Katyusha was very effective on the Eastern Front during World War II, the advanced state of the German rocket program amazed Soviet engineers who inspected its remains at Peenemünde and Mittelwerk after the end of the war in Europe. The Americans had secretly moved most leading German scientists and 100 V-2 rockets to the United States in Operation Paperclip, but the Soviet program greatly benefited from captured German manufacturing tools obtained from the V-2 production sites Mittelwerk in Eastern Germany.:20,25,27,29-31,56 From July 1945, the Soviets recruited German scientists and workers for the Institut Nordhausen in Bleicherode to reestablish the lost design drawings and engineering data and to restore the manufacturing and assembly of V-2 components in Germany. This operation was set up by Dimitri Ustinov, Sergei Korolev, Valentin Glushko, and Boris Chertok.Helmut Gröttrup, a notable expert of control systems from Peenemünde, was appointed general director of Institut Nordhausen, also called Zentralwerke, which grew to more than 5000 employees until October 1946.
On October 22, 1946, the Operation Osoaviakhim forcibly removed more than 2,200 German specialists - a total of more than 6,000 people including family members - from the Soviet occupation zone of post-World War II Germany for employment in the Soviet Union. 160 specialists from Institut Nordhausen, headed by Helmut Gröttrup, were held on Gorodomlya Island until 1953. As the first task, they had to support the Soviets in building a replica of the V-2 which was called the R-1 and successfully launched in October 1948.:30,80-82 The Soviets eventually requested concepts of more powerful boosters for higher payload and range, i. e. nuclear warheads and long-range distance. Therefore, from 1947 to 1950, the German collective proposed concepts for the G-1, G-2 and G-4 with numerous design improvements over the V-2 status:
Korolev used parts of these proposals for the Soviet developments R-2, R-5 and R-14. In early 1954, the CIA summarized the German concept studies, and Soviet interest therein, based on reports by returned German scientists, among them Fritz Karl Preikschat and Helmut Gröttrup. There was evidence that the Soviets, because of their "love of rocket technology" and "their respect of German work", could well be the first to have long-range missiles. For political reasons, however, the German impact on the Soviet rocketry and space program has long been underestimated.
The almost eight years of involvement of the German scientists in the Soviet rocketry program proved to be an essential catalyst to its further advancement. During the existence of the USSR, Soviet historians rarely, if ever, mentioned the use of German expertise in the post-war years, but the collaboration was real and extremely pivotal in furthering Soviet goals. [..] Gröttrup's team was indispensable in quickly transferring the database of German achievements to the Soviets, thus providing a strong foundation from which to proceed.-- Asif Azam Siddiqi, Challenge to Apollo: The Soviet Union and the Space Race, 1945-1974
Korolev's OKB-1 design bureau was dedicated to the liquid-fueled cryogenic rockets he had been experimenting with in the late 1930s. Ultimately, this work resulted in the design of the R-7 Semyorkaintercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) which was successfully tested in August 1957. This Soviet achievement was based on a strong dedication and strict coordination of all military entities, with Dmitry Ustinov and Sergei Korolev as the main drivers.
The Soviet space program was tied to the USSR's Five-Year Plans and from the start was reliant on support from the Soviet military. Although he was "single-mindedly driven by the dream of space travel", Korolev generally kept this a secret while working on military projects--especially, after the Soviet Union's first atomic bomb test in 1949, a missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to the United States--as many mocked the idea of launching satellites and crewed spacecraft. Nonetheless, the first Soviet rocket with animals aboard launched in July 1951; the two dogs were recovered alive after reaching 101 km in altitude. Two months ahead of America's first such achievement, this and subsequent flights gave the Soviets valuable experience with space medicine.:84-88,95-96,118
Because of its global range and large payload of approximately five tons, the reliable R-7 was not only effective as a strategic delivery system for nuclear warheads, but also as an excellent basis for a space vehicle. The United States' announcement in July 1955 of its plan to launch a satellite during the International Geophysical Year greatly benefited Korolev in persuading Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to support his plans. :148-151 In a letter addressed to Khrushchev, Korolev stressed the necessity of launching a "simple satellite" in order to compete with the American space effort. Plans were approved for Earth-orbiting satellites (Sputnik) to gain knowledge of space, and four uncrewed military reconnaissance satellites, Zenit. Further planned developments called for a crewed Earth orbit flight by 1964 and an uncrewed lunar mission at an earlier date.
