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Wednesday, 20 March, 2002, 12:02 GMT
Soviet Moon rocket secrets revealed
Strength Research Center TsNIIMash
An engineer shows the vast scale of the rocket
test hello test
By Dr David Whitehouse
BBC News Online science editor
Previously unseen pictures of the giant rocket the Soviets hoped would help them put a man on the Moon before the United States have been revealed on a Russian website.

Strength Research Center TsNIIMash
The Soviets hoped it would get them to the Moon
The images appear on the site of the Russian Strength Research Center. They show new views of the mighty N1 rocket, the Soviet equivalent of America's Saturn 5 booster.

The images show early test versions of the booster's first stage.

Nine or 10 N1's were built at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The giant rocket was launched just four times; each one was a disaster ending in abrupt and catastrophic failure.

They are interesting photographs because they reveal some previously unseen detail in the structure and construction of N1's first stage, Soviet space expert Edwin Cameron told BBC News Online.

Fatal flaw

Designed to lift the Soviet Moon lander into space, the N1 was a titanic feat of engineering. Its first stage involved a cluster of 30 high-powered rocket engines using kerosene and liquid oxygen as fuel.

Edwin N Cameron, former US Department of Defense Analyst/Instructor
A big failure: The N1 rocket
Courtesy Edwin N Cameron, former US Department of Defense Analyst/Instructor

The large number of engines was the rocket's fatal flaw. Engineers could not find a way to effectively balance the thrust of them all, meaning that control of the booster was impossible.

Pumping fuel to each rocket motor also proved to be a major problem.

When the N1 project was cancelled in 1976, the Soviet space chief Valentin Glushko ordered all the remaining N1 hardware to be destroyed. However, despite his orders, much of the equipment survived.

In 1997, 94 leftover N1 engines were sold to the American company Kistler for refurbishment and incorporation into a new rocket.

See also:

20 Jul 99 | The moon landing
The race to the moon
04 Sep 98 | Sci/Tech
Let's go back to the Moon!
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