Join Donate

Planetary RadioJune 7, 2019

Space Policy Edition: The Soviet Moonshot (with Asif Siddiqi)

Please accept marketing-cookies to listen to this podcast.

Download MP3

On This Episode
Asif Siddiqi
Asif Siddiqi

Professor of History, Fordham University

Brendan Curry
Brendan Curry

Chief of Washington D.C. Operations, The Planetary Society

Casey Profile Picture Thumbnail
Casey Dreier

Chief Advocate & Senior Space Policy Adviser, The Planetary Society

Headshot of Mat Kaplan
Mat Kaplan

Planetary Radio Host and Producer

The U.S. won the space race in July of 1969 with the success of Apollo 11. But was the Soviet Union even racing? How close were they to beating the United States to the Moon? Soviet space historian Dr. Asif Siddiqi discusses the other side of the space race as we kick off our multi-part series of interviews celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing. Planetary Society Chief of Washington Operations, Brendan Curry, also joins the show to catch up on the latest news about the White House proposal to return to the Moon by 2024.

Vintage USSR space propaganda poster

Vintage USSR space propaganda poster
"Our triumph in space is the hymn to Soviet country!"
Soviet LK-3 engineering test unit (1968)

Andrew Gray. CC BY-SA 3.0

Soviet LK-3 engineering test unit (1968)
Photographed at the Science Museum, London, March 2016.

Further reading:


NOTE: This automated transcript is being edited by a human. Check back soon.

[00:00:00] This is the space policy Edition planetary radio. Welcome back to this monthly program that we bring you from the heart of Washington DC, which is also the heart of space exploration in the United States and therefore largely around the world. I'm at Kaplan the host of planetary radio very happy to.

Back with my colleague Casey dryer the chief advocate for the planetary Society. Welcome Casey. Hey, Matt, and before we even go further, I want to say happy 3rd anniversary of the show. We started three years ago. Roughly this month run this time exactly, right? Yes, congratulations to to you to all of us and to all the.

Policy wonks out there who've been enjoying this program with us now for all of that time to help us celebrate. We have your [00:01:00] close colleague Brendan Curry the chief of Washington operations of for the planetary Society Brendan, welcome back scraped you back Matt and always good to be working with you and Casey Casey.

I little tease up front here. We have another outstanding interview one that also will help us lead into this. 50th Anniversary season for Apollo specifically Apollo 11, which is we speak now is barely a month and a half away the anniversary of the first moon landing will get back to that in a moment.

But we also want to deliver our usual message up front which is that if you're listening to this if you've come back into the space policy Edition because you can't get enough of space or the policy decisions that drive it in Washington, DC and around the world. Well, first of all, we're glad that you found us but second we hope that you will actually join us and help support this program.

And the best way to do that is to become a [00:02:00] member of the planetary society, which is bringing you this program. Thank goodness for all of us, right. You can do that by going to planetary dot org slash. Membership and join the tens of thousands of space enthusiasts not just in the US but around the world who make this program possible and make possible all of the other great work that is underway by the planetary society and I will drop in here that includes light sail to I know it's a little far afield from the space policy discussions that we have every month here on spe, but you can understand that we're a bit excited about this we are.

Set for our launch on June 22nd. Some of you I bet will be joining us down at the cape for this exciting launch and all the great events that we will have under way down there. You can check it out at planetary dot-org of course. It's right there on the homepage and while you're there come and join us as an organization of people who [00:03:00] believe that if we're going to keep.

Expansion across the solar system and an exploration of the solar system as part of our what it means to be human. The best way we know of to do that is to join the society. Okay? Well, that's that's this week's plug and less Casey you have anything to add now, you always nail it Matt. I can't ever I can't ever beat you have to follow I have to be a person or I tell you it comes from the heart tell us what comes out of Washington.

We're still dealing with the budget stuff, right and. We're going to get to the Moon by 2024 which is a sure thing. Right Casey. Yeah that whole thing. So it's it has been one month since our last episode and what a crazy month. It is actually been in terms of policy and budget. We are in a very.

Strange situation and I just want to emphasize that this is not normal process that we not only have the original president's budget request for fiscal year 2020 this next fiscal year coming up for [00:04:00] NASA. But we also have now a supplemental request that was released a couple weeks ago in response to the president's directive that NASA return humans to the Moon by 2024 this accelerated time.

And so we had a period of a few weeks almost no more than a month actually of kind of rumors and ideas. And what's NASA going to ask for how much political supports got to come out? And you know, maybe the White House is really serious about it this time. We're going to put a lot of money into making this happen.

The supplemental was released in mid May. I wrote about this in a blog piece on planetary society's website and it was really modest. It was way less than I was expecting not that I was expecting tens and tens of billions of dollars, but they asked for 1.6 in additional money for NASA. That's roughly a five percent increase compared to last year's budget.

If you combine the two NASA budget requests together the final request that the president puts out. It's [00:05:00] about twenty two point six billion dollars for 2022. Excuse me for 2020 and that's not really enough for a moon program. Frankly. It's not a good sign and so it kind of landed with a thud and then of course, I would say it in relative political malpractice the the pay for the way that this was had to be paid for by the White House as.

Are going to take money from Pell Grant Reserve fund that usually funds low-income students to go to college and put that towards NASA. Now, there's a variety of nuances to that and it very is unlikely to happen. But it's set up this really unfortunate political Dynamic where NASA and a moon program or the President Trump's Moon program is taking money from poor college kids to pursue this Moon program, so it couldn't have chosen really a worse maybe if they had taken out from like the puppy Reserve.

And and paid it into NASA and said but we have a really kind of abysmal political confrontation set up [00:06:00] from that so we can go into the details of it. But that's roughly where we are in terms of what has been going on. So it's weird. It's a step forward in a sense that you just look at the proposal from NASA.

It's not bad, but it's definitely not encouraging or it's at least doesn't give me high hopes that we're going to get to the Moon by 2024. Now on this program just a couple of weeks ago the NASA administrator bridenstine said the it's a bell curve and that's why it's starting out. So small that certainly implies that in the middle of that bell curve.

There's going to be a lot more money needed to pull off this program, which is exactly what you're saying. And certainly I don't think anybody would argue with that. Regarding the Pell Grants. They did say that this is money, which is not it's sort of unused money. Right because people aren't aren't applying for these Pell Grants, but that doesn't seem to have mollified Congress very much.

Yeah, and this is what I keep saying. It's a it's a political. Construct. It's a political problem that [00:07:00] they've created. It is a reserve fund. I don't know the details enough whether to say it's good or bad that the whole the reason it has a reserve fund is because during the last recession the funds were depleted very quickly.

And so it was purposely built to have this. It's also coming from two completely different accounts and Congress the Department of Education as a different sub Committee in Congress, ultimately that would choose to fund these or not. The White House had to balance their books due to a variety of.

Of legal commitments that they have for from their budget office. But again, it doesn't matter in a sense that there's an old saying in politics, right if you're explaining you're losing and so if you're kind of on the defensive saying no, no, it's only extra money that these poor kids won't weren't going to get any way as know the the political Dynamic that has been constructed as NASA versus Pell Grants and that's you see this already being repeated by a number of news outlets and opinion pieces.

We saw one just the other day. In the USA Today editorial saying this is a don't [00:08:00] read Pell Grants for Trump's moonshot. And USA. Today is not exactly a big partisan newspaper. Right? And so the point is this is politics it people are going to misread a situation but it's also you know, you had to think about it in a larger context.

What's this foot forward you're going to put out there with NASA and going to the moon and by creating this Dynamic by creating this tension between these two things or really creating this trade-off mentality. You've kind of kneecap this effort from the very beginning in terms of the politics of it, which I think is really unfortunate for NASA.

And for this whole Endeavor Brenton decision jibe with your understanding of the current state of this supplemental budget to get us to the Moon. I think I said last time we were together. We're in uncharted waters. I staked my professional reputation with you guys last time we were on this that.

Supplemental supposed to arrive no later than April 15, April 15 came and went May first [00:09:00] was the next day. Came and went and it was only I think in Casey, please feel free to disagree. It was only the forcing function of chairwoman need a low E. Who's the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee?

Trying to get a ton of the Appropriations bills at a committee before the Memorial Day recess. That was a forcing function for OMB in the White House to cough up. Whatever they were going to cough up. Give a little history case. He's done a very Artful job of talking about the Optics of the Pell Grant situation for decades NASA in the Appropriations process was always pitted against.

Veterans Affairs and Housing for poor people. This is nothing new in terms of NASA having a mission or a goal or something like that and being pitted against something that's [00:10:00] incredibly politically sympathetic versus something as esoteric. Something to Europa or something like that. Well, what I think is actually a little different though about this because you're referring to back when NASA in the Congressional subcommittee was in a different subcommittee with with HUD the Housing and Urban Development and unrelated agencies NASA, which was run so they had they would get them they would get an allocation from the Congressional Appropriations leadership.

And then you had a pot of money had to move around to fund NASA veterans HUD stuff, but this is different in the sense that this is being this is coming. In the White House that the White House itself has proposed a one-to-one transfer. And so that's that's what I think that in terms of the it's always once it gets down to the subcommittee level.

It's always going to be a series of trade-offs Once you have your allocation, right? But the politics were defined by the proposing entity that the executive branch in this sense and also by doing this as a supplemental as opposed to doing this through the regular [00:11:00] budget process when the president's budget request came out it.

Decreased a lot of federal agencies budgets and increased others and so there is no real you can't draw like a one-to-one cut their went into NASA or cut their went into the dod. There's a bunch of things went down and a bunch of things went up but by doing the supplemental there was only like five things and so it's really easy to draw where do those five extra bonuses come from they all came from this one source, and so by doing the separately as a supplemental it made it extremely easy.

To take a look at it as a one-for-one pay for from Pell Grants. And so this all may be pointless. I don't think there's any chance at this point that Pell Grants are going on Cut and no payment. No, but by presenting this Dynamic, I think the White House really miss stepped. And again, this is not NASA proposing this I want to emphasize NASA didn't get to control, right?

Where this money came from? This is at the Office of Management and budget the OMB ultimately approved by the executive branch in the White House. This is why I said Nick NASA's [00:12:00] kind of kneecap and put in a very tough situation here and how people are talking about this is all wrapped up in this Pell Grants versus NASA and that precisely speaks to the point where the space policy Community here in Washington.

Who cares about NASA. Being put in this kind of awkward situation. There were a couple of years where you know, it was NASA funding versus cops on the Street Grants. It's nothing for those of us who care about space policy and space funding to be putting this kind of. This type of situation we've all kind of been there before in it's no fun.

And it's something we as a community and our our listeners and in our supporters are just going to need to be ready to Grapple with and I don't think at the end of the day Pell Grants are going to be hurt. I think at the end of the day the Senate is going to call the shots in [00:13:00] the end and they're going to work something.

Through the Deputy Administrator of NASA to more hard is a long time Senate hand and has worked a lot with the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee Richard Shelby and I think at the end of the day something will come up. I think to her credit chairwoman Loi I mean in case you've seen the legislation as well.

I mean the the house appropriators almost. I don't want say willingly but they don't even speak to this amended budget, which is actually was a good bill. I think if this was a nine inning ballgame, we're at the bottom of the third top of the fourth. Let's talk for a second about what the supplemental actually proposed first and then we can talk about what the house.

Didn't do yeah Port of them. I mean just like broad outlines the supplemental it asked for an extra one point six [00:14:00] billion dollars for an SSO. It's an augmentation within you know, considering just for NASA and of that money it was going to also kind of cut internally their original proposal to start funding the Gateway this orbiting space station around the Moon.

