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  Soviet disinformation-oriented manned missions: did everybody get fooled?

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Author Topic:   Soviet disinformation-oriented manned missions: did everybody get fooled?

Posts: 1050
From: Canada
Registered: Jul 2001

posted 03-30-2009 07:43 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for music_space   Click Here to Email music_space     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I have invested a few week's worth of time documenting this piece I acquired, so I have feverishly read a lot about the Soviet program. I saved the best for last, as I am now reading cS member Asif Siddiqi's massive two-volume opus on the Soviet and Russian programs titled Sputnik and the Soviet Space Challenge and The Soviet Space Race with Apollo.

Like others, Asif points out repeatedly that, in essence, the Americans did get fooled by the Soviet disinformation-oriented manned missions Vostok and Voskhod. That, in effect, the Americans ended up racing to the moon all by themselves...

Here's my question: Were there, in America, any dissenters and whistle-blowers who had figured out what was going on?

Francois Guay
Collector of litterature, notebooks, equipment and memories!


Posts: 1494
From: Greensboro, NC USA
Registered: Feb 2006

posted 03-30-2009 09:34 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for ilbasso   Click Here to Email ilbasso     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
It wasn't entirely disinformation - they did get a man into space first, whether he landed with the vehicle or not. They got two men into space first. They had the first woman astronaut, they had the first spacewalk, they had the first photos of the far side of the Moon, their first boosters were much more powerful than those of the Americans. America did have a lot of catching up to do in the beginning. Even up to the time of Apollo 8, there was a very real possibility that the Soviets might send a man around the Moon before the US could do so. Even if the Soviets didn't have the capability to send up a vehicle to land on the Moon, getting a man there first would have significantly taken away from the impact of the Americans' eventual landing.

Jay Chladek

Posts: 2211
From: Bellevue, NE, USA
Registered: Aug 2007

posted 03-30-2009 09:43 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Chladek   Click Here to Email Jay Chladek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Perhaps the US did get fooled. Or perhaps they wanted to get fooled so they could develop some capabilities that were superior to everything else. There is also the standpoint of public perception and what is known privately as well. For instance, public perception of the Eisenhower administration after Sputnik flew was that it was weak and there was a perceived missile gap. That wasn't the case though as the experts knew the Soviets had to build a massive booster capable of launching a satellite into orbit since their nuclear weapons were so much heavier and cruder then what the US had at the time. As such, US space launchers derived from missiles were not as powerful at the time because they didn't need to be as the nuclear weapons they were designed to carry were lighter weight. But the president didn't want to tip his hand with that knowledge and put things into motion to try and even up that perceived "missile gap" and loss of prestige. NASA was one of the things to come out of that.

Vostok and Voskhod wouldn't be the first time or the last time as the Soviets had played shell games with things before to make them seem more then they were. Anyone remember the MiG-25? Analysts in the west considered it to be a very powerful warplane with its projected speed and capabilities. Indeed it broke one of the YF-12's closed course speed records. The DoD set the specifications for what became the F-15 and when McDonnel Douglas designed the thing, it was every bit capable of taking down the MiG-25 as perceived by western intelligence agencies.

But when Viktor Belenko defected with one, we got our first real look at the jet. It was designed for a relatively specific purpose and not much else. Sure it was fast, but not as fast as thought and only beat the YF-12 closed course record because it wasn't as fast and could turn tighter at speed as a result and fly a slightly shorter course. So by building a plane designed to fight a plane that didn't exist, the USAF ended up with a plane that could rule the skies as it was so far in advance of anything else out there.

The big thing to keep in mind about the Soviets at the time is they have done things like this often and usually they end up paying for it by having to play catch up. Indeed they did overstate their capabilities in the early days with Vostok and Voskhod, but then they had to try and play catch up with an Apollo program that was already into its early development and do it quickly. As a result, their N-1 didn't exactly work as advertised and they never got to the moon. You can bet though if we hadn't tried Apollo 8 at the end of 1968, they probably would have made an attempt to send a manned Zond on a flyby of the moon just to say they got there before the Americans. It wouldn't have done much, but for world prestige, it would have been enough.

Such events like this are part of political brinksmanship and diplomacy. There can be a lot of shell games played for various reasons. It can work in the short term, but in the long run it can come back to bite you. But often, short term gains are considered to be better then long term ones.


Posts: 184
From: Maryland, USA
Registered: Oct 2008

posted 04-18-2009 04:51 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for MadSci     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
From what I can tell the response within NASA was mixed. They weren't fooled by most of the Soviet publicity seeking. Rendezvous was a good example. The USSR claimed to have accomplished it, yet NASA knew from their own data that all that had been done was a nearly perfectly timed launch and orbital insertion of one craft into the orbit and vicinity of another. No maneuvering, and the two ships were always several kilometers apart. So as they proceeded with the Gemini program they knew that they were well ahead.

I think that the real paranoia-generator seemed to be the Apollo 1 disaster. The 'downtime' required to re-tool the Apollo hardware made it seem that the Soviets could take the lead any day. Sadly, the death of Komorov put their program back too, and gave NASA breathing room. But nobody knew how much, or for how long so the 'race' continued.

In the end, the Soviets really lost out because of the political in-fighting in their inefficient and never-ending squabbles between the Designers. Even if it had flown successfully, the N1 was not capable of meeting it's design parameters. As Glushko himself stated:

"the N1 could only carry air. The gross lift-off mass was about that of a Saturn V, but the stage dry masses were 2.5 x, 5 x, 3.5x greater."

This was largely a result of the rejection of the use of liquid hydrogen for the upper stages of the N1, and their decision to use many smaller rocket motors rather than develop a more efficient ger set of engines. This was a result of the late commitment of the Soviet Government to the lunar program, and the in-fighting between Designers over fuel-systems. So they gave themselves insufficient time, and were inefficient in their use of their resources. We know this now, but could not have known it during the 'race', so NASA couldn't let up.

Let's not forget too, that with or without the Soviets challenging them to get to the moon first, after the death of President Kennedy in 1963, his challenge to get to the moon and back safely by 1970 took on an almost mythical nature. Everyone was racing to meet that deadline too, and never let up. In the end, it was perhaps more of an incentive to go, go , go then the Soviets were.

It's a pity that the Soviets never got to fly their LOK/LK lunar landing missions. Personally, I think the LK landing profile was VERY iffy, but the lander was so simple and robust by comparison to the LM that they would probably have pulled it off.

Based on the problems with lunar navigation experienced by Apollo 11, I suspect it would have required several tries to get the LK to a suitable landing site as they had almost no capability to maneuver to a desirable landing site. But again, they had built a much tougher craft than the LM so I bet they would have succeeded after a few tries.

Pity we will never know.

All times are CT (US)

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