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CIA surveillance of the Soviet manned moon program



  Complex J-model

A CIA model of the Soviet N-1 launch complex, described by the CIA as "Complex J." Visible are two N-1 rockets as well as a Saturn V and the Washington Monument. (Source: CIA)

Apollo Revisited





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During the peak of the race until In In the 1

960s, the Central Intelligence Agency and the rest of the US intelligence agencies tried to keep an eye on the progress of the Soviets in attaining the moon. This story was previously discussed (see "Webb's Giant," The Space Review, July 19, 2004; "A Taste of Armageddon (Part 1)", "The Space Review," January 3, 2017, and Part Two The question remains unanswered: To what extent did the CIA surveillance of the Soviet manned moon program in the 1960s play a role in the Apollo program, in particular on schedule? Several dozen documents, including the "manned moon file" from the CIA's reading room, shed light on this topic.

The documents contain many additional details and correlations for the first decade of space racing. Looking back at old Soviet space program assessments, one quickly realizes that while the CIA occasionally misjudged the intentions and abilities of the Soviets, it was surprisingly wise to evaluate the information they had. However, they still managed to miss the mark when the Soviets did a clever propaganda stunt.

Although the CIA was occasionally wrong about the intentions and abilities of the Soviets, they were surprisingly ingenious in assessing the information they had. However, they still managed to miss the mark when the Soviets did a clever propaganda stunt.

For example, in November 1962, the Office of National Estimates (ONE) drafted a memorandum titled "Possible Soviet Military Reactions to the Cuban Result: Gimmicks and Programs. "The premise was that the Soviet Union had been humiliated because it was forced to abandon its plan to launch medium-range missiles in Cuba and possibly respond in various ways. One possibility, the ONE analysts suggested, could be space missions planned for maximum propaganda impact. The analysts suggested that "in the years 1962-1963, the following single-space missions are likely to be within the scope of Soviet capabilities, though they are unlikely to be carried out during this period: multi-man satellites; Rendezvous and possible docking of two satellites; a ten-day manned satellite; unmanned moon flight; unmanned satellite in lunar orbit; soft moon landings of instrumented packets; Planetary probes. "

What the CIA had not expected was a simpler stunt: the launch of the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova, in June 1963.

Although short-term stunts could politically embarrass the United States, the CIA paid more attention to a larger issue: the race to the moon, which was in part triggered by NASA's own interest. In September 1965, when the Apollo program reached its peak, NASA Administrator James Webb asked the CIA for an assessment of the "likelihood and consequences of a Soviet program to land a man competing with Apollo on the Moon" year which the Office of National Estimates compiled a National Intelligence Estimation (NIE) on the Soviet space program. This document states that there is no indication that the Soviet Union is competing with the United States in the Lunar Race, but Webb wanted an update.

Sherman Kent, the head of the Office of National Estimates, wrote a memo to William Raborn, the director of the Central Intelligence Vice Admiral (ret.). This memo, apparently designed as a draft CIA response to NASA, was based heavily on earlier estimates, most notably on the NEVER dated January 1965. Kent indicated that the evidence collected over the last eight months was consistent with the earlier conclusion that the Soviets did not compete with the United States in the race for the moon.

Kent's memo states: "The obvious Soviet interest in the moon exploration was a factor in our assessment that the Soviets intend to make a manned lunar landing sometime in the future. However, the pace of this Soviet program was uneven and generally unsuccessful. Kent also noted that the Soviets had shot an estimated 18 robot probes from 1958 to the moon with only three successes from that date.

In addition, the political situation in the Soviet Union had changed. As a result of the Cuban missile crisis, Khrushchev was ousted from power and replaced by Leonid Brezhnev. Although the economic situation of the Soviets had not changed, civilian and military space programs continued to compete for scarce, high-quality resources in the Soviet economy. However, after Leonid Brezhnev gained power, the military became increasingly important, which could affect the financing of the Soviet civilian space program.

Kent added, "If the Soviets do not run to the moon, we expect them to seek to mitigate the effects of a successful Apollo mission by achieving other goals of their own choosing. They have openly challenged the scientific importance and need for a manned moon landing, and will likely replace goals to which they may attach greater importance. "This could include extensive orbital operations and space stations as well as intensive robotic moon exploration. Another option was an early attempt by a manned lunar orbiting mission "to offset the effects of a successful Apollo mission and strengthen the Soviet Union's association with early moon exploration."

"In summary," Kent concluded, "we expect the Soviets to pursue a vigorous and expanding space program that generally competes with that of the US We do not believe they are involved in a manned lunar landing program on space competes. " Same schedule with Project Apollo, but we can not rule this out. We still estimate that they could reach a manned moon landing at the earliest in mid-1969. If they find themselves slipping or stretching in the US program, they may be moved to accelerate their own. "

Someone – maybe the director of Central Intelligence William Raborn himself? – added a handwritten note beside this line: "Maybe not. They could slow down further. "

"If they find themselves slipping or stretching in the US program, they may be moved to accelerate their own," Kent wrote. "Maybe not. You could slow down further, "someone added.

