Red Star: A Soviet Lunar Landing

In response to Kennedy's May 25th address to congress and the nation, Korolev and Khrushchev immediately began an informal dialog over the situation as they both took it quite seriously. Authorization for draft work for a booster and spacecraft capable of taking cosmonauts to the Lunar Surface was given on June 1st.

Despite intense criticism by Glushko and Keldysh the rest of the expert commission supported the draft project. The chosen vehicle was Korolev's N1, while significantly more complex than Chelomei’s UR-700, it was, nonetheless, deemed the more realistic proposal. Although it's payload capacity of just 75,000 kg made it a tight squeeze for any potential lunar landing architecture as it was originally envisioned for Lunar Orbital missions only.

The mission profile chosen by the Soviet Union differed from the three American options then under discussion (EOR, LOR and Direct Ascent). While originally favoured before the sense of urgency it became clear that an EOR architecture with a direct return lander wasn't practical as it would require three N1 launches plus one Soyuz 11A51, rendezvous and docking in LEO. Single-Launch Lunar Orbit Rendezvous was not a practical option either as using this method would stretch beyond the mass budget of a single N1. This meant that the final architecture would utilize a dual launch/LOR profile, involving two separate launches of the Lunar Orbiter and the Lunar Excursion vehicle being sent directly into Lunar Orbit and docking (from that point on the mission was identical to the LOR profile). It also allowed for a single launch architecture with later upgrades and higher mass margins for the lander and Orbiter. The Americans chose the large Saturn C-5 as the basis for a singe, rather than dual launch LOR architecture. Despite this the "Lunar Excursion Module" still required two dockings (although only a single rendezvous) as compared to the Soviet's Architecture. Both risked an unsuccessful rendezvous after the ascent (potentially fatal in both cases) however the mass savings warranted it.

The actual spacecraft themselves were both fairly similar in function and purpose but radically different in approach. The Apollo Command/Service Module (CSM) was significantly heavier with a total weight/mass of well over 18 tonnes even for the stripped down Block-1 LEO version (hence reliant on the undeveloped Saturn C-1). The Block-2 variant actually capable of conducting lunar missions weighed in at 30 tonnes! A by-product of this was the complete reliance on the Saturn C-5 even for circumlunar missions. The Soviet approach utilized a disposable habitation module to reduce the mass of the Soyuz down to just 6 tonnes while allowing it to have significantly more internal volume than the Apollo CSM. This provided an important benefit as it meant the Soyuz could be tested on an existing (and reliable) R-7. In 1962 the un-named spacecraft was dubbed "Soyuz". Both were capable of taking a crew of three and supporting them for over two weeks in LEO, cis-lunar space, or in Low Lunar Orbit. An important difference between the Apollo and Soyuz vehicles was that the Soyuz required the cosmonauts to spacewalk in order to enter and leave the lunar landing vehicle, unlike Apollo which had a pressurized tunnel between the two vehicle.

The lunar Landers also varied significantly as the LK lander had a fully fuelled mass of just 7,000 kg. By comparison the American "Lunar Excursion Module" had a mass of 14,696 kg, over twice that of the LK. This was important as it meant the Soviets could test the LK in LEO using existing R-7s unlike the Americans who (once again) had to wait for the undeveloped Saturn C-1. It was significantly smaller but was still capable (if only just) of bringing a crew of two on short, sortie missions. Multi-day mission extensions were also a possibility given it's mass margins.

Following the approval of the draft project there was a more informal discussion between Khrushchev and the Chief Designers at the Soviet leader's estate at Pitsunda, on the Black Sea, in August. The official decree authorising N-I production was issued in the beginning of 1962 with first flight to occur in 1965. This brought the beginning of actual development work at nearly the same time as Apollo.

BTW: This is a collaborative TL between SpaceGeek and Bahamut-255
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How the heck did the Soviets get a lander that light. NASA's LEM was a huge engineering feat in terms of reducing mass. I would have thought that any Soviet lander would be heavier.

Note, too, that the early Protons had a disastrous failure rate. Which is only a monetary problem if you launch them unmanned with lots of spare payloads...

So, the PoD is the N1 starting earlier, and not having the emergency expansions?

Edit: most of the LK descent stage was actually the N1s upper stage! And the were only going to land a single cosmonaut, which is why they could get that smaller mass. OK?

