Soviet Union 
Manned Lunar Program
History/Background:
Until 1990 - 1991, little was known outside the Soviet Union (or the halls of the CIA) about the manned lunar program which was developed by the former Soviet Union to counter America's Apollo program. The Soviet policy of keeping space projects secret until they were successful was carried out to the utmost, and the entire effort was almost passed over by history.
   With the coming of glasnost, small bits of information began to emerge about the super-secret Soviet moon program. Now, photos and diagrams are available of all the major systems involved and incredibly, a few years ago, a replica of the Russian lunar module, called Lunniy Korabl, (Lunar Cabin) or LK was exhibited in a tourist hall at Eurodisney!
Click here to read Marcus Lindroos' excellent monograph on the history of the Soviet manned lunar program.  Though somewhat lengthy, it gives what I think is just the right amount of detail and background to gain a good, general understanding of this fascinating part of space exploration history.


*Highlights of the lunar programs of the USA 
and USSR (former Soviet Union)
(including important space milestones related to those programs)
Year
+USA - Apollo Program
(Saturn V/Apollo)
USSR - L-3 Manned Lunar Landing Program 
(N-1/L-3)
USSR - Zond Manned Lunar Orbital Program 
(UR-500/L-1)
1961 US launches A. B. Sheppard into sub-orbital flight nearly 2 months after flight of Vostok 1. US committed to a manned lunar landing before the end of the decade by Pres. Kennedy USSR launches first manned spacecraft, Vostok 1, with Y. A. Gagarin aboard.  Original N-1 and N-2 launch vehicle programs officially approved 3-stage Proton booster (in development) designated for circumlunar flight
1962 Preliminary Apollo mission profile, including lunar orbit rendezvous, approved by NASA . .
1963 . . .
1964 Boilerplate Apollo spacecraft launched by Saturn 1 rocket USSR launches first multi-manned spacecraft, Voskhod 1.  Lunar landing mission adopted.  Preliminary N-1/L-3 mission profile established.  First lunar landing scheduled for 1967-1968 timeframe 3-stage Proton/L-1 design and mission profile adopted.  Manned lunar fly-by scheduled for 1967
1965 First flight of multi-manned US spacecraft (Gemini 3).  First spacewalk (EVA) by a US astronaut (E. White, Gemini 4) 3 months after flight of Voskhod 2 USSR cosmonaut A. A. Leonov completes 1st EVA during Voskhod 2 mission Maiden flight of 2-stage Proton.  Circumlunar mission modified to utilize 4-stage Proton with Korolev L-1 spacecraft
1966 First manned spacecraft docking demonstrated in earth orbit (Gemini 8) S. P. Korolev dies during surgery.  V. Mishin takes over leadership of USSR space program.  N-1/L-3 program officially adopted.  First lunar landing set for 3rd quarter of 1968 .
1967 Apollo 1 crew killed in flash fire aboard spacecraft during launch pad test.  Maiden flight of Saturn V with unmanned Apollo spacecraft (Apollo 4) V. Komarov killed during maiden (manned) flight of Soyuz spacecraft.  Initial N-1 flight tests delayed.  First automatic spacecraft docking demonstrated in earth orbit (Cosmos 186/188) Maiden flight of 4-stage Proton and L-1 spacecraft in earth orbit successful (Kosmos 146), but followed by 3 failures.  Cosmonaut training for Zond missions begun
1968 First manned flight of Apollo spacecraft (Apollo 7), modified after death of crew of Apollo 1.  Unmanned lunar module tested in earth orbit (Apollo 6).  First manned Saturn V/lunar orbital Apollo mission (Apollo 8) Cosmonaut training for lunar landing missions begun.  Y. Gagarin, 1st human in space, killed during training flight in MiG-15.  1st successful manned flight of Soyuz spacecraft (Soyuz 3), modified after death of Komarov on Soyuz 1 mission 4 unmanned Zond circumlunar missions all end in failure (3 total, 1 partial)
1969 First manned flight of lunar module in earth orbit (Apollo 9).  3 manned missions to the moon, including 2 lunar landings (Apollo's 10, 11, & 12) Maiden flight of N-1 failed after 70 secs.  (N-1 3L).  2nd flight of N-1 (N-1 5L) failed immediately after launch - vehicle and launch pad destroyed Unmanned Zond mission failed in January.  2nd mission in August (Zond 7) only completely successful mission in program, but program canceled
1970 Apollo 13 lunar landing mission aborted during trans-lunar coast Unmanned prototype of lunar landing vehicle (T2K) successfully tested in earth orbit Final unmanned Zond circumlunar mission (Zond 8) partially successful
1971 3rd and 4th Apollo lunar landing missions (Apollo's 14 & 15) 3rd N-1 flight failed after 51 secs.  (N-1 6L)  Advanced N-1/L-3M program proposed. 
Crew of Soyuz 11 become 1st humans to habitate a space station (Salyut 1) but are killed during reentry
.
1972 5th and 6th Apollo lunar landings.  (Apollo's 16 & 17).  Apollo lunar program concluded.  No human has set foot on the moon since then 4th N-1 flight failed after 107 secs (N-1 7L) .
1973 Skylab 1 OWS launched unmanned into earth orbit.  Extensive damage done to spacecraft during launch.  Vehicle manned by successive crews from Skylab's  2, 3, & 4 missions   .
1974 . V. Mishin replaced by long time rival V. P. Glushko.  All Soviet manned lunar programs cancelled, and official program of denial begins with destruction of all remaining N-1 hardware .
1975 Last manned Apollo mission (ASTP or Apollo 20) docks with Soviet Soyuz spacecraft (Soyuz 19).  Another American would not fly in space for 6 more years, until the flight of STS-1 Soviets continue extensive program of space station missions
* Information in this table adapted from the book The Soviet Reach for the Moon, by Nicholas L. Johnson.  Additional material taken from other written sources.
 + See Apollo Stats Table for extensive detailed information on Apollo manned mission

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