They basically cut that funding in half for 2020 and they redirected some of those Regional proposed funds with. Extra money so it we're talking about probably closer to 2 billion dollars 1.8 to two billion dollars in money being pushed towards an accelerated 2024 Landing. So of that about a billion dollars is proposed to be spent on the starting.

Critically, the the lunar Landing element of this right? Probably the most important you want to land on the moon helps to have a lunar lander things up or Canadians got their arm ripped off to literally and so you have you need a lunar lander. So that's a put would propose a billion dollars to begin development or kind of reaching out to Industry for develop a lunar lander.

[00:15:00] You have some extra money and then I guess kind of ironically consider. What we talked about a few months ago with all the consternation and critiques of the SLS and its role and its ability to keep schedule this budget after originally just want to emphasize the original president's budget request proposed to cut funding for the SLS and defer the block 1B this you know, the heavier lift version of it into the indefinite future this supplemental puts all of that money back and then some so it basically now has doubled down on the SLS despite those critiques.

Puts about an extra 600 some million dollars to the SLS. And the Orien crew capsule to try to accelerate those programs to keep not even accelerate them, but just to keep them on schedule in order to launch hopefully in 2020 first uncrewed launch and then two other launches with a third launch again, think about this speed of this the third launch of the SLS.

Would be the lunar Landing which was supposed to be Europa Clipper, right? Yeah and land that's a whole other issue. We [00:16:00] should devote it and an episode 2 which sadly looks like it is going the launch of clipper will be delayed now not all of that is because of SLS, they're having a little bit of trouble developing some of the instruments for the spacecraft.

But yeah clearly this is going to affect other parts of our exploration program, and we also heard if you're. This late last week Bill gerstenmaier the guy at Nasa who's going to have to deal with this most directly the associate administrator for human exploration and Ops big surprise. He said that Artemis this program to get us to the Moon is probably going to have to dip into or as they put it look for some efficiencies and make Cuts internal to the agency.

He warned so the assurances from administrator brightenstein that. We wouldn't see cuts to other parts of the NASA budget that may have already gone away. Yeah [00:17:00] that I thought that was astonishing. I think we're at a point where clarification is really needed at this point. This is the associate administrator of human spaceflight Bill gerstenmaier speaking not the NASA administrator.

Jim bridenstine has said this over and over and I think correctly. Understands the politics of the situation that if NASA does proposed significant cuts to other programs particularly in science. They will not succeed with this Artemis program with the moon landing program. Well in the other thing is is that Casey and I have been.

Monitoring the fact you had a former head of Sierra Nevada marks or Angelo come in to the agency for a brief stint in his designator was you know, Moon Mars Czar essentially and then he hit the bricks. I mean, there's some weird Optics going on within the agency and you have a lot of people in the DC space policy community.

Kind of [00:18:00] scratching their head or wondering what's going on. It is fascinating to see this much tumult at NASA headquarters. Again, this doesn't bode well for 2024 and and Sorrento is supposed to lead a directorate background to that. They're supposed to wreak rejigger all of the internal organization of NASA to focus on this Moon to Mars directorate Congress basically said that that's not going to happen and without a directorate to lead or control of any money marks or Angelo basically didn't have any direct power control over anything and so he seemed to just kind of pick up and leave in response to that.

Well, I hope that these. Just first baby steps that might be going a bit awry because of course we all wish that NASA is able to do all of the things that it wants to do including getting us back to the moon. What do you guys see in store? I mean, can you. Can you cash those tea [00:19:00] leaves doesn't seem like it's going to be an easy job to predict the future.

But what is it job security for Casey and I first of all yeah. I'm glad let me say I'm sure glad that both of you are there to defend our interests. Let's talk about the house budget. We saw a sign of things to come. Yeah with the house appropriators kicked out. Aim is headed the floor under what's called normal order or regular order speaker Pelosi and chairwoman.

Loi are doing their honest level best to get the house back to that in the they should be given. Credit in we are in a political nonpartisan organization. So let me get that out of the way. They're institutionalists. They are taking their jobs. Seriously congress's first and foremost job, especially the house is to fund the government.

Okay, so they're doing their best to get it out on a timeline kick [00:20:00] those bills over to the Senate the Senate. The old joke is there are three political parties in Washington Republicans Democrats. And then the Senate, you know, so they're breaking their necks to get these things squared away. I think the House Appropriations built with respect to NASA is pretty good Dart Neo camera taking care of they ding the space Council a little.

Which I thought was interesting but it's going to have to all go over to the Senate and I think chairman Shelby is gonna take his time. Not only is he chairman of the full Senate Appropriations Committee he as chairman of the Senate Appropriations. He's made it his prerogative to retain control of What's called the Senate defense Appropriations Committee, which is the an even bigger budget just to give you a night our listeners an idea of how much influence this [00:21:00] gentleman has.

I think we're going to we're going to see a lot of activity. There was a lot of activity running up to Memorial Day recess the next big push is to get a lot of stuff done before the Fourth of July. Just next week. We're gonna have what's called a minibus kicked out of the house floor. It's going to have Labor Health and Human Services Appropriations education spending house defense spending Bill State Department Department of energy of areas few other things it.

Not include the bill that we care about which is called CJs that includes NASA. The house will probably deal with that after the Fourth of July recess possibly. I think you're going to see a flurry of activity and oh by the way cake and I've been you know talking about the appropriation stuff.

There's still something else called an authorization Bill. The Senate is going to drop their NASA authorization Bill [00:22:00] possibly this. On the house side. It may not be told later that we'll have a lot more policy. The authorization bills have a lot more they get much more into the weeds of policy stuff.

They address spending issues, but it's the really the appropriators that cut the checks essentially but the authorization bills. Talk about spacecraft in detail things like that. The Casey reminder CJs, that's Commerce Justice and science. Did I get that? Right? Yeah, and and again just to go back to the the what the house has done when the house released their Appropriations if the house had basically control over NASA's budget exclusively.

This is what it would look like next year. They basically didn't respond at all to the supplemental requests about accelerating the 2024. Moon landings now you can read that in two ways. The first way we would be saying, oh they just completely say, no absolutely not we hate this we're not going to do what you want [00:23:00] because we want to just reject the president's proposal or we don't believe it's happening the other way, which I think is probably more pragmatic is that they had done most of their work by the time that the supplemental had come out.

And I didn't have time to react to it and what we see in the house budget again Brennan mentioned. It's actually quite good it is it has a big jump up into the science portfolio. It restores. W first that follow on Space Telescope to James Webb, which has been proposed to be canceled for two years.

Now, it includes half a billion dollars for that mission. It also bumps up earth science to its highest level ever to about 2 billion dollars. It includes all these priorities for planetary. And said Brandon mentioned and it does bump up. Exploration SLS funding but basically doesn't address any of the details about the Gateway or lunar Landers.

So that's left a little bit ambiguous. And also I should say restores the stem engagement education program within NASA. So [00:24:00] it was proposed to be canceled. They're proposing a hundred and twenty three million dollars for that. So it's rejecting a lot of the original Cuts provided to NASA and the original president's budget request.

The Senate will take that and you know as kind of a star. Point as Brennan said do their own thing maybe the Senate will release a budget over the S the rest of the summer maybe it'll build they won't take their there. I'm. And then we have this as a reminder October 1st as the new fiscal year either.

We have a budget or the government shuts down and we need to have either a CR continuing resolution and so forth. So there's a lot more things to work through and there's also bigger issues about there is not yet an agreement on overall spending levels that they have to work. That could come up as an issue.

So there's a lot of politics you have to happen. And of course with every day that's progressing right now. We're getting closer and closer to the presidential election next year and so is every day is turning more into a presidential election cycle, which always undermines some of the more [00:25:00] practical aspects of political deal-making in country.

The entire house will be a free election third of the Senate and. Matt our listeners will probably think Casey and I are trying to make this sound like a cliffhanger episode that they're going to have to keep tuning in. Well, they do it's always a cliffhanger in Washington. So stay tuned and of course will continue to report on this during these monthly space policy additions, but here and there with conversations on the on the weekly show as well Brendan.

I'll pose this to you as a long time. Participant and observer of this space policy area. Does this program even makes sense? We didn't really touch on that the proposal as provided. Is that a reasonable way to get to the moon and sustain a policy a presence there or is this Folly pure and simple and as we approach the the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, which is [00:26:00] a momentous moment in humankind.

In every sense of the term the line is well, that was it was flags and footsteps. It was not just because you hear a lot of is a why can't we do a Palo again? Well, it wasn't sustainable. Okay, so we're supposedly smarter now, right? We're whatever we're going to do. We're going to make it sustainable.

Okay, fine what's being proposed right now? I was born the day after 17 lifted off 39 pad 39. So technically I was alive during the Apollo era. Of course. I don't remember it. Actually my first real space memory was watching Skylab fall in kindergarten and that was horrifically depressing. I hear all these baby boomers talk about what they saw Mercury Gemini Apollo.

I've no memory that I have. Children are two daughters a [00:27:00] 12 year old and in ten-year-old. Do I want to take them down to the cape and see them watch some monstrous rocket blasts off taking men and women to the moon and elsewhere. Of course, I do I want this to work the Romantic in me wants this to work.

But I worry I worry that there's a lot of attention and direction to what we're doing right now and it's great, but I have to be a little circumspect and I don't like saying. So, please forgive me we can sure hear the passion in what you've had to say about it before we leave this. Can we just very briefly mention that as all of this stuff goes on around returning humans to the Moon NASA awarded contracts to 3 small companies to get small payloads to the moon.

And so it looks like the commercial side of this is moving forward. [00:28:00] Yeah, the great experiment will begin now. This is going to be trying to take the lessons of the commercial payload services for the International Space Station and say will it work to deliver? Payload to the lunar surface. They chose three companies to of which I had actually never heard of before not that I followed it.

That's close you and me both. That's right. So they may have been a little stealthy and they are getting about I think a couple hundred million all told the three of them to jumpstart their development of these small lunar Landers NASA science Mission will be providing. Instrumentation, they actually have a decent budget augmentation to build new instrumentation for this and they'll try it.

So they're competing against each other and they're competing in a fixed price for NASA's buying this as a service. It's not a paying everything the idea is again that by stepping back a little from a regulatory perspective NASA can achieve some cost savings through efficiencies at the private [00:29:00] sector level that they're able to just make decisions move fast without having like.

This huge ladder of approvals going up and down NASA bureaucracy. The question to me is and this is what's going to be fascinating to watch. Is that the whole idea of doing this in low earth? Was predicated on the idea that NASA would not be the only customer right? You would invest in companies like SpaceX orbital Sciences at the time and you would build up.

You know, you would NASA would be one of many so you would help the u.s. Space industry be competitive globally right other people want to go into low earth orbit, and we see that was face X all the time they launch. Private satellites into orbit Communications satellites and so forth so that helps build a business case, but at the Moon there's right.

Now there's no other buyer except for NASA. So we're now monopsony a single buyer Market where even though you have companies competing for NASA's Services. There's no one else to provide services to yet write the whole idea. Is that some Market will show. At the moon [00:30:00] so a fundamental tenet basically of why it worked at low earth orbit does not exist at the moon.

It's fairly working in low earth orbit. Well SpaceX was the only one to pull it off orbital Sciences. Well now Northrop. Never really bothered to go after other customers for their Antares rocket that NASA helped fund to provide services to the station and the launch market itself is notoriously competitive and difficult to compete in I mean SpaceX have to sue its way into compete competing for launches for the Air Force.

There's a lot of other competitive International launch services that will only use their own launch capabilities in China and Europeans and so forth. At the Moon you have even harder situation. There's even fewer people to provide services. And so again, this is why I say it's an experiment. I'm going to be really interested.

And and again, I think Matt you covered this really well with the bereshit landing landing on the moon. Is really hard. It's important to remember that like it's not an easy thing many many many things can [00:31:00] go wrong. We have these I think a little bit of rose-colored glasses looking back at Apollo and we forget that every single Landing of Apollo onto the surface of the Moon had problems, right?