How about 'krasnyj luna' instead of 'krasnaja zvezda'?
Edit2: luna isnt femine? Weird!
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That's the OTL LK's mass. Keep in mind they use the Block DM as a crasher stage to kill alot of velocity.

The LK was really stripped down and had a crew capacity of one or two with a surface stay of a few hours. Yes, the POD is that the Soviet Manned Lunar Program starts a full two years earlier and the N1 isn't uprated into an unreliable 90,000 kg to LEO but remains it's orignal 75,000 kg to LEO configuration.
Note: Since this is a Collaborative TL, this is a Post that I worked on, and then checked over by SpaceGeek prior to posting.

By the time N1 construction was authorised, it was a known fact to OKB-1, and especially Korolev that they had a lot of work to do, not least with gaining as much experience of working in Space as possible. All they had at the start of 1962 were just over 27 hours of flight time between Vostoks 1 & 2, and Vostok 2 had highlighted some issues with regards to what would become known as Space Adaptation Syndrome (Space Sickness) and a repeat of the failure of the Service Module to completely separate from the Re-entry Module - although like Vostok 1, aerodynamic heating managed to burn through the cables holding them together and Gherman Titov was able to land safely.

Nevertheless, the spacecraft faults were deemed to be fixable, while improvements to the Cosmonaut training was expected to be able to at least mitigate the issues that Titov experienced.

Now though, they had to worry about just how they could send a Cosmonaut to the Lunar Surface, and then return him safely. Although officially they needed to do it in time for the 50th Anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. Unofficially, it would be enough to simply be there ahead of the Americans. And Sergei Korolev was aware that in order to perform the selected Manned Lunar Landing Design that he had secured approval for, he would need to be able to succeed in the following areas:

  • Rendezvous of two separate spacecraft: Vital to be able to get two spacecraft close to each other or it would be impossible to perform any such LOR mission.
  • Docking of two spacecraft: Also required. If they couldn’t dock, it would be far too dangerous to transfer a crew from one spacecraft to another.
  • EVA: Since they would be landing on the Moon, they would need to be able to leave their lander if they actually wanted to be able to do anything.
  • Long-Duration Stays: A Circumlunar Mission would take at least 7 days, and Lunar Landing Missions required up to 14 days, they would need to be able to handle the conditions for the required time.
  • Multi-Crew Flights. This was seen as necessary, since with two separate spacecraft, there was good sense in each one having at least a single Cosmonaut on board.

To this end, the following decisions had been made:

  • Vostoks 3 & 4 were slated for a Rendezvous mission, and assess how the Cosmonauts would react and adapt to a series of tests under similar conditions, with their close orbits keeping the variables to a minimum
  • Vostoks 5 & 6 would be unique as they were intended to carry the first female Cosmonauts, and indeed, the first women into Space by any nation
  • Vostok 7 [1] was an 8-day mission for Radiological-Biological Studies
  • Vostoks 8 & 9 would be paired high-altitude 10 day missions for extended scientific studies
  • Vostok 10 & 11 would be a repeat of Vostoks 8 & 9
  • Vostoks 12 & 13 were to conduct the first EVA missions, and be adapted accordingly

While they could only achieve some of the aims, it was believed that the Soyuz would be ready for when the Vostok Programme was wound down.

On top of the N1, Vostok, and Soyuz Programmes, Sergei Palvovich was appealing to the Soviet Leadership to allow development of an N1 derivative, to be known as the N11 [2]. Korolev argued his case for the N11, pointing out that its main stages were effectively the same as the N1’s, sharing the Block B, Block V, and Block G Stages, and therefore they were effectively already building it. Authorisation for it would not only grant the Soviet Union a 20,000 Kg to LEO LV, but would allow the testing of the N1’s upper stages prior to the Block A being ready. Other notable advantages included the N11 and N1 having a lower combined development cost, sharing so many common components, as well as being a suitable LV for military payload requirements. Furthermore, the Manned Circumlunar Missions could be performed with a single N11 launch on top of testing the Soyuz-LOK and LK Lander with their Block D Stages, whereas the Soyuz 11A51 LV could only lift the Soyuz and LK by themselves. Additionally, since the N1 needed to be able to carry a crew on top, it would be quite simple to man-rate the N11, which was smaller and simpler than the N1.

