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Space Race Diary

  1965 | 1966 | 1967 | 1968 | post-1968

The Apollo 7 Prime Crew January 15, 1968
To Kaminin, the accomplishments of 1966 seemed like the distant past as he assessed how far the Soviet space program had yet to go.

"The 'moon council' was in session again today... The whole thing was still in embryo, with few trials made and no decisions taken, and with the trials of systems and units yet to be started... All the options bear the stamp of distrust in the cosmonauts' potential, overestimation of the part of automatic devices, and fanciful requirements made of the systems... The space suit and many spacecraft systems are bulky and too heavy, the spacesuit weighing nearly a hundred kilos..."

July 15, 1968
As the superpowers raced to the moon, technology development problems seemed to multiply.

"Space mishaps continue. Today they reported from the test ground that another breakdown occurred during the launch of the L-1 spacecraft, #8, which had been expected to orbit the moon... A ceaseless chain of catastrophes and breakdowns has been haunting us."

October 11, 1968
Kaminin noted the U.S. was sticking to its ambitious schedule.

"A report has been received about a new flight carried out by Americans -- today they put the Apollo-7 spacecraft with three astronauts on board into the orbit. The flight is expected to last for 11 days, and its main purpose is that of testing the lunar spacecraft and its ability to stay in space for as long as possible. Several months ago the Americans announced the date of the launch -- October 11 -- and they carried it out precisely on schedule."

November 9, 1968
In September 1968 the Soviets had launched Zond 5, which carried a payload of turtles, mealworms, and a life-sized mannequin around the moon. But sending humans to the moon -- and getting them back safely -- presented a daunting set of technological challenges.

"We have carried out a major series of technological launches to prepare for circling the moon. The last flight in the program was Zond-5... The UR-500K rocket and L-1 spacecraft are well tested and reliable, but we still have some problems with star navigation and manned landing. We have had two successful ballistic landings after reentry into the Earth's atmosphere at escape velocity, but we haven't accomplished a single manned landing on the territory of the U.S.S.R."

November 10, 1968
On this date, the Soviets successfully launched the unmanned Zond 6, which carried another biological payload around the moon and photographed the lunar surface.

"...the Americans are going to send Apollo-8 to circle the Moon in December. We are far better prepared for a manned flight to the Moon, but we cannot afford to leave it to chance... The Apollo-8 flight... will involve great risks, but they are prepared to face the risk because Apollos are not suited for unmanned flights."

Cosmonauts left to right V. Komarov, B. Yegorov, K. Feoktistov November 12, 1968

Kaminin, who had been training cosmonauts since 1960, objected to their minimal role in Soviet space flights.

"Air Force space pilots fly spacecraft and they are more familiar with them than anyone... but it is the artillery men (rocket forces) who order the spacecraft. As a result the remarks and proposals of the cosmonauts are not always taken into account by designers, the spacecrafts are overloaded with automatic devices, the tests are delayed and launchings are frequently postponed.

"...Our designers are preoccupied with automating all their systems reducing man to the role of monitor, if not simply a passenger. ('My spacecraft can be flown by rabbits,' Korolev used to say.) ...Spacecraft that would give a more active role to cosmonauts...are more simple and cheap and, most importantly, they take less time to get built and be tried out."

November 13, 1968
Kaminin wrote a flurry of diary entries during the Zond 6 mission. All too aware of the American astronauts' central function in space flights, he bemoaned the Soviets' fully automated spacecraft, which were too complicated to build and test quickly.

"...We continue to build automated spacecraft, which is ten times more difficult than building Gemini and Apollo spacecraft in which the crew takes an active part in manning the flight... We are proceeding as if we were all thumbs: we do not have a common goal and a well-thought-out agenda, and there is a lot of discord and irresponsibility."

December 21, 1968
Kaminin pointed to the April 1967 death of a cosmonaut, Vladimir Komarov, as one event that led to Soviet hesitation. Komarov's Soyuz 1 spacecraft had crashed into the Earth on its descent.

"In the last four years the U.S. has been ahead of us in manned space flights. But few people in the Soviet Union know about it. It is only now when Americans have launched their Apollo-8 that it will be brought home to everyone that we have yielded our supremacy in outer space... It is a red-letter day for all mankind, but for us it is marred by a sense of missed opportunities and a regret that Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders and not Valery Bykovsky, Pavel Popovich or Alexei Leonov are flying toward the moon.

"...In 1962... the U.S.S.R.'s authority as the top space power was unassailable... we had no doubt that the U.S.S.R. will remain the front-runner in the Space Race. We had faith in our technology and our plans had the backing of our country's leadership headed by [Soviet premier Nikita] Khrushchev... but then we made a terrible blunder... haste brought about the death of [Soyuz 1 commander Vladimir] Komarov and that in turn created a tendency of hedging..."

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