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Friday, October 28, 2011

The Space Race (Part Two)

The Soviet Union achieved another first with dual-piloted flights, the Vostok 3 and Vostok 4, from August 11th through the 15th in 1962.  The two spacecraft came within four miles of each other.  The significant accomplishment of these flights was actually on the ground with being able to launch two spacecraft from the same pad in a very short time span.
Again the Soviets achieved another first when the first female, Valentina Tereshkova, was launched into space on June 16, 1963.  She was also the first civilian to go into space.  This was reportedly Korolev's idea, and accomplished purely for propaganda value.  It would be 1978 before the United States opened up the Space Program for women, and 1980 before the Russians would do so again.

When the Americans announced their ambitious plans for the Project Gemini which included two person spacecraft, the ability to change orbits, the ability to EVA (get out of the spacecraft), and the goal of docking with another craft, it forced the Soviets to modify the four remaining Vostok rockets to beat the Americans to the new size of flight crews, and the duration of missions.  In late 1963 they had four Vostoks in various stages of development.  Korolev had already begun designing the next generation of Soviet spacecraft, the Soyuz, which would have been comparable to the Gemini spacecraft and have similar capabilities.  Unfortunately the Soyuz wouldn't be available until at least 1966 and not in time to meet the new American challenge.

October 12, 1964, the Soviets achieved another victory in the race with the Voskhod 1, in which three cosmonauts in the first multi-person spacecraft was launched in a modified Vostok.  The Soviets achieved an additional breakthrough in performing the first shirt sleeve environment for the cosmonauts during this flight.  The breakthrough was not due to improved safety of the crafts environmental systems as it was due to necessity in that the three cosmonauts couldn't fit in the craft with their space suits on!  This feat wouldn't be repeated by the Americans until 1968 in the Apollo Command Module.

The "Wednesday Conspiracy", where Leonid Brezhnev and some high ranking Communist Party Officials deposed Premier Khrushchev as the government leader the day after Voskhod 1 landed.  The new leaders cancelled the Voskhod Program and focused the Soviet Space efforts at beating the Americans to the Moon!  They cancelled Voskhod 3 and 4 which were in various planning stages.  Korolev died in 1966 making the Voskhod 2 his final achievement before his death.  There was a two year pause in Soviet piloted space flights while a replacement for Korolev and his new Soyuz spacecraft was being designed and developed.

On March 18, 1965, Voskhod 2 was launched with two cosmonauts, Pavel Belyayev and Alexey Leonov.  This spacecraft had the first airlock and allowed Alexey Leonov to make the first ever EVA as part of the mission.  His suit expanded in the vacuum of space which threatened to prevent him from re-entering the spacecraft.  Improvising, he partially depressurized his space suit in order to re-enter the airlock.  Their ships environmental controls also filled the cabin of their ship with 45% pure oxygen which had to be lowered before attempting re-entry.  The spacecraft became unstable during re-entry because an instrument compartment's failure to detach from the ship and an improperly timed retro rocket firing caused them to land off course.

For the American side of the story please see the "Highlights Of Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo" post from Wednesday October 12, 2011, a little earlier this month.

The Soviet Union had planned to divide their lunar program into two separate manned programs: circumlunar flights in 1967 and lunar landings in 1968.

The circumlunar missions were to be launched by a UR-500 rocket, later known as the Proton. The cosmonauts would be flown to the Moon in the Soyuz 7K-L1 (Zond), which made four unsuccessful unmanned flights from 1967–1970.  One flight of the Zond was, however, successful and returned its non-human passengers (tortoises) to earth.  If you wonder why they were sending Tortoises into space in lieu of cosmonauts make sure to catch tomorrows post!

The Soviet lunar landing missions would use spacecraft derived from the Soyuz 7K-L1.  The orbital module (Soyuz 7K-L3), the "Lunniy Orbitalny Korabl" (LOK), had a crew of two.  The LOK and a separate lunar-lander, the "Lunnity Korabl" (LK).

The launch vehicle would have been the N1 rocket, which was roughly the same height and takeoff mass as the American Saturn V, exceeded its takeoff thrust by 28%, yet had roughly half the payload capability.  The N1 was unsuccessfully tested four times, exploding each time due to problems with the first stage's thirty engines.  Soviet government cancelled the program in 1970 after the first two successful American Moon landings.

Mankind made it to the Moon in under a decade from when Mr. Kennedy issued the challenge and direction to be taken.  There is something to be said for mankind in a determined effort to achieve his goals.  I still can't help but wonder what the world would look like today if Mr. Kennedy hadn't been assassinated.  If the United States and the Soviets would have joined forces, a combined International effort to reach the moon.  I can't speak from the Soviet side of the story but on the American side, the production of jobs, the pushing of technology, the mass of companies involved in getting a man to the Moon definitely was a push in a good direction.

I wonder if in the future a combined International effort to get mankind out into our solar system and beyond for the purposes of colonization and resource recovery wouldn't work to stabilize economies, help build cooperation internationally, and spur on science and technology but based on helping each other reach a common goal instead of piggy backing off of military technology.

Mankind hasn't found an intelligent means to resolve its differences since the dawn of time short of two sides trying to kill each other.  With the rise in religious strife between peoples of different faiths, as in days of old, the chance of future peace doesn't seem likely in the near future.  With extreme factions of religious groups saying convert or die, that doesn't leave a lot of room for discussion about the matter.  So I'll just keep contemplating man reaching for the stars in a fashion of International Peace and cooperation as I clean and oil my rifle.

"That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."  Neil Armstrong, the first man to step foot on the Moon.

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