N11 2.5.jpg
Illustration of the N11 LV

In the April of 1962, with Khrushchev’s blessing, authorisation for the development of the N11 heavy lift launch vehicle was obtained. Now Korolev had almost all the key elements required for the N1 and N11, the only major sticking point being its engines.

To achieve the 75,000 Kg payload that Korolev needed from the N1, high-performance propellants were required, and with so little time to build it, he couldn’t afford to waste time and money on LOX/LH2 engine development. That would have to wait.

Therefore he needed to be able to extract as much performance as he could from LOX/Kerosene Engines, which until that point had all been open-cycle engines. They worked well, but were quite inefficient since some of the propellant was “dumped off” to the side. This inefficiency could not be afforded, Korolev needed to close the cycle and extract the maximum performance from the propellants.

Which is where the first major problems for the N1, and the Lunar Landing Programme began.

[1] - A look into the Vostok Programme detailed that there were 13 such manned flights planned, but was cut back to 6 IOTL to make way for the Voskhod Programme.

[2] - IOTL, the UR-500 was adapted from its 2-stage ICBM into a 3/4 stage Space Launcher in 1964, effectively killing off the chances for the N11. Since the N11 received development authorisation in 1962 IOTL at about the same time that the UR-500 ICBM was approved, it gets to be built.

N11 2.5.jpg
Great start cannot wait to see more and where this leads.

By sticking to a one person lander with limited surface time this makes things less complicated because the lander weight will be a lot less with only one person. A lot less potential for growth however with the main point to get to the moon first it doesn't matter.
Everything I've read was that the Soviet Lunar Program was so stripped down that there was a very high percentage chance that the cosmonaut who landed on the moon would die there.
Great start cannot wait to see more and where this leads.

By sticking to a one person lander with limited surface time this makes things less complicated because the lander weight will be a lot less with only one person. A lot less potential for growth however with the main point to get to the moon first it doesn't matter.

Yeah, the Surface Stay time really is limited, for both the reason you gave and one other. The Apollo LEM had a high delta-v budget, not only to allow plenty of time for landing, but to allow it to change its inclination mid-flight. Which was very necessary for the later J-Class Missions.

As for future growth? Well, you'll just have to wait and see what happens.

Everything I've read was that the Soviet Lunar Program was so stripped down that there was a very high percentage chance that the cosmonaut who landed on the moon would die there.

That would be correct. The OTL Soviet Manned Lunar Landing Attempt, that tried to put everything into a single N1 launch. That not only meant ramping up the payload capacity of the N1 (with disastrous effects on its reliability), but the LOK and LK had to be stripped right down to the absolute bone to have any hope of staying inside the payload limits, with no margin for weight growth.
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The Soviets were clearly in the lead as Gherman Titov spent a full day in space while the United States still couldn't complete a single orbit or go five minutes before gravity pulled them back down. The Americans however were quick challenge Vostok as John Glenn became the first American to Orbit the Earth. Friendship-7 (officially known as Mercury Atlas-6) lifted off from Cape Canaveral on February 20th 1962 carrying the brave Astronaut at it's helm. Orbiting the Earth three times Glenn spent just under five hours in space during which he travelled 121,794 km before landing in the pacific ocean. Previously NASA's human spaceflight career had included two Suborbital Mercury missions lasting just five minutes each. It was obviously a major step forward for NASA and the United States in the Space Race. It was largely about sending a message that the United States could compete with the Soviet Union in orbital spaceflight.

Despite this victory America was still slightly behind in the Space Race. Glenn's flight lasted just five hours while the Vostok 2 (the previous Soviet Spaceflight) had last just over 24 hours in Orbit. To compensate the Americans launched Aurora-7 (officially known as Mercury-Atlas 7) on another orbital spaceflight designed to study and focus on the effects of weightlessness on the human body. Barely a month after Glenn on May 22nd 1962 Scott Carpenter was flying another five hour/three orbit spaceflight in his Mercury Capsule. The two Soviet Orbital missions were now matched by two American Orbital missions, finally it seemed America was catching up.