They required a pilot intervention to help them land safely and not to mention all the other failed moon landings from the Soviet Union back in the time or even the US and originally with a with Ranger. It's tough and so but I think it's the right thing to experiment we can answer this question right now.

Are there better ways to do it. We're about to find out we'll probably needless to say we wish them luck Casey. Let's get into that interview because you've taken us back to Apollo and that's a good place to be for this it is and I'm excited for this interview. It's the first of what will be the next I think for.

Of the space policy Edition we're doing a series of interviews looking at the political history of Apollo and this is our little contribution to the whole Apollo 50th Anniversary [00:32:00] celebrations and looking back and we're going to be taking a look at Apollo from a variety of different perspectives that I really don't think we see much in this day and age.

So we're going to look at the politics of how Apollo came to be. We're going to look at the domestic opposition to Apollo during the 1960's why Apollo? Stopped happening at the end of the 60s and early 70s. And today we're going to learn about the Soviet side of the equation where we even racing to get to the moon.

Was there a race at all. I interviewed. Dr. Asif Siddiqui he is. I'd say literally the world's expert on the Soviet space program at this time and he has a wonderful book that he had put together unlocking all these CDs mysteries about the program what they were trying to do all of which was really wasn't released until after the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s.

And so we try to really answer that question. What were the Soviet Union Space Program doing? Why did they not end up going to the moon? And were they [00:33:00] ever actually racing? So it's a great interview. I really enjoy it and it's going to kick off again the series of new interviews we're going. Put these all together online you can look for them in the future.

But everyone on listening to space policy additional hear them through this and I hope that the audience our listeners will enjoy this as much as I did. There are multiple revelations in here. At least there were for me. We will come back to say goodbye after this conversation. The Casey had recently with Asif Siddiqui.

Let's go ahead and roll that doctor Sadiq. I want to thank you so much for joining us on this face policy Edition today. It's my pleasure. I want to start with some context about the Soviet Union Space Program particularly for those of us who were born maybe after the end of the Cold War just to give us the the sense of where this is coming from.

Can you help? Our listeners understand. What was the Soviet Union like, you know, what state was the Soviet Union in after World War II and what were some of its immediate [00:34:00] post-war goals particularly in terms of the United States? Obviously, the bigger context here is the Cold War right after World War II and the US possession of the atomic bomb.

So I think in that sense the bomb looms large over what the Soviets were. Thinking about in terms of a post-war response. But also, of course there's a massive process of reconstruction. After World War II Soviet Union was essentially devastated as many as 1700 if I remember well 1700 cities were destroyed and lots of infrastructure had to be rebuilt.

So there's a kind of rebuilding that happens, but there's also kind of an urgency to match what America is doing at that point particularly in terms of. The nuclear weapons development program and so in the 40s as you probably know the Soviet Union puts a lot of effort into building an atomic bomb which they explode in 1949.

And then the other sort of big event in the 50s is of course the death of Stalin in [00:35:00] 1953, which opens up in sort of in quotes, I guess opens up the Soviet Union a little. Where things become a little less tightened in terms of its totalitarian nature. And so we come up to the end of this 50s really where the Soviet Union is in a relatively stronger position in terms of weapons and things like that.

It's economically a bit better off than obviously the end of World War II and there's a slight bit of optimism if you might call it among the Soviet population that the war is behind us, and we're perhaps going to achieve something greater. So that's what's happening, but. Percy in terms of the bipolar situation the Soviet Union looms very large unit sort of communist nation which is positioned in direct opposition to democratic capitalism and that sort of thing but I think internally and if you could pull somebody in the Soviet Union there just there's a modicum of optimism and an expectation of growth in the country at the time.

One of the issues [00:36:00] I guess after World War II is that after the Soviet armies had moved into Eastern Europe up to fight back the German invasion. They basically stayed right or you created a series of vassal States you created this expansion of the Soviet Union and was that the core of creating this post-war tension between for lack of a better term the West in the East and the sense?

Yeah. I think you zoned in on a very very important point, which is that the creation. These essentially satellite nations are kind of buffer. If you will across Eastern Europe with Poland Czechoslovakia, Romania Bulgaria, and so on so forth and and the from the Soviet side the really the reason for all this is essentially a kind of creating a buffer to preclude the kind of invasion that had happened in.

In 1941 when the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union, but of course from the American side, this is an expansion of Communism into Europe. So it seemed very differently by the two sides. And of course that is the [00:37:00] heart of the Cold War and the division of Germany itself into East Germany and West Germany and communist rule essentially settles on all of East Eastern Europe.

And so that's essentially the setting for the cold war in Europe. I know this is a kind of a loaded term particularly for a historian. But do you think this was an inevitability the idea that this growing cold war between. Particularly the US and the Soviet Union based on this post-war condition.

Yeah. I mean it's hard to say what's inevitable. But I think I will say that for sure that it was a marriage of convenience in World War II as you know, of course the Allies were the US Great Britain France and the Soviet Union which was on the side of the Ally but because the Nazis were everybody sort of common enemy.

The relationship was rather friendly during World War II between the Soviet Union and the us, but it. Collapses very quickly in 1945-46 for a variety of reasons. Including as you mentioned the [00:38:00] release incredible division of Europe, but it's also about The Spoils of War who gets what and it's an ideological division 2 in terms of Communism and capitalism.

There's a lot going on and so I think because it's hard to imagine a different way things could have gone then these two sides really arrayed against each other. It's very clear what sides each were inside sort of came down. You already brought up the fact that the Soviet Union developed the atomic bomb, you know in response to the deployment of the atomic bomb by the United States at the end of World War II, right.

Let's bring in the idea of the intercontinental ballistic missile. You had the birth of the rocket technology. You know under the Germans towards the end of World War Two. How did that play into this? And how did that start to work its way into Soviet nuclear military policy during this Antebellum Period between the cold war or between the space age and the end of the world war.

[00:39:00] Right, you know the Germans had developed what is you know historians essentially considered the world's first long-range ballistic missile the V2 in 1945, you know Germany was in Devastation and the US and the French and the Brits and the Soviet sort of release or scampered into Germany to find what was left.

Of course. One of the goals was to get as much high-tech stuff as possible and the V2 fell under that category. There was an understanding that this was the. All of the crown so to speak for the most part the United States got all the goods. They got the best engineers and most of the material from the fee to factories, but the Soviets got a bunch of stuff to they got some mid-level engineers and they got a bunch of disassembled Rockets.

So, you know, each side takes that back to their respective countries. The narrative in the Soviet context is a little bit complicated because it's it's not a clear-cut case that they just sort of. Landed the Germans into [00:40:00] labs and they just let them work. They were essentially isolated. They're Germans and in and they worked isolated from Soviet teams, but there was an understanding that the missile would be the future of war and certainly Soviet military strategists were talking in these terms when the Soviets explode their atomic bomb in 1949 the delivery weapon for this was basically long-range bomber.

As it was in the United States The B-52s, but the Soviets really didn't have the kind of technology to aeronautical technology to develop bombers that. Drop a bomb in the US and come back. So they were looking for alternative Solutions and alternate solution is of course a missile and there's a lot of discussions what kind of a missile you could have a cruise missile, you know one with wings you could have ballistic missiles that fly into the upper atmosphere the set of problems was explored and great.

In the early 1950s and around 1954 they decide to essentially develop a whole set of long-range missile some Cruise some [00:41:00] intercontinental ballistic ones and they use some of the German technology which had been developed in a remote area outside of Moscow by the. But by and large I would say was mostly homegrown because they had really good Engineers really good ability to organize teams and they had a lot of resources which they devoted to this problem.

They were able to very rapidly build a very good missile called the R7 by about 1957. The goal of the R7 is essentially deliver a hydrogen bomb to the United States and its specs were essentially designed. From that point backwards on how heavy is a hydrogen bomb and this is how much we need to deliver and so and so forth.

So but yeah the road to that all starts in 1945 in Germany was the decision to invest in these types of missiles was that also kind of like you just looking on paper was at the obvious solution or was it in reaction? Steps taken by the United States [00:42:00] at the same thing. I feel like a lot of history in this point is the US and the Soviet Union kind of seemingly reacting to what they think the other is doing.

Would that be accurate in this case or was this just kind of its own obvious investment in terms of military strategy? Yeah again, I don't think this is entirely obvious. I think one part of the story is the action-reaction dynamic for sure and it's not just that you know one side is doing X and the other needs to match it.

It's really a perception of what they think what the other side is doing often. It's a mistaken perception. And so these kinds of things you see there's lots of examples in the Cold War where the Soviets think the u.s. Is doing something and they try to replicate it. But instead of actually.

Looking at what the US is really doing but in this case the Air Force here in the US had people in their Force. I've been talking about icbms since my 1946-47. But the ICBM project was essentially put on the back burner for a while until about nineteen fifty-three fifty-four there is a [00:43:00] long period of Investments and cruise missiles and other things and similarly in the Soviet Union people were talking about this kind of stuff they knew.

What the Americans were talking about, but putting the ICBM on the absolute Forefront doesn't happen until 1954 and somewhat coincidentally within the exact same year both countries decide to invest massive amounts in their ICBM in the u.s. It was the atlas and then the USSR. It was the R7 but this decision is very very close to each other I 1954 and both sides which is kind of an interesting Synergy.

I think but I think part of it. Is that the technology. Been perceived by experts on both sides that it's now the right time to do this part of it was a perception of what the other side was doing and part of part of it was inherent to sort of domestic capacity to reproduce are to design these things.

Do we have the expertise? Do we have the factories that sort of thing? So there's a lot of pieces that have to be fulfilled, but coincidentally this happens in the same year in [00:44:00] 1954. Every call I believe it was Walter McDougal's book making the argument that this investment in icbms will first in atomic weapons icbms pedigree on the US side under Eisenhower was more of a practical consideration in terms of maintaining.

Relatively lower cost investment for National Security compared to a massive ground Army. Do you agree with that analysis? And what did was there a similar type of cost-benefit analysis for investing in technology as the solution towards National Security in the USSR at this point. Yeah, I think there is a little bit of that of that and later on this becomes much more evident when you get to the late 50s and early 60s when.

Under Nikita Khrushchev. They basically reorient their entire strategic Force away from like Conventional Weapons in terms of Technology. The issue becomes really apparent by the late 1950s and early 60s in the Soviet [00:45:00] Union when the Soviets essentially reorient in their entire strategic Force to develop.

And more advanced strategic weapons than the conventional ones which is airplanes and ships and these kinds of things and at that point technology might say becomes a driver of things but I think early on there is the kind of calculation over what is an optimal investment of National Resources much like in the US.

It's not the missiles are going to be less expensive. In fact, there's no idea how you know, nobody really knows how expensive or not they're going to be it's more that they seem. To be a solution to a set of problems that is coming up. As you know air defense becomes much better in the 1950s. So their ability to shoot down.

For example, a B-52 the Soviets essentially developed this massive air defense system and in the u.s. They're similar are defense. So you can't really use airplanes to drop atomic bombs or long-range bomber. So how do you [00:46:00] get these bombs to the other side? Well, Maybe use a missile. There's no way we can shoot a missile down which of course becomes untrue later on.

But at that point that possibility is very remote. So the missiles become essentially a solution to overcoming the defensive system of the other side, I think cost to the extent that it's thought about is more about what we don't know. And later on I think this becomes more embedded in policy where by about 1960 Khrushchev is really thinking about cost and thinking let's just stop making like thousands of Tanks.

Let's build let's build missiles which in terms of economies of scale become cheaper at some level this decision to begin developing the R7 the two that come to like veteran come to Market was at deployed first before any us icbms was at the first intercontinental ballistic. Oh, yeah, there are seven was the world's first intercontinental ballistic missile.