Although Kent speculated, we now know that the change in political regimes in Moscow had indeed affected the Soviet civilian space program and the lunar project needed funding. But those in charge of the civilian program continued to believe – self-deception is a common feature of authoritarian societies – that they could still beat Americans to the moon. They also believed this after the Americans had further surpassed their manned space program in the next few years.

Several other shared documents provided supporting data to answer Webb's question. In a summary of comments made by Soviet officials in October 1965, cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov, for example, was quoted in an interview with a Czech reporter. Komarov, who died two years later when the parachute of his Soyuz vehicle did not open, stated that if the American formula for a manned moon landing was "1969 + X" then the Soviet formula would be "1969 + (X – 1)". , An unnamed CIA official commented, "This is probably the next date we'll ever get openly from the Soviets." Another CIA document titled "Chronology of Selected Soviet Statements on a Manned Moon Landing since January 1965" stated Various Soviet cosmonauts and scientists as well as Leonid Brezhnev himself had been talking about their lunar aspirations, if not their specific plans, for the past eight months , Obviously, the Soviets did not completely ignore the subject, but they also did not make it easy for American intelligence analysts to figure out what they were doing.

Despite all these efforts, no variant of Kent's memo has ever been sent to NASA. At the time, Raborn wanted to set up a Space Intelligence Panel that deals specifically with space issues. CIA's Deputy Director of Science and Technology, Albert D. Wheelon, spoke to Raborn about the delay in the NASA request and the Panel's inclusion of the subject as the first task. Raborn agreed that this was the best way to proceed and was reassured by NASA that the agency did not need an immediate answer to their question.

The Space Intelligence Panel met for the first time at the end of October. Instead of the lengthy response of Sherman Kent, the panel came to a conclusion with two paragraphs. "It is clear that the Soviet space program is large, generally competitive and versatile," wrote the panel. "Its main objective is to improve the technological and military image of the USSR compared to that of the United States through significant achievements in space. It is currently not possible to determine with certainty which direction the Soviets will try to reach this main objective. "Much depends on the development of the Soviet rocket engine. However, the available evidence at the end of 1965 did not show whether the Soviet Union was pursuing a manned lunar landing program or a large manned space station program instead. If the Soviets actually pursued a lunar program, the jury concluded: "We are pretty sure that they are not ahead of the United States in this program, but are lagging behind for 0 to 18 months."

The assessment of the Space Intelligence Panel was remarkably accurate and US intelligence continued to monitor the development of Soviet space in the years to come. The lack of manned spacecraft fired by the Soviets from spring 1965 to spring 1967 reinforced the impression that even after the tragic Apollo 1 fire in January 1967, the United States had a significant advantage over the moon.

When the Soviets actually pursued a lunar program, the jury concluded: "We are pretty sure that they are not ahead of the United States in this program, but are between 0 and 18 months ago."

In October 1967 The CIA Intelligence Directorate produced a summary report entitled "The Soviet space program ten years after Sputnik I" (see "In the Shadow of Apollo: The CIA and the Soviet Space Program during the Lunar Race," The Space Review, 13. May 2019).) It was said that "some consider the Soviet space program only as a plan to capture spectacular headlines, others as an exclusively military effort, and others over the past ten years as an orderly development of a long-term master plan with both." wrong steps still dead ends. The Soviets themselves have often characterized their program as purely scientific and not competitive with that of the United States. "But the CIA document stated that" none of these diagnoses are completely right or wrong. "Even though they made spectacular headlines with some of their accomplishments." By contrast, a considerable number of Soviet flights silently made a solid contribution to the understanding of man for the cosmos. "It added that" certain parts of the program have indeed shown a high degree of orderly planning and intelligent execution. But there were dead ends, mistakes and even catastrophes. "

The comparison of this ten-year review with the Agency's specific response to James Webb's late 1965 request for information on the lunar advance of the Soviets shows that fortune in the space race could quickly reverse. While Sherman Kent's memorandum of September 1965 noted the large number of errors in the Soviet Moon probe until then, the CIA could not foresee that the Soviets would soon achieve a series of successes in the lunar probe. Only a few months after Kent's memo, the Soviet Union landed Luna 9 gently on the moon in January 1966. "The Soviets have, surprisingly, remedied the deficiencies in this program, a mistake that has been noted in other parts of space," the 1967 survey explained. However, the Soviets soon followed Luna 9 with three successful orbits (Lunas 10-12). and another gentle landing with Luna 13.