This optimism was broken on August 11th and 12th with the near simultaneous launch of Vostok 3 and Vostok 4 just one day apart. Andriyan Nikolayev having re-oriented his spacecraft was able to watch the launch of the following Vostok 4 and for the first time more than two people were in orbit simultaneously. The Mission was a major propaganda victory as television footage of them in Orbit was broadcast live for the world to see. Thanks to the accuracy of their launch vehicle's guidance systems the two spacecraft came within just 6.5 km of one another. There Popovich was able to see Vostok 3 in the distance and the two established line of sight radio contact. Unfortunately this "rendezvous" was completely unguided as the Vostok was not equip to manoeuvre in Orbit and as a result the spacecraft drifted thousands of km apart over the course of the Mission. Despite concerns about the rapidly decreasing cabin temperatures Vostok 3 and 4 returned safely providing a 94 hour space endurance record. In total the Soviet Union now had 196 hours of human spaceflight experience on four separate orbital spaceflights. The Americans paled in comparison to just ten hours of manned spaceflight. Because of the near synchronous flight between the two vehicles many Americans assumed the Soviets had already mastered the ability to rendezvous in LEO. The Russians ambitions were loud and clear as their spacecraft travelled the equivalent distance to the Moon and back in orbit!

In an attempt to gain experience in long duration spaceflight NASA launched a third orbital Mercury mission Mercury Atlas-8 following the Soviet's victorious dual Vostok mission. Walter M. Schirra (Jr) piloted the Mercury capsule on it's (American) record breaking endurance flight on October 3rd 1962. Unlike prior Mercury missions which were focused on scientific experiments this was a hardware endurance test to see if the Mercury could perform long duration missions beyond the three orbits of Glenn and Carpenter's flights. After six orbits and nine hours the Mercury capsule was still in perfect operating condition and landed within just half a mile from it's target. Despite such a flawless mission it hardly made up for the Soviets major lead in long duration spaceflight and perceived lead in Rendezvous manoeuvres.


[SIZE=-1]The final chapter in the Mercury program would be the flight of Mercury Atlas 9. Leroy Gordon Cooper was selected as the commander for that missionThe goal of Cooper's mission was to remain in orbit for a full day. During the flight Astronaut Cooper would eat, drink, and sleep in space. He would also take many medical measurements. All of these tasks were intended to study how man adapted to the space environment but also to atleast compete with the Russians in long duration spaceflight. Unfortunatly the May 15th 1963 flight (coming a full two years after Alan Shepard's first manned Mercury flight) was a near complete disaster. While all had gone well on the 18th orbit beyond that the situation began to become more and more serious as system after system malfunctioned and shutt down. Despite this he managed to manually land the ship just four miles away from target proving accurate manual landing was actually possible. At the conclusion of his mission debates raged over wether to continue the Mercury Program with one more three day spaceflight or whether to cancell it and focus on Gemini, America's follow up spaceflight. Having barely survived his 35 hour spaceflight NASA concluded another would be to risky and Mercury was officially concluded, 1963.[/SIZE]


This gave the Soviets their chance at reasserting their leading role in Space Domination. While two three day Dual-Women-Women spaceflights had been planned this was cancelled, partially because of Ponomaryova's politically incorrect feminism, partially for the need for long duration missions to prepare for the Moon landings. Terrescova would now pilot Vostok 6 on a three day spaceflight while Valery Bykovsky would pilot Vostok 5 on an eight day duration mission. Unfortunatly because of technicle issues with the R-7 and Buracratic mismanagement the mission was delayed by over a month. Launched just 48 hours apart they performed another "rendezvous" coming within just 4.5 km of each other's craft. Despite techicle issues with the toilet that made the flight "unpleasant" Vostok 5 proceeded according to plan and landed after eight days in LEO. As Soviet news bulletin's announced "that's longer than the time needed to travel to the Moon and back". Cooper's day and a half flight and NASA's single person missions were looking pretty pethetic now.
And now we take a small look at the problems that are beginning to mount for the Soviet Lunar Programme and their attempts to rectify them...

Though the Western World perceived the Soviet Union as having a Solid Lead over them that they struggled to surpass, those inside the Soviet Hierarchy were aware of the problems bubbling beneath the image they were presenting to the World.

The R-7 had been first launched in 1957, and though hugely impractical for its original intended service as an ICBM, had shown itself as a Space Launch Vehicle, launching Sputnik, Luna, Vostok and Molniya Communication Satellites to name a few. This had been made possible by the oft-fractious relationship between Sergei Korolev of OKB-1 and Valentin Glushko of OKB-456, the latter whose engines had powered the R-2, the R-5, and the R-7. The problem was, for Korolev and his N1 LV, he needed far larger, far more powerful engines than anything that the Soviet Union had in development. He calculated that the N1 would require 6-8 engines of 600,000 Kgf (5.886 MN) in order for it to achieve the payload that he required of it.