It wasn't a very good intercontinental ballistic missile, but it was the first it was declared operational [00:47:00] early 1960 if I'm not wrong, so I had a long test series between 57 and 60, but it was all fully flying what might be considered InterContinental distances by. 58 and again this whole capability it was driven by the Soviet Union had a hydrogen bomb of a certain mass and that's what drove the lift capability of this ICBM by developing that.

Hey, this could also just take other things up into space corrected that that's basically how this capability was developed. Is that accurate way to say it. Yeah, that's that's very basically awkward. I mean, this is a story which is an interesting story because the Soviets were not very good at micro electronics and these kind of miniaturization so their bombs were generally larger.

And so if you had a large, let's say five. Ton explosive you have to build a rocket that could take that. I'm sorry five megatons. But so you have to [00:48:00] basically be able to launch several thousand kilograms into let's say close to orbital velocity. So that made the rocket essentially bigger, but of course, I will taneous lie you start to imagine that this is the same thing that could be used to if you added a little bit of extra velocity you could reach orbital velocity now, It's not like they suddenly realized oh, by the way, I'm this rocket could also launch a satellite.

It's that the guys who were designing the rocket went right from the beginning new this it wasn't on paper the never told anybody but they designed the rocket because these guys were essentially space enthusiasts there were going to design a rocket for the military to deliver hydrogen bomb. And oh, yeah, by the way, we're not going to mention it but this rocket can also reach orbital velocity.

So I think that's part of the incredible story of this project is that this was a kind of stealth Space Program from the beginning by a bunch of guys who just wanted to go to space. It's not that they didn't want to do the weapon stuff too because that was their bread and [00:49:00] butter but they were doing both and by 1955 it becomes pretty obvious that this is going to be successful and they start proposing the satellite project.

Top level political guys. This is maybe a good time to bring up korolev. Yeah, and and forgive my pronunciation of the all of the Russian names that will be coming here. I'm just kind of angle them but Sergei korolev, I mean he again compared often to the Verner Von Braun who. Thought made the same calculation working for the Germans and then for the u.s.

Right they eat it. He was designed he wanted to go into space. The only way you can get government investment would be to build missiles for more of a practical use of that technology. What was. Cora loves kind of quick background here. And because your this is who essentially you're talking about, right who had dreamed of space for a long long time early and Rocket enthusiasts.

These were the first I think I heard them described as the first like space nerds right going way back into the day rock. Yeah, you could say that they could say that I [00:50:00] mean Carly I was biography is so incredibly. Fascinating and it still pays dividends and when you start reading it, but I think the basic idea is that he's born in nineteen nineteen.

Oh seven and he's he grows up in the 20s at that time. He's actually very much interested in Aeronautics. He's not really interested in space. He wants to build gliders and he has this idea that he's going to build a rocket plane. This was his son. Is his dream in and when he was in his 20s, but he's an incredible organizer.

He's incredibly inspirational as a person. He's very hard-headed. He's like one of a kind that kind of person in a group whose both incredibly smart a good organizer and an inspiration. So the very rare character I think in that sense. But here he's he gets interested in space but it's a misnomer to suggest that that's all he wanted to do.

I think unlike Von Braun who I think his biographer, like for example, Mike New Field would say that fund was essentially a space nerd from day one and that's what he wanted [00:51:00] to do Carly. I was a little bit different. I think he had had a more practical bent in him. He was also going to do a bunch of other stuff.

You was really as I said interest in Aeronautics use interested in rocket airplanes and all sorts of other things, but he is interested in space but he's also very hard-headed realist in that sense. He knows what he has to do in order to get there. And yeah, so he's the one in charge in the 1950s of a giant organization called okb-1 which is still around.

It's outside of Moscow and he had essentially founded this organization. He's it presiding over thousands of Engineers yet a very rough life, which I can get into but essentially essentially get through all of that stuff and he's now heading this project. It's not just him. There's a bunch of people like-minded people around him glushko take on robbed of its Hydro who are also really angling for the space thing.

They're not just looking for. Military solution to this they're sort of building their designs around and aspiration to go to space. And so this very core group of like-minded people essentially pushed [00:52:00] this program in a particularly different way. They're very lucky because they have currently of two-headed because he knows.

How to work the system you knows how to talk they'll talk Etc. He knows how to get things done because he's not just a complete space nerd. He's not with his head in the clouds. He knows exactly what to do. As I said a very hard-headed realist. You also knows that you know, we can't dream too far away.

Too far ahead. You know, we have to really be realistic and what we can achieve and it's telling that the very first proposal that he essentially allows his his underlings and his associates to send up to the government on space is in May 1954 at the exact moment when he knows the ICBM is going to happen literally the week or the month.

He sends up this purple not before he doesn't like pester anybody. He doesn't do anything but the moment the ICBM gets approved immediately. The first letter goes up to the politburo. Hey guys, we have a proposal for a satellite, you know, and that he pushes that for until August of [00:53:00] 1955 when the politburo essentially.

Approves this idea and he the way he casts it is very intelligent. He says look we're building this weapon. It's going to be a great ICBM. We're going to do what it what we said it's going to do which is deliver a hydrogen bomb. But if we just add a little bit of extra velocity we can also put a satellite into space and guess what it won't disrupt a ICBM program.

I guarantee you we just want a couple of rockets and even those Rockets will test stuff that we need for the ICBM. This is going to be for the ICBM. And secondly, he sends a bunch of which is very smart. He attaches the folder of cutouts from the American Press saying how the Americans are preparing to launch a silent.

This is all just hearsay from all sorts of different magazines, but he puts it in a very clever way and says look the Americans are going to do this we can do it very. Effort so you see in that in the very early days already an example of how he's very clever and playing the system to get what he wants.

He waits for the right time. [00:54:00] He says the right thing he attaches the right rationale to it. So it's very I think quite a brilliant move on his part. How were resources allocated in the Soviet Union and even maybe more fundamentally. You know we talked about it being a communist country with a command economy.

But how did money work like literally? How did money working at in that system? Yeah. Well, I mean the the best way to think about it is this essentially the it's the most obvious thing you can imagine if the state essentially allocates all resources, and there was actually an agency called ghost plan, which is sort of the responsible party for allocating all resources, since there's no market economy.

Essentially you don't work. Long lines of supply and demand, although there is some variation or some sort of manner of that working. I think for the purposes of the space program, for example, especially as you get into the 60s, it becomes a lot more complicated the Space Program essentially [00:55:00] works as a kind of you know, there's money allocated to the space program, but essentially the customer if you will.

Is essentially the military because the military is the one that's essentially operating the space program and a little side part of that is essentially all the civilian stuff because the military operates so many different things the civilian stuff meaning like the human space flight program and so on so forth because the military has a lot of.

Things that they do in space that is not civilian so to speak but essentially money gets allocated and then it gets dispersed to particular organizations. They have goals and targets to meet and their goal is to meet them and so they have essentially one year plans to your plans five-year plans as such essentially but there are things built into the system that we might recognize in terms of let's say encouraging.

Innovation in the sense that for example, if you do meet your targets or if you exceed your targets the people working in [00:56:00] that Enterprise will get bonuses. So bonuses are a way to incentivize engineer's for example or holiday bonuses, whatever so so there's a kind of system built in you also benefit from promotions you benefit from The Perks like say you got a better apartment.

There are things that you can get from working. Let's say better than your competitor. When I say competitor there is a kind of built-in competition a bunch of Scholars have been looking at the Soviet economy. Now since the collapse in the Cold War and we recognize that there's actually kind of a built-in competition especially in the defense economy.

The Soviet space program was a kind of little competition between a number of different organizations who are all trying to build the same thing in the US. Of course you have you have a phase where people propose. Things and the request for proposals phase. Let's say You Want to Build a Better tank or something a number of big corporations proposed.

They're designed for the tank. There's reviewed the best tank gets pick the other guys say bye and they move on in the [00:57:00] Soviet Union. There was a kind of a similar system in the space program, which is that okay. We want to build a better. Next Generation space ship so bunch of design bureaus which are the corporation's essentially proposed proposals.

There's a review in one gets picked. But often what happens that selection is very fraught with all sorts of other factors because each of these organizations is directed by very very influential person. Sometimes they don't want to accept the decision. Sometimes they take a rejection personally, they take it up to the top and so and so forth.

It's extremely fraud and that's what essentially one of the reasons one of the problems of the Soviet space program in the 1960s. Is this kind of a very bad version of a competitive market where they really didn't figure out the way the. Works in terms of a competitive economy. It's kind of a mixture of State socialism and small-scale Market competition.

And this is a very bad combination in [00:58:00] that particular context mu kind of insinuated this but based on personal relationships a lot of the times right? I think absolutely yeah the phrase about this that kind of who you knew or who you. Do you have it unusual ways to incentivize or you know how well you were connected or if your son worked for the premiere or something like that?

Right? Exactly. Yeah, so that mean, you know, we shouldn't minimize that these things probably happened in the u.s. To who you know, it's Etc. But there was a particular way in which authority was really embedded. Actual leaders of Enterprises a very superficial parallel might be like Elon musk's and the Jeff Bezos basis of today, but I think in that time in the 60s and 50s when you had Carly oven glushko and cello mine all these are of giants of the Soviet Aerospace industry you their ability to play the system was very much predicated on.

It's really all about themselves and not really anybody else and I think [00:59:00] that's kind of feature of the system. It's really built around individual fiefdoms. I'm not so much the greater good so to speak right and that was ultimately also its weakness as will get to with korolev. One other point that I wanted to to bring up.

It was in addition to this issue of coral of being this kind of Master at working this system that we just talked about. You highlight something the books. I never really thought about before but that korolev wrote this letter and 54 proposing a satellite to the to the politburo. And this was the beginning of a trend right you point out that it was the chief designer is.

Of these bureaus that proposed missions to the political leadership and not the other way around. This is all kind of bottom-up motivations for the the Soviet space efforts. Is that true basically for the next 15 years. Was that effectively the case. Yes, absolutely. I think that's a that's a feature that you identified really?

Well that it's all coming from the bottom up [01:00:00] to the top. There was a perception 19 I think in the 60s and the 70s and the 80s when people study the Soviet space program. Because we sort of had this understanding of the totalitarian monolithic Soviet communist government that everything was coming from the top, you know, Khrushchev would call in his designers and say you got to do this next month.

Well, it turns out that actually all of this stuff came from the bottom up and people like Carl Levin glushko and Charlemagne other guys were just like sending a plethora of proposals up often. It was they were in competition not with America, but with each other which is the sort of. Is he part of it?

Yeah, you see this pattern but it's not that the guys at the top lets it Khrushchev or Brezhnev weren't involved. For example after the first Sputnik korolev essentially. This is a rare case in which the top leadership were kind of involved because Khrushchev said can you do something very quickly again?

Khrushchev's tells Carl if [01:01:00] this and Carla goes back to his design beer and what can we do within a month? We can put a dog up in space and he's so it's a kind of dynamic that works very well for a while where the leadership is responsive to the proposals or often encourages it but this kind of dynamic is unsustainable because there's no kind of.

National level space policy in the Soviet Union until very late in the game in the 70s really there's a kind of Cobble together space policy that happens because of these spurts of proposals from down below. Well we got to do this we got to do that. We got to do this we got there's no kind of sustained ideology of space exploration until very late in the game and part of that is a manifestation of this.

Fiefdom mentality where every person essentially is working for their own organization trying to outmaneuver some other organization. So you have a kind of chaotic system in the 1960s, especially that's what I found so fascinating reading through [01:02:00] your book because from the US perspective at this time all of that complexity disappears and they just see the outcomes.

