Why did the Soviet manned Lunar program fail?

There is still much debate about why the Soviet Union – which was consistently way ahead in the early days of space exploration, failed to beat the USA to putting a man on the Moon. But while there is some disagreement over which factors were the most important, there is considerable consensus about which factors drove this.

They started later.

The USA made putting a man on the Moon the key national objective, from before they had even put a man in orbit. Pretty much the entire space program focused on this objective.  By the time this became a national objective in the Soviet Union, 2 years later, time was very tight to develop a powerful enough rocket, and get the required expertise in flight systems.

Kennedy Moon SpeechAlso, at the time the speech was made, the Soviet Union was so obviously far ahead, they did not take the US intention seriously.

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Identifying the different N-1 variants.

Identifying N-1 variants. I mentioned this briefly in an earlier post, which featured some images I stitched together from video, but here it is in a bit more depth.

You are generally trying to distinguish between 5 different N-1 variants in photographs, the four that flew, and the weight model.  This is most easily done via the colours, though there are several other differences.

This post is not about ALL the differences between the variants, just about how to tell which rocket is which.

N1-3L, the first flight.

This is easy to identify, as it is the only one with entirely grey first and second stages. The third stage is half white, with the white part facing upwards on the transporter, which is the side away from the gantry once the rocket has been erected. It was transported to the pad in winter, and there are photos of it with snow on.

N1-3L being erected at the pad
N1-3L being erected at the pad

Note that there was no green on any of the N-1 variants! This is a widely held misconception, as many museums show it as green, (including the London science museum, and many Russian museums too). Olive green was only used to camouflage missiles, (and green would make lousy camouflage in Baikonur at the best of times). This error has spread to the point where photographs have been tinted to make them look green). And sometimes it was just poor quality film stock.

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Unseen N-1 reference photos. Part 1.

I was dithering over what to title this N-1 post. New photos? Not exactly new, as they are based on old video, and (in most cases) stitched together from video that panned around.

Anyway, here are some photos I put together from video. If you are interested in the Manned Soviet Lunar program, it’s worth following Roscosmos on YouTube – they seem to be slowly restoring and releasing the various bits of N-1 footage at higher quality, and releasing it piecemeal in the items on the history of space exploration.

The quality of these photos is highly variable, (by which I mean that some are awful!), but given the shortage of N-1 references, I hope they will prove useful.

Let’s start with the banner image, showing the L3 (upper) section, of the N1-5L This is a pretty good shot of the farings that cover the parts that would reach the moon.

Stitched image of the L3 section of the N1-5L moon rocket
Stitched image of the L3 section of the N1-5L moon rocket

It’s worth noticing the crew escape system on the left:

escapeholesNote how the exhaust holes near the tip are two different sizes. This is so that, if it is used, it will carry the crew to one side, and away from the main rocket.

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HOPE-VASIMIR Finished Renders

OK! The modelling is done of HOPE-VASIMR, (at least unless I spot anything that neeeds fixing), so it’s time for some shots of the final version.

As always, click on an image to see a larger version.

distant-01xThe above image is a distant view of the whole thing.

To give you an idea of the scale, it’s very nearly 200 metres from one end to the other.

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HOPE-VASIMR Modelling done?

Right, I think the modelling part is pretty much done here on the HOPE VASIMR. I’ve been busy adding nurnies and greebles, and tweaking surfaces, and it’s looking good to me.

As usual, click on the images for a larger version.

hope-vasimr000For those who missed the earlier instalments, HOPE stands for Human Outer Planet Exploration, and is a serious design for a manned expedition to Callisto, the outermost of the large moons of Jupiter. (Far enough away from Jupiter that the radiation won’t fry the astronauts!)

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Soyuz Capsule Mesh

No updates for a while, but there are some new one to go in!

I recently bought a Russian Soyuz capsule mesh on TurboSquid. The textures didn’t really come in at all, (not unusual in my experience), but it was fairly straightforward to apply new ones, as surfaces were sensibly named. I was also really pleased to see that the orange seams were done with geometry!

Here are a couple of new renders, where I composited the mesh over Earth, using NASA photos taken from the ISS.

As usual, all of this is done in Lightwave 3D.soyuz-ascendingx

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Soviet LK Moon lander

The London Science Museum “Cosmonauts” exhibition had some truly amazing original space hardware from the dawn of the space age. For me the clear highlight was the LK Lander, their equivalent of the Apollo LEM.

The lighting was coloured which made getting the colour right a bit tricky!

This was a one man craft, and the cosmonaut (probably Alexei Leonov), would have had to stay in his pace suit the whole time.


This view is from directly in front, and you can see the window the cosmonaut would use to see where his craft was headed as it came in to land. On the right is the round antenna, (with a star on), used to communicate.


Here you see the right side of the lander. Note the blue hatch, and the ladder underneath it. Continue reading “Soviet LK Moon lander”

Mercury capsule, texturing and clean-up

I’m currently sorting out surfaces for this Mercury capsule. But even so I thought it was good enough for a first shot at a finished render…

For those who don’t know, (is there anyone?) the Mercury program was the USA’s first manned spaceflight project, with a capsule capable of holding a single astronaut. The first few launches were sub-orbital. Astronaut control was limited, leading to Chuck Yaeger’s famous remark that the pilots were more like “spam in a can”.

It was a difficult time, as the US struggled to catch up with the early lead set by the Soviet Union.

And here are some more basic renders too.

Mercury Capsule
Mercury Capsule

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