Glushko agreed to build them, provided that they utilised his preferred propellant mixture of N2O4/UDMH. This was something that was unacceptable to Korolev, who not only found such Hypergolic propellant mixtures to be too low in performance, but felt that they were far too toxic for use in Manned Spaceflight, especially for a Launch Vehicle that would surpass 2,500 Tonnes!

Ultimately, they could not resolve their differences, and Korolev was forced to turn to Nikolai Kuznetsov of OKK-276 to build the N1 engines. Kuznetsov had already proven himself as a very capable designer of Jet Engines, but had little experience with Rocket Engines. Nonetheless, he took on the challenge, quickly becoming aware that Jet and Rocket Engines did have many notable similarities, mainly in that it was a battle with Mass, the lighter the engine the better.

Kuznetsov’s Engine Design would be far less powerful than the 600,000 Kgf Engines that Korolev had asked of Glushko, and therefore more would be needed. The engine count for the first stage would be 24 engines of 150,000 Kgf (1.4715 MN) arranged in a ring around the base of the first stage, such an engine could also be modified for high-altitude performance in the N1’s second stage. This also granted Korolev the added bonus of being able to swap the High-Altitude/Vacuum Engines for their Sea-Level/Low-Altitude versions with relative ease for the N11.

The penalty was, quite obviously, the number of first stage engines themselves and being able to control so many at once. With far more engines, the chances of one or more of them failing during the burn was significantly greater than the Saturn V’s (which had a mere 5 engines to keep happy), furthermore, if the failed engine was off-centre (which would definitely be the case), then the N1 would start to list away from its predetermined course.

To counter these issues, the engines would be mounted symmetrically, and a simple computer system known as KORD (Engine Operation Control in Russian) was developed for the N1, whose purpose would be to detect an engine fault and shut both that and its opposing engine to maintain thrust symmetry. In addition, the N1 was built to have more thrust than would actually be required to allow for engine loss without a loss of the mission (up to four early in the flight).

The Kuznetsov NK-15 and NK-15V

By mid-1965, Kuznetsov’s engines (known as the NK-15, NK-15V, and NK-21) had completed their static tests to an acceptable standard, and Korolev was almost ready to perform the first test launch of the smaller N11 to prove the upper stages while he waited for the first stage to be ready.

With the conclusion of the Mercury Program NASA was without a manned spaceflight program for the time being. However they were deep in the process of developing Mercury's successor the Gemini spacecraft. Like Mercury it shared a similer re-entry capsule but this is where the similarities ended. The Gemini did not have an escape tower instead utilizing Ejector seats, it was launched on a Titan II rather than an Atlas, it could support a crew of two and most importantly could rendezvous and dock in LEO. This allowed NASA to test the techniques needed for their planned Moon Landings. Many were worried the Soviet's apparent mastery of Rendezvous in the early Vostok missions would give them an edge in the Moon Race and allow them to beat the Americans. Gemini would combat this. After numorous delays the first unmanned launch finally occured on April 4th 1964 nearly three years to the day Gagarin's Vostok 1 flight. The mission was very rudementary as the spacecraft was never designed to be recovered, never seperated from it's upper stage and only transmitted data for three orbits (though it remained in orbit for nearly four days).

While Korolev had promised the Soyuz would be ready by 1964 it was now becoming obvious that this would not be the case. Delays in development had pushed the first Soyuz spaceflight back to atleast 1965 and more likely 1966. This meant that if nothing was done to remedy the situation the Gemini would allow America to capture important spaceflight firsts and records. This was unacceptable to the Communist Party and Soviet hirarchy which was expecting results from Korolev, soon! In response to these demands Korolev revised his plans for future Vostok spaceflights by replacing them with a spacecraft named Voskhod. By adding retro-rockets to the descent module it became safe to land cosmonauts inside the capsule (hence eliminating the need for ejector seats). This modification freed up enough room inside the cabin to barely sqeeze three cosmonauts into the spacecraft. Unfortunalty the cosmonauts would have to crane their necks to read the instrumentation, would have limited abort capability during launch and would be utterly doomed if the cabin depressurized. Despite the risks Korolev's plan was not only accepted but future plans for a spacewalk capable version and long duration varient also made it's way into the flight schedule. The first launch of the Gemini was a major wake up call for the Soviets and work on the project proceeded at near crash level. Finally on October 6th the first unmanned Voskhod spacecraft was ready for flight testing. In order to maintain secrecy the mission was classified under the generic satellite designation and named simply "Cosmos-47". The single day flight proceeded normally and proved that cosmonauts could land unscathed without an ejector seat.