They're seeing it through this us lens of this totalitarian. State control and so everything must have a reason to happen. But in reality, I mean you identified three names I want to actually talk about coral we mentioned he runs okb-1 but then the other two glushko and you have to help me on the pronunciation of follow me.

Yeah chelomei are and cello actually had never heard about until I read your book. They each have their own design bureaus, right? Yes. Yes and at the risk of going to 2 into numbers here, but glushko is. Building engines is that fair to say and then tell them a kind of comes out of nowhere and tries to make a play for Coral loves hole spacing right completely.

Yeah. It's an interesting. This is why I think is somebody summer could make a great like 10 episode mini series on HBO or something because I think each of [01:03:00] them individually have an amazing life and their personalized which very few people have talked about our kind of crazy, but their interpersonal relations are also crazy so as.

Many have talked about korolev and glushko had a different organizations korolev essentially headed the ICBM designed organization glushko Purdue had a very large organizations that developed engines for korolev. So he supplied the rocket engines whirring highly efficient, really wonderful engines and glushko was.

Really a space nerd from day one. He was a kid growing up on Jules Verne much like Wernher von Braun. He just that that was his ultimate goal. He was not like a hard-headed realist like Carly of so glushko, but they sort of got together in the 30s when they were very young in their early 20s, really and they became friends or colleagues and some but of course the stalinist purges hit and they were both arrested for on false charges thrown into prison.

They were both forced [01:04:00] to essentially denounce. There are all sorts of Sir toxic things happen in their relationship. They managed to get out of it into the 50s and they maintain essentially cordial relations until it collapsed around 1959 1960 and they essentially couldn't even be in the same room with each other.

They couldn't stand each other, but they had to work together because glucose provides the engines for Carla's Rockets, but glushko also had aspirations to essentially escape the shadow of Carly. I think he was just jealous that this guy's taking. You know, I was the true space nerd, you know, and he wanted to essentially create his own Empire when Karlov dies in 1966 about 10 years.

I mean 1974 glushko is a appointed head of car leaves organization the sort of ironic triumphant peak of his career glushko. And if you look at Soviet official state books from the 70s and 80s if you can read Russian, The history books on their Soviet space program then slowly put glushko as the.

[01:05:00] It's because he's now in charge and he reached restates the history itself. And cello me is an interesting character telling me was the only one who had a scientific background. He had a PhD, he studied the vibrations of liquids and he was a very consummate scientist and gets into this business because he's deeply ambitious and he wants recognition in this field.

He originally builds cruise missiles, but out of the blue in 1958. Khrushchev son essentially joins his organization at that point. It's not just for that reason. I think chelomei essentially Leverage is that connection and becomes a giant and he essentially starts to challenge the dominance of the other two guys and essentially by 1964 SI has a giant network of organizations working for him and he wants to build space planes and space stations and.

Incredibly ambitious plans to go to Mars and so and so forth. So these three guys are jockeying for positions in the 1960s in a way that I think if we had [01:06:00] known at all in the 1960 would have been shocked because the from the outside it looks like one monolithic program going lock step by step by step into space and the discovery of these guys is really sort of illuminated the Steep complexity of the program.

And ultimately a weakness in a sense because they're absolutely they're competing and kind of dividing the resources and the energy and the focus because these internal Turf battles between these design cheese at some level here. There's such a deep irony everything about the moon program. I feel like it looking particular from the US side and that.

You see, you know, the classic John F. Kennedy kind of panicky memo the week after Garin which is you know, is there anything we can do to beat the Soviets? Because at this point in nineteen, you know, it's just kind of jump forward and that's a gloss over this the whole other episode Sputnik and and Gagarin but the and Sputnik 2 and all the lead-up to that by this point.

Kennedy [01:07:00] had taken over had come in as this youthful president saying he's going to do anything. It takes to stand up against communism. And then he had the kind of the one-two punch of Bay of Pigs and then guerin's flight or vice versa from the US perspective and you know, you had this whole political motivation to kind of puff up the Soviet Union space capabilities right of by the insinuation of being able to place these large things in orbit.

They have bigger Rockets than us and they're able to launch these offensive weapons against us. No better than we are but really they're just looking at the surface level Soviet space program for what it was didn't even really have a clear long-term goal or Direction in 1961 large lifts Rockets, but there wasn't any goal internally, right all of these Feats that you were seeing were almost kind of like the peacock feathers of these guys trying to impress the political leadership to gain favoritism to focus on their program.

I think that's an accurate way to describe it we're seeing. In the 60s, at [01:08:00] least if you pick up the New York Times or the Washington Post and the history of Soviet space achievements. We are seeing that very tip of the iceberg. And as you say maybe the sort of really the surface level stuff the vostok missions and cosmonauts and space in the voskhod.

And so and so forth Alexei leonov spacewalk, it's not that they're not significant achievement. I don't mean to diminish them. But what what you're seeing is essentially a very ad hoc. Program that's almost stumbling forward from thing to thing to thing without any clear-cut plan on the surface. Of course, it seems like amazing like moving forward.

I think that's why there is so much panic and part of that is related to secrecy. We didn't for example know in 1964 when the Soviets launched the voskhod. It was actually just the earlier vostok just retrofitted to cram three guys in. Because we didn't see it. It seemed like a incredible achievement and a step forward.

But internally, of course when she [01:09:00] get down into the weeds, you see korolev glushko chellamay young a lot. So these guys just like trying to articulate their own position and what they saw what they saw is a. Not only the next Frontier but also a lucrative contracts. They wanted contracts. They wanted to expand their organizations and we're best to do that than to push ahead into space.

There was a plan in June of 1960 which was put together by korolev and his Engineers for a long-term exploration of space. I've looked at this document. There's a lot of things in the plan including ultimately missions to Mars which was going to happen. Let's say the late 60s early 70s, but that plan is essentially scrapped very soon.

Because of all sorts of other things people can't agree even though it was the plan approved by the politburo. It's essentially scrap very soon after so they did try to do that. But again, the personality conflicts were too much and I can get into some other reasons why these plans never worked out but one of them was essentially personality conflicts, There's one [01:10:00] really important aspect which is the the heavy lift Rockets.

Yes. I'm out of this for the N1 and at the time the end to you have this long-term goal. What type of heft did did that kind of statement? Really? Carry the comparison being JFK makes it his big statement. We're going to go to the Moon returned by the end of the decade and then all these resources start to flow into this effort, but that's not what happened in 1960, right?

Yeah, there was never a huge investment. I mean that was the only thing that was fascinating that the Soviet space program and maybe even debatable whether you can even call a program is space programs. Or seem perennially underfunded. Yes in the Soviet Union even though it didn't look like it. So why didn't a statement from the politburo behind korolev have that kind of impact the way that Kennedy's declaration and subsequent congressional action did yeah, that's a good question.

And and that's a question. I've been grappling with a little bit I think part of that had to do with. [01:11:00] Well, first of all, there was this big document in June of 1960. We're going to build these heavy lift rockets and 1 & 2 Etc. We're going to develop all this high-tech stuff. We're going to build infrastructure.

We're going to have long-term goals Space Station's missions to the Moon missions to Mars, etc. Etc. It gets essentially eviscerated about a year later when Khrushchev and a bunch of this sort of advisers start to think about look the really the highest priority in. The Soviet Union terms of any kind of allocation of resources should be strategic.

Parity the coffers the funds are coming from the military for all this by the way, because the structure of the program is built so that the essentially the military is the primary customer and they're paying for it. I think that worked against the Soviet space program because the military is essentially funding this entire Enterprise and the military is really not interested in space.

They want better icbms their icbms don't work that well, so they want better icbms. And so in [01:12:00] 1961, there's a kind of revision decision saying that look we need to curb back some of this space stuff and we need to build icbms better ones and in 1962-63. There's a whole bunch of these new. Building these very high performance icbms at the in those days the Space Program essentially gets cut back at least the space program the civilian space program and only in roughly 1964 and there's a lot of reasons why but basically Karlov and his advisors start to notice that NASA is launching these Saturn one rockets and one of them is launched in early 1964 with a boilerplate Apollo spacecraft, and I think that.

To use of a casual term freaks him out because I think he's he is. It's one thing for Kennedy to talk about the moon and these kinds of things in 1961, but it's another thing to see an actual Apollo spacecraft launched into orbit and he meets with Khrushchev sometime in in June and he takes a bunch of his advisor says [01:13:00] look, they're really going to the moon.

This is not some fantasy. We kind of you know, we're hanging around for a while. They are going to the Moon we tried to propose this project in 1960 the N1 Etc. It's gotten some funding we've gotten some help we made some Headway, but we need a national commitment. On a space project and that project has to be a moon landing and that's when Khrushchev essentially signs off on it in August of 1964.

And it's been three years since Kennedy by the way. And in that time there's been a lot of other stuff going on the ICBM project needs to be prioritized. There's been infighting among car between car live and glushko over the n 1 which is another another epic thing which they can't agree on what the n 1 should even look like and then there's been other sort of.

These kinds of vostok and other space spectacular is being implemented by Carla's organizations. He's been very busy and not being able to prioritize the longer term things. But I think you're right that these kinds of [01:14:00] decisions the US are made and everybody sticks to it the main 61 decision and all the contractors line up.

The Lor decision is made all the necessary as are allocated funding web steps in Jim Webb, and he sort of takes command in the USSR the. XD decision essentially overturned next year and there's a whole chaotic face for a couple of years and finally in 64 they get their act together and that is when essentially that is their main 61 moment and that but happened 3 years too late.

Yeah. Yeah. I want to dwell on this a little bit because this is kind of the Crux of the the motivation of this of this particular episode is is where the Soviet was there actually a space race basically and and that's a very simplistic way to put this but 61 Kennedy makes the. Famous announcement and speech.

why doesn't the USSR take this seriously the US was reacting again to the state of this perception that the the Soviet program was moving on this clear pathway, [01:15:00] right? And what can we do to beat them in space? And the moon landing was the only thing they felt confident they could beat them. Why didn't Khrushchev say?

All right, we're going to do this two or this is a great way to clarify what we're doing. We're going to focus this on One Design Bureau. Did they just dismiss it? What happened there? That is a very good question and I've spent all many years trying to trap find this dancer to this and I've talked to a number of Russian veterans are number of Russian historians about this because normally we would expect a kind of national decision like this to.

To be watched and at least discussed in the Soviet Union as there were many other cases, by the way when for example in 1955, the Eisenhower Administration says we're going to launch a satellite. It's discussed at the very high levels of the Soviet government. But here we are Kennedy makes this amazing speech at Congress.

It's reported in the New York Times The Washington Post. It's reported everywhere. What is the Soviet response and my my take on this is It's not that it [01:16:00] wasn't reported or discussed. But there's two mitigating things. I think we have to be clear on one is that the Soviet self confidence in their space program was at a Peak at the time you had done so many first and you know, you can list them down from Sputnik 2 Gagarin and of course the crowning achievement the coup de gras was the launch of Yuri Gagarin on April 12, 1961 and for many.

In the Soviet decision-making apparatus. That was the wind. That was the Space Race. We had just won the Space Race. So you had you had Peak hubris that we were in charge. We're in the driver's seat these sort of American little piddly suborbital flights are just you know, nothing to us. So that's there's a kind of hubris that plays into a non reaction, but there's a second aspect of it, which is that I don't think they took Kennedy very seriously.

Yes, he goes out and makes a speech and yes, things are good. Probably going to happen, but they really underestimated the effect [01:17:00] to which Congress would respond to Kennedy and I think even Kennedy to did to some degree because I think I think logs and talks about how an eye on his limo ride back from Congress.

He was very anxious and insecure about what he just said and would Congress take him seriously, but I think in the Soviet Union there just like well, this is just words. Are people going to line up behind Kennedy? No one particular story. I talked about Yogi stepanovich veteran who was a very respected historian who worked with the archives.

