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RSC Energia: 50 years of the first launch under the Soviet lunar programMarch 10, 2017
Exactly 50 years ago, on March 10, 1967 spacecraft 7K-L1No. 2 which in the media was called Kosmos-146 was launched by launch vehicle UR-500K/Block D from Baikonur. It was the launch of the first spacecraft under the Soviet Circumlunar Flight Program.
Kosmos-146 had a simplified control system as the main purpose of the mission was to test the Upper Stage D – the fourth stage of launch vehicle UR-500K (Proton). The spacecraft was successfully injected into the flight trajectory to the Moon. The engine firing of the Upper Stage D occurred twice during the flight. Further flight control and the spacecraft return were not planned.
Altogether 12 rocket-space complexes (launch vehicle UR-500K, Block D, spacecraft 7K-L1) were prepared to be launched from 1967 to 1970. In the Soviet Lunar Program L1 OKB-1 (now it is RSC Energia) participated as the prime organization for the development of general scheme of the spacecraft system control and such systems as attitude control, rendezvous, power supply, onboard cable network, manual motion control, thermal control and onboard switches. Before this program there was nothing of the kind in scale, novelty and dates of implementation. Dozens of enterprises of space industry of the USSR were also involved in the program.
For the first time in the world the circumlunar flight and the return of the descent capsule to Earth with the escape velocity were provided at the launch of spacecraft 7K-L1 No. 9 (Zond-5) on September 15, 1968. The spacecraft was launched as unmanned with turtles onboard. The descent capsule landed on September 21 in waters of the Indian Ocean. In that flight the Earth was photographed for the first time from a distance of 85.000 km.
Cosmonauts Aleksei Leonov and Oleg Makarov passed training for the next missions. However, after the U.S. spacecraft Apollo-8 with the crew onboard performed a circumlunar flight in late 1968, the Soviet Union political priority in the lunar race was lost. In this connection a decision on inexpediency of spacecraft 7K-L1 flight in the manned mode was accepted by the government.