After the first Sputnik proved to be a successful propaganda coup, Korolev--now known publicly only as the anonymous "Chief Designer of Rocket-Space Systems":168-169--was charged to accelerate the crewed program, the design of which was combined with the Zenit program to produce the Vostok spacecraft. After Sputnik, Soviet scientists and program leaders envisioned establishing a crewed station to study the effects of zero-gravity and the long term effects on lifeforms in a space environment. Still influenced by Tsiolkovsky--who had chosen Mars as the most important goal for space travel--in the early 1960s the Russian program under Korolev created substantial plans for crewed trips to Mars as early as 1968 to 1970. With closed-loop life support systems and electrical rocket engines, and launched from large orbiting space stations, these plans were much more ambitious than America's goal of landing on the Moon.:333-337
The Soviet space program was secondary in military funding to the Strategic Rocket Forces' ICBMs. While the West believed that Khrushchev personally ordered each new space mission for propaganda purposes, and the Soviet leader did have an unusually close relationship with Korolev and other chief designers, Khrushchev emphasized missiles rather than space exploration and was not very interested in competing with Apollo.:351,408,426-427
While the government and the Communist Party used the program's successes as propaganda tools after they occurred, systematic plans for missions based on political reasons were rare, one exception being Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, on Vostok 6 in 1963.:351 Missions were planned based on rocket availability or ad hoc reasons, rather than scientific purposes. For example, the government in February 1962 abruptly ordered an ambitious mission involving two Vostoks simultaneously in orbit launched "in ten days time" to obscure John Glenn's Mercury-Atlas 6 that month; the program could not do so until August, with Vostok 3 and Vostok 4.:354-361
Unlike the American space program, which had NASA as a single coordinating structure directed by its administrator, James Webb through most of the 1960s, the USSR's program was split between several competing design groups. Despite the remarkable successes of the Sputniks between 1957 and 1961 and Vostoks between 1961 and 1964, after 1958 Korolev's OKB-1 design bureau faced increasing competition from his rival chief designers, Mikhail Yangel, Valentin Glushko, and Vladimir Chelomei. Korolev planned to move forward with the Soyuz craft and N-1 heavy booster that would be the basis of a permanent crewed space station and crewed exploration of the Moon. However, Ustinov directed him to focus on near-Earth missions using the very reliable Voskhod spacecraft, a modified Vostok, as well as on interplanetary uncrewed missions to nearby planets Venus and Mars.
Yangel had been Korolev's assistant but with the support of the military he was given his own design bureau in 1954 to work primarily on the military space program. This had the stronger rocket engine design team including the use of hypergolic fuels but following the Nedelin catastrophe in 1960 Yangel was directed to concentrate on ICBM development. He also continued to develop his own heavy booster designs similar to Korolev's N-1 both for military applications and for cargo flights into space to build future space stations.
Glushko was the chief rocket engine designer but he had a personal friction with Korolev and refused to develop the large single chamber cryogenic engines that Korolev needed to build heavy boosters.
Chelomei benefited from the patronage of Khrushchev:418 and in 1960 was given the plum job of developing a rocket to send a crewed craft around the moon and a crewed military space station. With limited space experience, his development was slow.
The Apollo program's progress alarmed the chief designers, who each advocated for his own program as response. Multiple, overlapping designs received approval, and new proposals threatened already approved projects. Due to Korolev's "singular persistence", in August 1964--more than three years after the United States declared its intentions--the Soviet Union finally decided to compete for the moon. It set the goal of a lunar landing in 1967--the 50th anniversary of the October Revolution--or 1968.:406-408,420 At one stage in the early 1960s the Soviet space program was actively developing 30 projects for launchers and spacecraft. With the fall of Krushchev in 1964, Korolev was given complete control of the crewed program.
Korolev died in January 1966, following a routine operation that uncovered colon cancer, from complications of heart disease and severe hemorrhaging. Kerim Kerimov, who was formerly an architect of Vostok 1, was appointed Chairman of the State Commission on Piloted Flights and headed it for the next 25 years (1966-1991). He supervised every stage of development and operation of both crewed space complexes as well as uncrewed interplanetary stations for the former Soviet Union. One of Kerimov's greatest achievements was the launch of Mir in 1986.
Leadership of the OKB-1 design bureau was given to Vasily Mishin, who had the task of sending a man around the Moon in 1967 and landing a man on it in 1968. Mishin lacked Korolev's political authority and still faced competition from other chief designers. Under pressure Mishin approved the launch of the Soyuz 1 flight in 1967, even though the craft had never been successfully tested on an uncrewed flight. The mission launched with known design problems and ended with the vehicle crashing to the ground, killing Vladimir Komarov. This was the first in-flight fatality of any space program.