He looked at this problem. What what happened in May and June of 1961. He says, well, you know, I was sort of discussed but kind of dismissed and that was it everything that happened after that. It's really around 1963 that korolev you see the murmurs of notice already in the fall of 1963 when car lives.

Internal decision maker start to track what's happening with Apollo and they start to get panicked. What is actually are they really doing this and that is when he puts [01:18:00] together this program called L3, which is to get a Soviet Cosmonaut on the moon, but it takes a year to get it approved and by that time.

Paul is way ahead of the game and to get to your other question was there is space for yes, I do. Yes absolutely. Was there a moon race? Yes, even in August of 1964 when they put this plan together, they want to be first. They're not just doing it to be second. It's clear in the documents that they're going to try and land somebody their goal is the end of 1968.

Because that was their insurance policy. We're going to get a guy on the moon before 1968 ends and that way we will be first and so they weren't they really believe they were in a race. Yeah, there's two things. I want to just touch on from what you said one is this idea of the of the hubris of the Soviet program at this point would well-earned frankly and I think yeah, but also you make this point that I found really interesting in the book that you know in terms of what was the value.

[01:19:00] Of the Space Program to the Soviet Union in a sense. Why was it so politically useful or propaganda propagandistic lie useful and you say something along the lines that there was this perception that the Soviet Union was a country of farmers and Factory workers. By going into space that is probably the easiest and most obvious visual counterfactual to that impression.

Right just by going into space. You didn't need to land on the moon to win that perception game. Yeah. I think that's it. That's also a good point. I think. Space was for many and many people today. It is as kind of an avatar and arbiter of all things high-tech and it certainly was in the 1950s and 60s and for the Soviet Union.

I mean, I think most Americans considered the Soviet Union as a nation of being a collective farms and and tractors and things like that. So they suddenly were number one and they were number one repeatedly and for a domestic audience. This was a [01:20:00] moment of great inspiration. That our country which defeated the Nazis was destroyed.

We paid a great sacrifice for it. Unlike the u.s. Came out number one in where it matters in science and technology in the Space Race. We were number one. We got the first satellite into space. We got Yuri Gagarin into space that's to that they will always have for them. It's true. The future was ahead.

But I think the moon loomed large. In some sense because the u.s. It essentially moved the goalposts. I tell this joke, sometimes when I'm talking about this topic, which is for the for the Soviets and the Russians, if you go to Russia nowadays, who won the Space Race well that we won the Space Race meaning the Russians, what'd you guys do?

What do you mean? Well we got Gagarin into space did you and so it's for them? It's like well we wanted but at some point in 19 in the mid-60s, it was clear that the u.s. Had moved the goalposts. The spacers was now the moon and at that point, I think there's a. Machinery of response that sort of [01:21:00] activated itself that we can't be second.

We've been first for too long we can't be second when we to get to the moon and I think if there's a kind of what some historians called technological inertia, it's like technological momentum that sets in and that momentum is to get you to be first again, and I think that was part of the deal 64 rolls around we have.

I don't know exactly what you call these a decree from the Central Committee saying that this is going to be the goal. We're going to land on the moon and it's going to we're going to do it faster than the Americans. To do that we're going to use this new rocket that has been under development and been under resign, you know, redesign redesign redesign the N1 so you can we just briefly touch on the N1 program and because it plays such a prominent role and it's kind of the linchpin of this whole program.

That's a really fascinating story in itself, you know, then when was proposed around 1960. Bye Carly ahhh of and his team. It was a essentially [01:22:00] approved by 1962 as a kind of all-purpose heavy-lift rocket. It's a super giant rocket basically, but it's the whole the development of it is fraught because they can't agree on essentially what it should look like or what kind of propellants it should use and there's a long and interesting story about why they can't agree on that essentially car live one.

High-performance cryogenic propellants like liquid oxygen liquid hydrogen etcetera and glushko who is the primary engine designers wants to use storable propellants, which are hypergolic. They ignite on contact the engines are simpler and so on so forth and there's all sorts of pros and cons. You can parse it out.

Why one is better than the other but essentially they can't agree and the winner is Carla if he says no we got to use. Grishko refuses to work on it. So he has to hire somebody else Carla. I'm simplifying a very complicated story but essentially hire somebody from Samara which is a town famous for building a [01:23:00] aircraft and this guy who the higher kuznetsov has only Built jet engines.

Okay, so he's not an expert on rocket engine, but he's up for the task and he's going to build it. So that's that's who they hired The Contractor Building engines. It's a monster. The rocket has 30 engines on the first stage and the problem becomes essentially and why you have 30 engines where you kind of when you can have five well because if you have five they have to be extremely high thrust engines like the F ones for the Saturn 5 and kuznetsov.

Who had just stepped in to this job was not able to do that. He said he was also offering to build a particular type of engine because this stage combustion engine which is extremely high performance design. So you also want to do a cutting-edge rocket engine. So because these weren't fixed really high performance engines.

He wanted to make smaller ones about hundred fifty tons for a piece and if you have these small ones, you have to put 30 of them on the first stage and that's what they did. When you put [01:24:00] 30 engines on a first stage, there's all sorts of other problems. You have to synchronize their firing. What if one fails, you know, all sorts of other massive problems of control and so this box the program down in all sorts of other Technical cul-de-sacs and also current live takes a decision while he's early on that.

They're not going to static test the entire first stage of the rocket. Which is a catastrophe because it's like, you know, well, we're just going to test this thing in Flight. Why does he take this decision because he thinks it would be too expensive to build a ground test and and too long and by the way the essential testing facility, which might have built this has essentially been occupied by the Gusteau's engines and this is a deliberate policy from glushko to essentially sabotage the project the linchpin of the entire lunar effort the N1.

In a fantastically complex rocket but also being actively undermine by a very powerful [01:25:00] design bureau chief who because of their Mutual distrust between core element and glushko. So this is and he knew this was the priority. I mean, it's not like he was unaware of the Central Committee. The Koreans right there was of course he was there is just never did was there just never I mean you always see Apollo is kind of like everyone kind of roll their sleeves up.

Okay, we got to beat the Soviets or something, right and and like there's kind of this Unity. At least that's how it was presented. Now this idea of that it was a national effort. It sounds like from this type of behavior that there was never the same sense of national importance. That way you would put aside personal.

Yeah, I agree and it's startling actually because I don't claim to understand it. But the personal animosity between these two people were incredibly intense and quite vicious. I think more from glushko than from Carly of but really from both because call of actually invited glushko to participate.

At [01:26:00] some points nevertheless the two men were at loggerheads and at some point in 1965-66 glushko actually goes to cello man says look, I've been shut out of the Moon program. Do you want to propose something and what they do is they propose an entire alternative rocket called the you are 700 and they get it approved by the minister in charge of the space program and they start building it like a let the little plan B for the Moon project.

It's only scheduled a year later when people come to their senses and seeing what are we doing? But that's how much he really wanted to bring down. Then one. I think he just thought both of personal reasons bro for technical reasons. I think he just thought that this was a bad idea grifter meaning.

So I think there were all sorts of things arrayed against him and the other thing was Karlov dies. In January of 1966 another story in itself. But anyway, his successor whose name is Vasily Mission glushko didn't like Carla glushko detested machine. Like [01:27:00] they just I mean you still hear their families today arguing.

That's how bad it is. So glushko did everything in his power to undermine Mission and eventually got him fired eight years later. So I think. There's just a lot of personal story embedded in the N1. So I think the fact that they even got this thing ready to fly. 1969 is amazing, but they did they got it ready.

I was going to say the n one heavy lift. It still didn't match the Saturn V incapability though that that was another critical thing because that was part of. Problems ultimately using the N1 already very complex rocket the the what was it the n1l 3DS system the decal together for landing on the moon was incredibly complex, right?

Is there can we just Briefly summarize what they that initial plan was from 411 in 60 mid-60s is quite a complicated process and part of the architecture of the project was designed essentially. To ensure because they had blow such low confidence in the electronics that they needed to build a very robust [01:28:00] architecture that have a lot of backups.

The idea was essentially to land a backup lunar lander on the moon first a Rover on the moon like an automated Luna card Type R over a near each other and then you have to have a couple of lunar satellites for communications. Then you have the actual to architecture of the landing which is a lunar orbit Rendezvous, which was similar to Apollo which you basically have a Mothership in lunar orbit and an actual land.

But they could they manage to squeeze in only one person in the land or not to like in the Paulo lamb and this one guy would essentially leave the mothership which was a kind of a souped-up saw use in lunar orbit climbed into the Lander to an Eva because they didn't have an internal docking system which was and I could get into that why but anyway, they he gets into the Lander.

He lands the thing the idea is that what if the take off from the Moon isn't successful. You can then go walk over to that. [01:29:00] Remember that Rover you can get into that River and drive himself to the backup lunar lander and then take off in the back of lunar lander so that these built-in redundancies of the project which is highly complicated and there's all sorts of other weak points in the program.

How many launches did this take to I mean that was the other thing right did it take like three launches of the of the N1 to get everything into low earth orbit first? Yeah didn't exactly I mean if you if you had the backup Lander. Certainly, you needed at least two and then maybe a third for redundancy.

But yeah, you needed multiple launches, even though it's technically achievable with One n one because he had a lunar orbit. But in case of it sort of failures, you needed all these backup things happening. You need a couple of protons and you know, so you need lots of things going on. When I started to list this out in my book the actual architecture even I was kind of flabbergasted like that when I read that paragraph I was like, oh my God, that's a lot of stuff.

But that's how they sort of did the plan which was essentially redundancy redundancy redundancy [01:30:00] redundancy. We can't do redundancy through Electronics, but we can do extra stuff on the ground on the moon. So if the our land or fails to take off the guy can get in the lunar Cod drive to the other Lander and take off, but it's essentially.

The complicated project and it's I think it's just a fantasy. I mean at some point that this is going to happen but to their credit, you know, there's this all sorts of little parts of the story that are kind of interesting, you know one is that they actually tested the lunar lander engine in Earth orbit.

Three times was very highly successful performed wonderfully on in terms of its automated Mission and these engines of the N1 which were so problematic at the time. Turn out to be very high performance stage combustion engine. So there's like these little aspects of it that are kind of interesting.

They try to develop this incredibly sophisticated algorithm. For example for the base of the rocket to control the 30 engines and like for example, if one of the engines failed after takeoff, This algorithm [01:31:00] automatically shut off the exact opposite engine on the other side of the rocket automatically immediately.

And so they developed all this these systems to account for. The shortcomings of Technology really so they're struggling through this design process. The economy was not great in the Soviet Union at in the mid-60s. Yeah. That's true. I mean it's worse much later in the 70s and 80s. I think it peaks in the early 60s, but there are lots of problems.

But as I said, the main problem is funding and the way I calculated it because you know, it's apples and oranges with rubles and dollars but. The main thing was that the majority of funding that was dispersed by the military was not for space. And as I said, the military is the primary funder of the space program.

So in order to run a space program, you have to convince the military that it's useful, you know, I found these amazing quotes from military guys like top Soviet generals like we don't need the mood program. Why are we [01:32:00] doing this Davis or a cobbling together this program, but my guess is roughly.

We say 1960s dollars about 25 billion for Apollo. My guess is about one-third of that is what the Soviets were spending spending on the N1 L3 project. So not that much if you think about it, maybe a half but no more than half. I noted this one that you said like they were trying to get a test for Recovery efforts of the lunar return capsule in the ocean.

It was like in the Indian Ocean the military they said they need like 9,000. Like Personnel and millions of rubles to like do this test. Yeah, and they said like absolutely I mean I'll give you ever get exact quote but they're a bit. I'm not going to give you anything for this is ridiculous. Yeah again that just shows you I mean, this is after that there was a second decree right in 1967.