Confident with their success the Soviets assembled the crew for Voskhod-1. Vladimir Komarov, Konstantin Feoktistov and Boris Yegorov would be at the helms. The spaceflight was notable for having not only a pilot, but also a Scientific Engineer and Medical Doctor. After launch October 12th 1964 they achieved orbit with an apogee of 336 km breaking the record for highest manned spaceflight (that the Soviet's themselves set). Much of the mission of Voskhod 1 was devoted to biomedical research, and to the study of how a multi-disciplinary team could work together in space. The propaganda values of the flight were well expressed as they took up a Communard banner from the failed 1871 Paris Commune revolution. Soviet media also described the spacecraft as having a short-sleeve enviroment without the need for pressure suits (this was untrue as there just wasn't any room for pressure suits). Some speculate that the mission was cut short because of the co-incidental Soviet coup by Lenoid Brezhnev that same day (although this is unlikely given the cramped quarters and short duration of it's unmanned flight). This sent a powerful message to the Americans, mainly that the Soviet Union had a competitor to Gemini and Apollo. The Engineers however knew that they were far from challenging the Gemini's rendezvous and docking skill crucial for a lunar flight. For that they would need to wait untill the Soyuz while Voskhod kept appearences up.
The spaceflight year began with the roar of a distinctively American rocket. Another Titan II rocketed off from cape Kennedy January 19th 1965, once again bearing the Gemini as it's payload. Unlike Gemini 1, Gemini 2 was a suborbital spaceflight aimed at testing the spacecrafts heat-shield before human occupancy. After the heroic success of Voskhod, NASA and the nation, were eager for the first manned Gemini flight. To NASA the Voskhod had become the Soviet answer not only to Gemini but (given it's three person crew capacity) also Apollo. Nobody could predict when it would fly next and what it would do.


Korolev's view of the Voskhod programme was much more informed. Voskhod was a crude and simple modification of the existing Vostok meant to gain "firsts", propaganda and prestige. It couldn't rendezvous or dock, it couldn't abort for much of the launch, it couldn't support a crew of three with pressure suits, it wasn't a very versatile vehicle at all. But it could fly earlier than the Soyuz or even Gemini for that matter and that's all that counted.

The Vykhod mission which had only recently been renamed Voskhod-2 (for secrecy reasons as the word "exit" might give away it's purpose and lead to embarrassment if they failed) was now in the advanced stages of preparation. Time was of the essence, Gemini-2 had proven NASA was closer than ever before to a manned Gemini flight, one that could challenge Soviet space dominance. Despite the apparent failure of the February 22nd "Cosmos-57" unmanned test flight of the Voskhod the manned mission proceeded anyway. Finally on March 18th the Voskhod-2 mission was underway. The missions goal was focused and singular in scope, yet ambitious, to perform the first spacewalk outside a spacecraft. Despite numerous failures and malfunctions including Alexi Leonov's near inability to re-enter the spacecraft the mission was a complete success and his EVA/spacewalk was broadcast live to millions of Soviet citizens via Television and Radio. Safely returning after just a single day Voskhod-2 had captured an important first ahead of America, the first Spacewalk.


NASA's response was quick and immediate. Gemini-3 rose from the immense fireball of it's launch pad on March 23rd 1965, just five days after Voskhod 2's successful EVA. However, while it did score an enormous comparative victory for the NASA and the engineers involved anyone could tell it was less than satisfactory. The mission lasted only four hours, conducted no EVA, had a crew size of just two, did no rendezvous or docking and was little more than a shakedown test of the hardware. Still, Gus Grissom and John Young attempted to add some humour to the mix. Hoping to avoid duplication of the experience with his Mercury flight Liberty Bell 7 in which the capsule sank after splashdown, Grissom named the Gemini 3 spacecraft Molly Brown, in a playful reference to the Broadway musical The Unsinkable Molly Brown. NASA management did not like this name, and asked him to change it. Grissom replied, "How about the Titanic?". The managers relented and allowed Grissom to keep Molly Brown, but this was the last Gemini flight they allowed the astronauts to name. Meanwhile John Young smuggled a Corned-Beef sandwich into space by hiding it in his suit pocket. Beyond the humorous antics of the flight it did prove the viability of the Gemini spacecraft in the face of mounting Soviet competition (having already flown two manned flights of their equivalent). NASA would need to act quick to catch up.