The retrospective ended with a discussion on the great Soviet missile that was just developed in the launch complex of Tyura-Tam (now known as Baikonur). Although CIA analysts still believe that the rocket could launch a space station of 113,000 kilograms into near-Earth orbit, "a manned moon landing is still the most likely focus of Soviet attention over the next five years. "The document completed.

Over the next few months, American news satellites observed significant developments in this large rocket complex (see "Rockets, real and model-sized", The Space Review, July 3, 2006). In March 1968, the Guided Missile and The Astronautics Intelligence Committee published a report on the use of Soviet ground-to-ground missiles, in which the Soviet facility was also discussed, which was designated by the CIA as Complex J. Two large launch pads were under construction there, and the service tower on the first launch pad had reached a height of about 135 meters, and was apparently complete because the crane building it was dismantled. Two 180 meter high blitz towers had been erected near the block. The second pad, labeled J2, was still under construction and the base of its service tower was nearing completion. All buildings between the two pads were covered with soil and a protective material.

  Model Complex J

The two N-1 launch pads photographed in June 1969 by an American reconnaissance satellite KH-8 GAMBIT-3. At that time, the US intelligence agencies called Baikonur "Tyuratam" N-1 as "the J-vehicle". This picture does not show the damage to one of the blocks that occurred on July 3, when an N-1 rocket exploded, but was used in an intelligence report to illustrate the installation after the event.

But the real jackpot came when an American reconnaissance satellite had photographed a 100-foot-high launcher set up on the finished pad. The CIA analysts speculated that this was a model used to test the launcher and its equipment – just as NASA had done with the Saturn V, ready to support layoffs from mid-1968. "

American reconnaissance satellites were so powerful that they had discovered a series of telemetry antennas on the roof of the complex's huge congregation building. "Outside this building, a likely missile transporter was observed. The van was about 200 feet (19459054) long and 85 feet (19459055) wide and seemed to be constructed of heavy steel parts with a raised end. Nearby, another transporter was assembled. Construction on the Complex J spacecraft facility continued. "The exterior of the building was finished and construction was likely to continue inside.

  N-1

Despite all the recent progress on the launch pad, there was no indication that the Soviet Union would win against the United States. The United States had already perfected rendezvous techniques with the Gemini program and made significant progress in solving problems with the Apollo spacecraft. Komarov's death on April 24, 1967, was, in a way, a bigger setback for the Soviets than Apollo 1 for NASA. As a result, NASA officials and the CIA turned to the Soviet Lunar Orbit Program by the summer of 1968, an attempt to send a man around the moon. If this succeeds, the Soviet Union could push ahead with the Apollo landing and then schedule the following year. By the summer of 1968, NASA officials made the brave decision to send the Apollo 8 mission around the moon.

The main unanswered question about the impact of the news gathering on the Moonrace is the extent to which information about the Soviet Zond Circumlunar missions prompted NASA officials to decide on Apollo 8. So far, the evidence supports the conclusion that although the Zond program was a factor in the Apollo decision, it was a supporting factor, not the sole or ultimate one. Apollo was already at full speed, on the ground within the security limits. NASA officials were less interested in looking over their shoulders than holding control over a massive bureaucratic, administrative, and developmental machine that pushed them to their limits. The Apollo 8 lunar module was not yet ready for the test flight and NASA officials did not want to postpone the mission to wait for the lander. They decided not to send the astronauts into orbit, but around the moon.

Shared documents provide evidence of this problem. During a regular morning meeting of CIA officials in late October 1968, Deputy Director of Science and Technology, Carl Duckett (who had replaced Albert Wheelon a few years ago) stated that NASA's plan for a manned lunar launch in December is a direct product an earlier news program about Soviet space plans. "

Even if NASA officials saw the rude information gathered by the CIA, the NSA, and even the US Navy about Soviet space exploration efforts, they certainly could not move faster than they were already moving.

] That was perhaps a bit presumptuous: Duckett had no way of knowing all the factors NASA officials had taken into account in their decision, or those that mattered most to them. Existing evidence suggests that the lunar module's delay triggered and apparently drove the decision-making process. Other evidence suggests that an Apollo lunar orbiting mission had been discussed as a possible option in NASA's early spring, prior to any significant concerns over a Soviet manned lunar orbiting flight. NASA did not need any special news from the CIA in the summer of 1968 to know that the Zond missions were taking place as information was reported in the press.

Even if NASA officials saw the rude information gathered by the CIA, the NSA and even the US Navy about the Soviet space efforts, they certainly could not move faster than they were already moving. Like a runner on a straight stretch, NASA's leadership focused more on what lay ahead than who could be right behind them. The landing on the moon was the finish line, and everyone on Apollo concentrated on reaching it.

  N-1

An article recently published in a new Russian space magazine, Russkiy Kosmos was based on earlier articles of the space show on US intelligence and the Soviet N-1 program.


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