That's right committing to this effort to try to loosen these dollars, but you had this disconnect between the very top political leadership and [01:33:00] then the actual people who controlled the resources never. Seem to buy into it. Well, I think you identified something the other problem. It wasn't just the problem of you know, Carla fighting glushko fighting chelomei.

There's also what we call inter-organizational conflict. So the politicians in the politburo would sign this say this is a national commitment we're making and that's what it said. I think in the 67-degree National commitment to beat Apollo, but the guys who control the purse strings with a military and they refuse to often even they would just say well we're not going to do it.

Will do X will not why because we need other things. We need to fund our military. And so there's a kind of tripartite division happening between the politicians the military the designers and so and so forth. That's also very. This 1967 decree just had acknowledged it again. It recommitted to the sixth.

I mean they're going to be t'pol but it had these almost insane timeline proposed like we're going to land next year. Basically. Yeah on the movie The Fantastic are almost as if they could snap their [01:34:00] fingers and and make it so I think there was a feeling that we've worked really hard and we're going to start seeing the fruits of it very soon.

I think what they expected was every launch would be successful. That's what they're expecting. That's why that decree exists because but of course, you know, there's a circumlunar project that there's a series of failures and they finally brought the N1 out in May of 1968 to the. And they were close to launching but they found I don't it's been a while but I think they found cracks or something on the first stage and that completely derail the whole thing for now almost a year.

So I think there was an expectation that it might happen because once you start flying them, maybe it'll be fast, but it's ultimately a fantasy and I just don't see even in with the 67 decreed wasn't going to happen. It might have happened in 71 ish but not in 69, I think. Putting in one on the patent 68 that's what freaked out the u.s.

[01:35:00] Intelligent. Yeah Services, right? They were thinking. Oh man. They were there actually really close. Let's actually jump back and say from the US perspective. What publicly I mean globally I guess was being acknowledged from the Soviet Union at this time. It seemed like there was kind of mixed messages were they really racing or not?

Despite what they were doing internally because the N1 was a secret project the people making the pieces for it. Didn't even know what they were making pieces for it. Yeah, it was extremely extremely secret. The first time the word zen one was printed anywhere in the Soviet media was in August of 1989.

I mean there is no way that anybody even knew it existed. It was a violation of national state law to reveal that it existed. But of course the CIA knew it existed and of course in the spring of 68, they saw the rocket the publicly the Soviets were like, we're not racing anybody. But what happened was of course, when you [01:36:00] send a cosmonaut to a foreign country like Japan or somewhere the cosmonauts know what's going on there too excited there too eager to reveal that.

This is happening and all these Snippets would come out your oh, yeah, we were going to we're going to go to the moon and when they would call back to Moscow you like. Well you shouldn't have said that but yeah, I think officially there's no race. There's no rocket. There's nothing the idea was that.

They can announce it. Once it you know, they get to the point of launching and N1 people figured it out. And it's not just a CIA. I think other people amateurs were beginning to see some weird. Signs that the Soviet Union was heading for the moon maybe heard of obviously Jim oberg James oberg who wrote about the Soviet space program quite a bit in the 70s and 80s by 75 or so.

He wrote a very good article saying the Soviet Union had a moon program seven people were fake trying to figure out this stuff just by looking at different signs, but officially this was a non-event and when it comes out in 1989, it's [01:37:00] kind of. Amazing, you know revelatory moment. The weight came out is also interesting but basically the official because it's still Soviet times at that time.

So we izvestia and profit are published to very lengthy articles on the N1. It's kind of a shock late 60s. You know, you have the full momentum behind Apollo. You still don't know exactly what the Soviets are doing. You getting these mixed messages the cosmonauts are saying one thing the public face is saying another but the cia's seeing these giant Rockets being put on the pad lots of construction right building the facilities to launch.

You know, these major launch facilities. Can you make the argument that seeing this spy data basically incentivised? The u.s. To go for the Apollo 8 mission faster than they were, you know that circumlunar mission faster than they would have otherwise because they were also watching there was the zond program, right?

This is had a circumlunar effort to try to at least one up the Americans one [01:38:00] more time. So what role did that play in driving Apollo 8, but also let's just acknowledge quickly what they were trying to do with with Jean. But the Zone Program was a separate project just to send a crew around the moon and like a slingshot around the Moon and back to Earth relatively simple project.

It was kind of collaboration between Carla and chelomei Bellamy provided the proton rocket and Carla's organization provide like a strip down. So I use and they launched a bunch of stuff. They launched a bunch of test flights, but. There was a slim possibility that they could do it by December of 1968 actually get two guys around the Moon.

We have the cosmonauts ready. They have the rocket ready, but there are a series of failures in the fall of 68 that kind of mixes that dream and essentially they don't take the risk of launching cosmonauts in December 68, of course from from the US perspective there. The CIA knows this there they're tracking this on program and they see the test flights.

They maybe see some of the [01:39:00] failures. But they know that this is going to happen so which is correct. It's going to happen soon. How much of this goes up and changes the Apollo 8 decision, which is you know, Apollo 8 was originally because the missions were switched around between 89 and at some point in August of 1968, George Miller George low, these guys were like, you know, make the decision to let's just take Apollo 8 all the way to the moon in December of this year.

Assuming Apollo 7 is successful and there's been a lot of debate on how much Soviet intelligence about the Russians essentially feeds into that decision. I don't think there's a particular like a a Smoking Gun like aha. We see the rocket on the pad. We got to change the decision. I don't think it's like that.

I think Miller and Loan these kinds of guys they had their own reasons for doing this. They were ambitious. They wanted to push the program. Maybe they also knew that if we didn't do this by. December of 68 the moon landing is maybe push behind and so but I think there's a general feeling because many of [01:40:00] these guys had access to intelligence briefings.

So they hear this stuff from the CIA. They hear the stuff that the Russians are going to launch something at some point. I don't think it's like a actual decision or something that's told I think it's more of a general mood of the times that we have to speed up. So that's my take on. I don't think it's a.

Piece of information it's just the mood of the times.  So they're basically just seeing the all they're seeing abated. There's activity right exactly, right? They're launching stuff it again. They don't really know what the official goals are or all the problems that they're having with the N1. They just see the Rockets are showing up.

They're aware that they're launching these test flights around the moon and we should maybe acknowledge that the first vertebrates ever to go around the moon, right? We're two totals and that's right live, right? They may survive the. They did they did survive the trip around the moon. But the next in the following one's didn't notably which is in zone 6 in was [01:41:00] that september/october absent 5 was in September and zone six was in November.

I think yeah, and then there was the last opportunity. I thought this was interesting. In the end of 1968 just due to the orbit of the earth of the orbital mechanics the Soviets had an opportunity about 10 days earlier to launch a circumlunar mission. That's right follow it would have happened. So that was that was I think that the nail-biter period for people who just didn't know absolutely what the Soviets were able to do or not.

And they ended up not because it's on six just didn't yeah. I means I'm fix was such a catastrophe. I don't know any manager who would after that two things happen when they do pressurized at some point. It was a slow depressurization, but a crew without suits which is what they were going to do wouldn't have survived, but secondly because of the depressurization it kind of messed up the parachute system.

So just crashed returning and landed on hard landing and just [01:42:00] exploded. You know, these were problems that could have been there not like systemic design problems. They were probably manufacturing problems. And I think what happened because they just weren't tested. They were speeding these these things could have been tested out on the ground and they would have been under normal circumstances, but they were speeding so fast that they couldn't take care of these problems, but I think after November.

They just decide to stand down and they move their launch from December to January another would launch window which is in mid-January. But in that time, you know, the cosmonauts the the crew of that ship would have been leonov and Makarov two cosmonauts and it is rumored. I've never seen this that they actually wrote a letter to the politburo pleading that they be launched in early December about a week ahead of Apollo 8.

And that they'd be given the chance but the politburo said no, we're not going to take this risk Apollo 8 essentially wins that leg of the race and that's that [01:43:00] what was the reaction in the Soviet space Community after Apollo 8 and as they saw them the. Landing everybody's disheartened. I mean we have the diary entries and so forth for many actors at that time.

It's really disheartening. I think I mean there I think in the same way that you know, we're kind of happy that Apollo 8 went but it wasn't us and I you know, it's in that sense from the Russian perspective that it wasn't our cosmonauts, but I think I'll General disheartened mint and in January of 69 at the end of January they had this massive meeting.

Of designers and managers and whatnot to figure out, you know, basically figure what can we do now and there's all sorts of problems. And one of them of course is the robotic sample return. Can we get can we send one of these robots to the Moon scoop up some soil and bring it back to Earth. They know one of the organizations have been working on this for a while.

So they put that on the high-speed development and [01:44:00] that's the first time they start also talking about Mars as a kind of. You know, we we looks like we're going to lose the Moon that maybe we can Mars that argument begins to appear at that time and in through the spring of 1969. You see Apollo 9, of course and Apollo 10 in July.

They get their sample return vehicle ready? Actually, they try to launch when I think in April and it blows up the launch another one in July right before Apollo 11, that's really sort of getting really close to the end of the race. So to. The seem to be a lot of quality control issues. I think you had a list of the amount of proton Rockets blowing up.

Yeah from chelomei is Bureau actually just read reread Michael Collins as book carrying the fire. Yeah. I love that book. Yeah as we go into the Apollo. It's a great book and but he had this interesting phrase are mentioned in there saying, you know, there were something like 5 million Parts in the whole Paulo stack and even if you had [01:45:00] 99.99%.

Reliability and all of your parts are still mean that would be 500 failures. Right? And so they had to be this extraordinary level of reliability. Right and was that level of reliability possible in this Soviet command economy? Working in secret. They didn't know what they were building the you know, we always kind of hear these anecdotal bits and pieces from A u.s.

Supplier saying well, I knew I was working on the moon mission. So we damned as we wouldn't give like the best possible spacecraft or part or whatever and it was there a systemic or issue with that. Was it possible for the Soviet system took to provide that level of reliability. I think it was possible, but it wasn't.

Common, yeah, you're right secrecy was counterproductive. If somebody knows that their part is going to keep somebody alive. You know, it makes you want to work harder part of the issue here is also that. And I see this all the time that the engineering designs were quite elegant and I think often [01:46:00] quite beautiful the Soviet designs people always in a joke that they're sort of Brute Force designs, but I actually disagree I think some of their design choices are kind of elegant in terms of how they solve problems or the mission architecture sometimes but I.

When you translate that kind of design to the factory floor the Soviet Union never developed the kind of industrial high-performance industrial economy that the US are many Western European nations develop after World War II, which is clean rooms many quality control protocols stuff like that. I think it was.

It was still operating in the sort of World War II mentality which is a mass production economy. And so you can't really run escape scroll down like that. So what they did was essentially transferred their testing to flight rather than ground and that was their General mentality like. We're going to build these sort of relatively inexpensive things and just test the heck out of them when we launched them, but you can't do that with the moon program.

[01:47:00] Their design philosophy is fundamentally inadequate and I think there is a letter I think I quote in the book in the fall of 69 somebody's. State of this exact thing out to the to the powers that be saying this is the problem with our space program. We can't test things out in space. We have to have a testing culture on the ground that eliminates, you know, if you have a statistical system of fault detection that is robust on the.

And in this design program is a classic the proton-proton is a classic example of that. I can't I mean the dozens of these Rockets blowing up one after one after one. So that's actually testing these things in flight and finally the perfect it but by the time the perfected at the moon race is over and I think that's part of the problem here to some degree.

They did develop a kind of quality control. System that works into the 1980s, but I think it's falling apart now, but I think they did perfect it at some point, but I think it wasn't around in the 60s. You can't run a moon [01:48:00] program like that the Soviet lunar effort didn't end after Apollo 11 kind of lingered on for a few more years.