Gemini 4 was NASA's chance to do just that. Not only would it test the Gemini's ability to perform multiple day duration missions but would also (in response to Voskhod-2) test extra-vehicular activities and even rendezvous with it's own Titan II upper stage. All this combined would put NASA in a definite position to challenge to Soviet's space supremacy. Unfortunately the flight did not start out so well for Ed White and James McDivitt who found themselves unable to rendezvous with the Titan II upper stage left behind in LEO because of the lack of instrumentation, they couldn't tell whether they were 60 meters away or 600 meters away as they had to go entirely by eyesight estimates. The June 7th 1965 launch did not go wasted however as White gracefully performed the first American spacewalk. After a total of four days in LEO the astronauts safely splashed down and were recovered as heroes.

The next Gemini flight took off just two months later on August 21st as Gemini 5's Titan II engines roared to life on the launch pad. This time no EVA or rendezvous was planned but instead, an eight day duration mission. This was extremely important as eight days was the Soviet duration record and the minimum time needed to land on the Moon and return. Unfortunately due to minor technical errors the spacecraft came just hours from the record set by Vostok 5's Bykovsky nearly two years ago. Still it showed America was now capable of weeklong spaceflights and was now set to take the stage of Human spaceflight.


Korolev was not about to let his American counter-parts win however and the race was on for the next Soviet space mission, Voskhod-3. An amalgamation of all the pre-Soyuz space ambitions it was ambitious indeed. Despite several delays Boris Volynov and Vladimir Shatalov took the third Voskhod to the skies on November 2nd 1965. Originally planned for follow up Vostok missions a new R-7 upper stage sent the Voskhod flying into an orbit higher than ever before. With an apogee of over 1,000 km high the Soviets left their previous altitude records far behind. Performing the only the world's third spacewalk at Apogee meant the cosmonauts could see nearly the entire Earth from their helmets, for the first time Humanity had a new perspective on the earth, one not challenged until the lunar flights of the late 60s. Then the two cosmonauts settled in for eighteen days of studying the effects of long duration exposure to space on the Human body and the study of the lower Van Allen belt. Even after 17 days in LEO the Soviets still had tricks up their sleeve as they became the first to perform multiple Eva’s on one mission (2) and even tethered off their upper stage for an Artificial Gravity experiment. Finally after 18 days in orbit the crew successfully impacted in Kazakhstan. Heroes of the USSR, for maintaining the domination and utter embarrassment of American engineers and the public. The Soviets had accomplished every single space ambition except rendezvous/docking, something the Americans would inevitably grab for themselves. Unless…


The Gemini 6 mission was racing the Voskhod 3 as the mission to not only take the Soviet duration record but also the lead in the Space Race. With that no longer possible Gemini 6 could still perform the first Rendezvous and Docking with it's Agena Docking Target. Unfortunately this was snatched away from them too, this time by chance as the Atlas-Agena failed to reach LEO in launch. This left NASA planners in a predicament. A solution was quickly reached. As part of the plan, Gemini 7 roared into the sky first on December 4th while Gemini 6 followed on December 15th. Two Gemini spacecraft in LEO at once with a rendezvous between the two of them. Truly an important first for human spaceflight. Unfortunately neither was equipped for docking so that would have to wait for the following year. It was catching up but the Americans were still left behind in the dust by Voskhod-3's dazzling EVA/duration mission.
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oh i start to like this tl

were do you get al those pretty pictures ?
i see that Sergei Korolev in november 1966 is still alive, in OTL he died on 14 January 1966 on a operation table.
oh i start to like this tl

were do you get al those pretty pictures ?
i see that Sergei Korolev in november 1966 is still alive, in OTL he died on 14 January 1966 on a operation table.