Following this disaster and under new pressures, Mishin developed a drinking problem. The Soviets were beaten in sending the first crewed flight around the Moon in 1968 by Apollo 8, but Mishin pressed ahead with development of the problematic super heavy N1 in the hope that the Americans would have a setback, leaving enough time to make the N1 workable and land a man on the Moon first. There was a success with the joint flight of Soyuz 4 and Soyuz 5 in January 1969 that tested the rendezvous, docking and crew transfer techniques that would be used for the landing, and the LK Lander was tested successfully in earth orbit. But after four uncrewed test launches of the N1 ended in failure, the heavy booster was abandoned and with it any chance of the Soviets landing men on the Moon in a single launch.
Besides the crewed landings, the abandoned Soviet Moon program included the multipurpose moonbase Zvezda, first detailed with developed mockups of expedition vehicles and surface modules. The later proposed crewed moon program "Vulkan-LEK" was not adopted for economic reasons.
Following this setback, Chelomei convinced Ustinov to approve a program in 1970 to advance his Almaz military space station as a means of beating the US's announced Skylab. Mishin remained in control of the project that became Salyut but the decision backed by Mishin to fly a three-man crew without pressure suits rather than a two-man crew with suits to Salyut 1 in 1971 proved fatal when the re-entry capsule depressurized killing the crew on their return to Earth. Mishin was removed from many projects, with Chelomei regaining control of Salyut. After working with NASA on the Apollo Soyuz Test Project, the Soviet leadership decided a new management approach was needed, and in 1974 the N1 was canceled and Mishin dismissed. A single design bureau was created NPO Energia with Glushko as chief designer.
In contrast with the struggles of its early crewed lunar programs, the USSR found significant success with its remote moon operations, achieving two historical firsts with the automatic Lunokhod and the Luna sample return missions. Also, the Mars probe program was continued with some small success, while the explorations of Venus and then of the Halley comet by the Venera and Vega probe programs were more effective.
The Soviet space program had withheld information on its projects predating the success of Sputnik, the world's first artificial satellite. In fact, when the Sputnik project was first approved, one of the most immediate courses of action the Politburo took was to consider what to announce to the world regarding their event. The Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union (TASS) established precedents for all official announcements on the Soviet space program. The information eventually released did not offer details on who built and launched the satellite or why it was launched. However, the public release is illuminating in what it does reveal : "there is an abundance of arcane scientific and technical data ... as if to overwhelm the reader with mathematics in the absence of even a picture of the object". What remains of the release is the pride for Soviet cosmonautics and the vague hinting of future possibilities then available after Sputnik's success.
The Soviet space program's use of secrecy served as both a tool to prevent the leaking of classified information between countries and also to create a mysterious barrier between the space program and the Soviet populace. The program's nature embodied ambiguous messages concerning its goals, successes, and values. The program itself was so secret that a regular Soviet citizen could never achieve a concrete image of it, but rather a superficial picture of its history, present activities, or future endeavors. Launchings were not announced until they took place. Cosmonaut names were not released until they flew. Mission details were sparse. Outside observers did not know the size or shape of their rockets or cabins or most of their spaceships, except for the first Sputniks, lunar probes and Venus probe.
However, because of its nature, the Soviet space program suffered a paradox. On one hand, officials attempted to promote the space program by frequently connecting its successes to the strength of socialism. On the other hand, the same officials understood the importance of secrecy in the context of the Cold War. This stress on secrecy in the USSR can be understood as a measure to protect its strengths and weaknesses.
However, the military influence over the Soviet space program may be the best explanation for this secrecy. The OKB-1 was subordinated under the Ministry of General Machine Building, tasked with the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles, and continued to give its assets random identifiers into the 1960s: "For example the Vostok spacecraft was referred to as 'object IIF63' while its launch rocket was 'object 8K72K'". Soviet defense factories had been assigned numbers rather than names since 1927. Even these internal codes were obfuscated: in public, employees used a separate code, a set of special post-office numbers, to refer to the factories, institutes, and departments.
The program's public pronouncements were uniformly positive: as far as the people knew, the Soviet space program had never experienced failure. According to historian James Andrews, "With almost no exceptions, coverage of Soviet space exploits, especially in the case of human space missions, omitted reports of failure or trouble".