I you know, I kind of correlates with the end of the N1 and you even mention your book that the nadir of the Soviet space program came. It was 1971. I believe you. Yeah, I see what started to happen after Apollo with the next few years. I mean the failure of the N1 was a catastrophe. I'm all for launches field.

The last one in I think November of 1972, but it was getting closer to success in that sense. If that's a good thing, you know, the failures were getting to the point where you could imagine a success, but there are other failures to the most egregious being the death of cosmonauts in the summer of 1971.

Three guys who had spent about a month in in Orbit on the space station when they returned their capsule depressurized and they were killed and there were a bunch of other failures to space [01:49:00] stations exploding many launch failures. And so there's so there's a kind of a bad moment. I think it's 71 72, I think things start to sort of look up in 73 74, but by that time they had a.

The subsequent Moon program called the L3 M which is a much more ambitious and I for in my book a much more robust architecture. This is and they don't have to not in a rush to do it because there's no rush anymore. It's a kind of a Proto Moonbase architecture and they want to work this thing tested slowly and build up to it in the late 70s and it's in play and they're working towards it and the N1 as I said was also by.

Early 74 there's a great degree of they spend two years testing the heck out of it on the ground and there's a feeling that this is ready to fly now, ironically. It's right then in May of 1974 when. [01:50:00] Essentially glushko Engineers a kind of coup and trashes the whole program. He essentially comes in and says, you know, you guys failed we just drew and you don't get a chance anymore.

And so he essentially takes over his former Rivals organization. And the one of his first acts is essentially to close down the N1 project the new l3m Proto moon base project and he gets a bunch of people fired. And so and so forth so that essentially stops in its track. I mean in he didn't just stop there.

He literally destroyed the end ones I did they had they were what building eight of them something like that. Yeah, all of them eight of them were in their variety of stages of manufacture. He destroys them. He destroys all of them. In their technical plans to right he like tried to wipe it out of History.

Yeah. Basically he destroys [01:51:00] everything that he has the drawings the remaining Hardware. This is the part of the problem of reconstructing the history of this program. So much of the documentation is gone because of glushko. A lot of the hardware is gone. So it's price actually trying to reconstruct a program through oral history and some documents.

Fortunately. A lot of the documents were stored or they duplicates of historians going to get at that stuff. But yeah, it's I mean, it's out of uncanny the viciousness which he you face this project in 74 and he comes equipped with a whole set of new plants, which is I'm going to build my own moon base.

We just calls Vista any it's a very ostentatious plan. He also comes with a plans for a new rocket to replace the n 1 which is eventually called the inner area. And he comes with idea for space shuttles. He comes in, you know sort of in his arms. He's got the drawings for a new set of programs. And that's essentially what the Civil you need goes off in a complete [01:52:00] different tangent after that and the guy in charge mission is fired and all this other stuff happens and I don't want to make out glushko to be the bad guy.

Also because it's very easy and for sure, I think he was part of the problem, but I think there's all sorts of other issues because he's not wrong these guys failed to do what they were set out to do the lab the previous eight years in the 60s and 70s. They didn't beat Apollo and nobody paid the price for it.

This is according to him and somebody should be fired for it. He's not wrong about that. But the way you went about it was. Vicious him. Yeah, I mean this was scrapping a rocket at that point that had been in development for 13 years. Yeah, and one was almost ready to fly. It was it was about to be taken to the pad and you could and I've interviewed Engineers who worked on that day when they remember that rocket they just breaking the tears because they're like, you know, we were so excited.

We were just about ready to fly. We'd work be given our entire half our lives for this stuff [01:53:00] and it Not only was. Suspended but they went out and destroy the rocket in your book you talk about this. I want to just acknowledge to that, you know, you talked about this tendency from us and Western historians and space fans to look at the Soviet space program mainly as a catalyst for then what the US did and that you emphasize that there's a much richer history.

So I want to acknowledge that I'm aware of the irony that I'm talking to you in the. Of the Apollo program about this time doing exactly what you're really saying about but that I think reading this book. I mean if there's. So many other stories that were not going to touch on you also talked about the idea that the kind of mentioned this earlier this an idea of this historical linearization of History looking back to say, oh, well, this was an inevitability that the US would succeed with Apollo and and negative that Soviet wouldn't with their Moon program.

[01:54:00] You can kind of identify weaknesses in the system at that would have made the Soviet lunar effort much harder and I. Maybe suggest that the fact that you didn't have a clear level of responsibility. You didn't have a clear you never had a strong political commitment really. It seemed like compared to Apollo.

The secrecy itself is both the cause of why humans eventually landed on the moon but also undermined the ability of the Soviet system to functionally work on it. Does that almost make it like it's not inevitable much harder for the Soviet system to compete at that at that level.  Yeah, I think I was trying to make a point at the end of that book that as you pointed out that we tend to see it that Paulo as a kind of inevitable success of the American system

And anything the Soviets is achieved as a kind of contingent kind of random data point and I was trying to think about history as I think most historians do that. Nothing is inevitable and everything is [01:55:00] contingent for the Soviets and we should take the Soviet program on its own value than then as a kind of response

Or anything they were going to do this probably because they have a cultural lineage that dates back centuries in terms of aspiring for space independent of what Americans were thinking. It's too bad. It's funny because the book is called challenge to Apollo which was not my choice at all, but it was sort of imposed in a very Soviet style from the higher-ups

I'm just joking. But anyway, but Roger and Roger was the one who commissioned this book. I needle Roger Roger Linus about this sad, but yeah, but kudos. And for actually commissioning this book in the first place. But anyway, um, I think you're right secrecy in many ways was a a core actor in this story if you will because we didn't know what the Russians were doing and that enabled and energized Apollo to such a degree because if we knew about all this chaos, maybe stuff in the US would be like, yeah

I mean, these guys [01:56:00] are totally chaos. They don't have their act together. I don't know maybe it would have affected something and of course secrecy worked within the Soviet system as a kind of. Force of enervation like it saps energy out of the program itself. I think there is an alternate history somewhere by the Soviets could have been successful you you change a few small things and I think the command system could have done it the question that I ask myself

How is that the command system which which has its definite false can produce a hydrogen bomb in 1953 the first satellite in 1957 the first human being in space in 1961 the first rule. Probe to land on the moon 66 the first mobile platform and the Moon in 1970. I mean so and so I mean just how did it do this

If it's just an object of kind of ridicule it is capable of doing some things so but it's not really capable of doing this thing in the quite that's the question. Why wasn't it capable of doing this thing? And to [01:57:00] me? I think it did the other things because they had the right ideas. They had the engineers

And David had I think in some sense a national commitment for some of the other things but not for this. They really lacked a national commitment. I think if they had a national commitment we can imagine perhaps a more competitive race. I'm still not saying Apollo wouldn't have been first, but it would have been much closer and that's what I think it's worth considering that that the reasons the Soviets loss was a bunch of

Reasons that actually had for the most part nothing to do with the command system. It's just personal issues all sorts of other random things that. Could Happen anywhere I feel like ultimately it's the same reason why Apollo happened and we the u.s. Hasn't succeeded in the same way since it kind of comes down to just political commitment

Yeah, you point out in your book The politburo and the leadership of the Soviet Union was happy to propagandize the successes in space flight, but they [01:58:00] never drove it. They never saw it as that useful. As soon as Apollo stop being useful in that same sense that the funding disappeared. So in a way like that, it's a kind of the same Source behind both of them

Yeah, I agree. I agree. That's that's a good take on it. I think I mean I ever see Apollo as lightning in a bottle. It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing. It's never going to happen again. And I think we are lucky that it happened at all. And in fact, I think of Apollo as more of. A negative in a way, of course

It's a wonderful brilliant achievement, but it's cast such a long Shadow over everything America has done in the subsequent 40 years because everything is compared to Apollo, but maybe we shouldn't be comparing it to Apollo because it's an anomaly. I'll quote unquote normal Space Program doesn't look like that

Well, that's a good note to end this discussion looking back on the anniversary of Apollo. Yes, it is. Dr. Oz of Siddiqui is the author of many books but [01:59:00] notably of the book challenge to Apollo the Soviet Union and the Space Race, which I highly recommend that everyone read. In fact, you can download it for free online or you can buy reprints from his website and from from the publisher so

Dr. Siddiqui, I want to thank you for your time. And for joining us. I really enjoyed this discussion. Well, thank you case. It was a pleasure Casey dryer the chief advocate for the planetary Society talking with Asif Siddiqui about the space race and looking at it from literally the other side the Soviet side of the race where I tell you Casey one of the things I learned is that the space race in the Soviet Union was as much among the

People trying to achieve success on the moon there who couldn't stand each other as it was with the United States. Yeah, amazing how much office politics gets into everything ultimately particularly? Yeah communist routines. [02:00:00] Well, it was fascinating and I look forward to the other interviews that are coming up in the coming months

That is you said before we heard this one Casey. We're going to be collecting where everybody can hear them all together. It's I think going to be an important bit of documentation of what really got us to the Moon which was the the policy decisions. Yeah, and there's all those all be collected with a bunch of other stuff for Society members and supporters at planetary dot org slash Apollo

50 Brandon Currie the chief of Washington operations. It has been great to have you along for the ride with us this month Brendan and I hope we'll hear from you again as well. I don't think you've heard it yet. But I bet you will enjoy this conversation the Casey had with Asif. Oh, yeah. Casey gave me a little bit of a preview yesterday

I'm in really looking forward to it in addition to being a. Space policy nerd I am also a history fan. So in a geopolitics nerd [02:01:00] I'm all in and the only other thing I would want to say is that looks like next month. There will be a. Another National Space council meeting after July 4th, but before July 20th, and it may be out in the west coast, no kidding

Okay. Well a little local action for those of us who are based out this way. I hope it'll be when you say West Coast here in Southern California. That would be a fascinating thing to attend. Well, we may be able to talk to you about that or maybe not quite. Since the next space policy Edition will be coming your way

If all goes well on the first Friday in July, which will be the day after Independence Day for all of us in the u.s. That would be Friday July 5th. 2019 gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us again. I do want to remind our listeners if you've enjoyed what we're up to here the best way to provide [02:02:00] your

Is to become a member of the planetary society and at the same time you will be ensuring that we're able to continue the space policy Edition planetary radio and planetary radio itself the weekly program that I hope you're also catching not catching up on everything that's going on across the solar system and and Beyond and all of the other great work that is underway by the planetary Society

You can do that become one of us by going to planetary dot org slash membership. Check it out there. We have all kinds of levels. That you can come in at and a lots of great benefits for our members among them the special events that we have underway that we are planning for the launch of light sail to coming up at Cape Canaveral in just well less than two weeks now are barely two weeks as we speak

Hopefully we'll talk about this in the next episode will acknowledge the great success and will be looking up the hill to live sale, too. I'll knock on my [02:03:00] my table for that. So that's I think most scientific thing I can do right now. It's important. We're depending on you SpaceX make that Mighty Falcon heavy get us safely up into mid Earth orbit, which is where we can Sail on the light of the sun gentlemen

Again, thank you very much for being part of this awesome idea, man. That's a Brandon Currie the chief of Washington operations for the planetary society. And of course Casey dryer who has been part of this now over the entire history of the space policy edition of planetary radio. I'm at Kaplan the regular host of the weekly program

Once again, hope you'll join us as we continue that series as well. Thanks for being part of the space policy Edition this month.

View Full Transcript

Listen more: history, podcasts and videos, Planetary Radio, Russian human spaceflight

You are here:
Comments & Sharing
Bill Nye and people
Let's Change the World

Become a member of The Planetary Society and together we will create the future of space exploration.

Join Today

Mat Kaplan
Support Planetary Radio

Keep our weekly radio program broadcasting online and on the air around the world.