I think that was an error that was overlooked, it's supposed to say November 1965, not 1966.
Yes that was a minor typing error. Korolev does not live longer in this TL. In fact the precise opposite is true! ;)
1965 and 1966 were decidedly mixed years for the USSR with regards to their Manned Lunar Landing Programme.

While the Voskhod 2 & 3 missions had enabled them to attain clear public firsts with regards to EVAs and Long-Duration Flights, the fact remained that they were still little more than modified Vostoks which lacked the ability to manoeuvre in Space, depending on the R-7 to reach their desired orbits. In-Space Manoeuvrability would have to wait until their Apollo equivalent, the Soyuz was ready, which was now only going to happen by 1966.

And Korolev had one more Demon plaguing him. His own deteriorating health. Having already suffered at least one heart attack, and went on to suffer a kidney disorder, intestinal bleeding, cardiac arrhythmia, and was beginning to grow deaf. Then, not long after the Voskhod 2 mission, Korolev had collapsed with severe Heart Pains, all of these ailments most likely a result of his imprisonment in the Gulag and the stresses of his position. He was forced by his doctors to take rest and his deputy of nearly 20 years, Vasily Mishin took over while he recovered. While a very capable engineer and aware of the inner workings of the Soviet Government - having been Korolev’s right-hand man - he did not have the same charisma nor was he as politically savvy as his Boss, nonetheless, he pushed on with the tasks as best as he was able to.


Sergei Pavlovish Korolev & Vasily Pavlovich Mishin

By the middle of 1965, the N11 was ready, comprising of slightly modified upper stages of its larger cousin, the N1, these N11 launches would prove the N1 upper stages while they waited for the N1 Block A to be ready.


The N11 LV

In the July of that year, the N11 cleared the Launch Pad and raced into the sky, its 8 NK-15 engines managing to perform quite well, and by the end of the Block V burn, it looked as if the N11 would complete its mission to an acceptable standard. Or it would have, had the NK-19 engine of the Block G stage maintained its burn for the required time, instead cutting out early. The result of this premature shutdown being that the resultant orbit of the mock-payload was so low, that with within a day, atmospheric interaction had decayed it to the point of destructive re-entry. Analysis of the data would indicate that faulty sensors had incorrectly detected the Block G tanks running dry when they still had some propellant left. This was seen as a manufacturing error and not too difficult to resolve, so while the mission had only been partially successful, it was one that the engineers believed could easily be recovered from. The Politburo would never reveal that it was actually a partially failed flight, instead announcing that the first N11 flight had succeeded in its goal (which was partially true) and the USSR now possessed the most powerful launch vehicle in the world in terms of payload capability.

Following the Voskhod 3 mission, Korolev had checked into a Moscow hospital for colon surgery, he had been diagnosed with Cancer earlier in the year but had kept this a secret from his colleagues. The Soviet Minister of Health, Boris Petrovsky, despite having little skill with the particular operation, had elected to lead it himself, perhaps a sign of how highly valued Korolev was to the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, a massive tumour had been discovered, and in their attempts to remove it, kept Korolev under anaesthetic for a little over five hours. His weak heart was unable to endure the ordeal and on the 28th November 1965, Sergei Pavlovich Korolev died on the operating table.

Under the policy first established by Stalin and continued by his successors, the Soviet Premier, Leonid Brezhnev authorised the release of Korolev’s Obituary, published in the Pravda Newspaper, 30th November of that year, with a Full State Funeral the following day. This would mark the first time that the world knew the name of the Soviet Chief Designer, the first time that his closest equivalent, Wernher Von Braun learned the identity of his rival Soviet Counterpart.


State Funeral of Sergei Korolev

Though it would take some time before he was officially appointed to the position, Vasily Mishin was still the acting head of OKB-1, and now found himself effectively in charge of the entire Soviet Space Effort. Just four days following his State Funeral, the N11 launch vehicle was ready for its second test flight. This time, it performed well, placing its test payload into the correct orbit before it was de-orbited the following day. And the Soyuz Spacecraft, despite being behind schedule, was coming together. Assuming that it suffered no further delays, Mishin believed it would be ready for unmanned tests within six months.
Just a quick note on Soviet labelling.
Looks like a weird sequence - but it's the first four letters in the alphabet. If you think Greek, its alpha, beta1, beta2, gamma...