"The USSR was famously described by Winston Churchill as 'a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma' and nothing signified this more than the search for the truth behind its space program during the Cold War. Although the Space Race was literally played out above our heads, it was often obscured by a figurative 'space curtain' that took much effort to see through" says Dominic Phelan in the book Cold War Space Sleuths (Springer-Praxis 2013).
The Soviet space program's projects include:
Two days after the United States announced its intention to launch an artificial satellite, on July 31, 1956, the Soviet Union announced its intention to do the same. Sputnik 1 was launched on October 4, 1957, beating the United States and stunning people all over the world.
The Soviet space program pioneered many aspects of space exploration:
The Soviet space program Buran produced the Space Shuttle Buran based on the 3rd in history super heavy Energia launcher. Energia would be used as the base for a crewed Mars mission. Buran was intended to operate in support of large space based military platforms as a response first to the US Space Shuttle and then the Strategic Defense Initiative. By the time the system was operational, in 1988, strategic arms reduction treaties made Buran redundant. On November 15, 1988, the Buran orbiter and its Energia rocket were launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, and after three hours and two orbits, glided to a landing a few miles from its launch pad. Several vehicles were built, but only the one flew an uncrewed test flight into space; it was found too expensive to operate as a civilian launcher.
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Marsokhod heavy rover Mars 4NM was going to be launched by the abandoned N1 launcher sometime between 1974 and 1975.
The Vesta mission would have consisted of two identical double-purposed interplanetary probes to be launched in 1991. It was intended to fly-by Mars (instead of an early plan to Venus) and then study four asteroids belonging to different classes. At 4 Vesta a penetrator would be released.
The Tsiolkovsky mission was planned as a double-purposed deep interplanetary probe to be launched in the 1990s to make a "sling shot" flyby of Jupiter and then pass within five or seven radii of the Sun. A derivative of this spacecraft would possibly be launched toward Saturn and beyond.
The Soviet space program experienced a number of fatal incidents and failures.
The Nedelin catastrophe in 1960 was a disastrous explosion of a fueled rocket being tested on launchpad, killing many technical personnel, aerospace engineers, and technicians working on the project at the time of the explosion.
The first official cosmonaut fatality during training occurred on March 23, 1961, when Valentin Bondarenko died in a fire within a low pressure, high oxygen atmosphere.
The Voskhod program was canceled after two crewed flights owing to the change of Soviet leadership and nearly fatal 'close calls' during the second mission. Had the planned further flights gone ahead they could have given the Soviet space program further 'firsts' including a long duration flight of 20 days, a spacewalk by a woman and an untethered spacewalk.
The Soviets continued striving for the first lunar mission with the huge N-1 rocket, which exploded on each of four uncrewed tests shortly after launch. The Americans won the race to land men on the Moon with Apollo 11 on July 20, 1969.
In 1971, the Soyuz 11 mission resulted in the deaths of three cosmonauts when the crew capsule depressurized during preparations for re-entry. This accident resulted in the only human deaths to occur in space (as opposed to high atmosphere). The crew members aboard Soyuz 11 were Vladislav Volkov, Georgi Dobrovolski, and Viktor Patsayev.
On April 5, 1975, Soyuz 7K-T No.39, the second stage of a Soyuz rocket carrying 2 cosmonauts to the Salyut 4 space station malfunctioned, resulting in the first crewed launch abort. The cosmonauts were carried several thousand miles downrange and became worried that they would land in China, which the Soviet Union was then having difficult relations with. The capsule hit a mountain, sliding down a slope and almost slid off a cliff; however, the parachute lines snagged on trees and kept this from happening. As it was, the two suffered severe injuries and the commander, Lazerev, never flew again.
In August 1981, Kosmos 434, which had been launched in 1971, was about to re-enter. To allay fears that the spacecraft carried nuclear materials, a spokesperson from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the USSR assured the Australian government on August 26, 1981, that the satellite was "an experimental lunar cabin". This was one of the first admissions by the Soviet Union that it had ever engaged in a crewed lunar spaceflight program.:736
In September 1983, a Soyuz rocket being launched to carry cosmonauts to the Salyut 7 space station exploded on the pad, causing the Soyuz capsule's abort system to engage, saving the two cosmonauts on board. See also the complete list of space disasters.
Besides this love for rocket technique, there exists a second mental consideration which affects Soviet decisions, and that is respect for work in the West, especially German work. Data emanating from Germany were regarded as almost sacrosanct.
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