- First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.
On May 25, 1961, with the above words President John Kennedy captured the imagination of the American people and launched us on a decade long ascent to the highest pinnacle in our species’ collective consciousness.
He asked for the Moon, and we delivered.
With this statement Kennedy threw down a glove before the Soviet Union’s cherubic and mocking Nikita Khrushchev, and in doing so shunted the Cold War into the heavens, into a race for technological supremacy distracting us from our hell-bent drive for Mutual Assured Destruction.
The Kremlin, caught up in echoes of the Soviet Union’s decisive early victories in space and exploiting further efforts for the sheer propaganda value, failed to recognize the earnestness of the American effort. It was only in August of 1964 the Soviets committed themselves to taking the summit of the ascent before the Americans, keeping their space effort shrouded in secrecy to magnify their triumphs and bury their failures.
The Soviet Moon Program, crippled by the loss of their Chief Designer S. P. Korolev, was mired in almost Byzantine factional power struggles within their space effort and pummeled by mission failures, the most grim being the tragic loss of Vladimir Komarov during the fatal mission of Soyuz 1. The faltering effort was finally dealt its death-blow by the July 1969 failure of their Saturn V-class booster, the N-1, through a devastating engine malfunction which caused the vehicle to explode with the force of a tactical nuclear bomb.
Hoping to cheat the Americans out of total victory, the unmanned Moon probe Luna 15 was launched a few days before the American Apollo 11, in an attempt to retrieve a sample of the lunar soil to the Earth before Apollo could return. This attempt too failed, and the Kremlin professed they had never been interested in such a wasteful effort as a Moon Race, and soon consigned their Lunar Program to the dustbins of history.
With Glasnost and the subsequent the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Bloc, the remarkable Russian Moon effort has come to light. With the tremendous range of newly-revealed Soviet space hardware either flown or conceptualized — manned military space stations, anti-satellite weapons, and even nuclear space mines — one wonders what other secrets the Soviet may have hidden in the depths of outer space.