December 1989:Prototype Moonlander revealedNewspapers around the world aredisplaying pictures of a device they claimis a Soviet spacecraft designed to land aman on the surface of the Moon. Thevehicle was found in a corner of awarehouse once under the control of aleading space scientist who had recentlypassed away.Investigators were at first puzzled by thefind but later ascertained that the vehiclewas at least twenty years old and hadbeen hidden in this warehouse sometimein the mid 1970s, in direct conflict withorders from Moscow to destroy this andany other evidence of a Moon-landingproject that had been terminated in 1974.Apparently the spacecraft’s chief designersimply did not have the heart to destroy avehicle that he was immensely (andjustifiably) proud of.
December 1989:Prototype Moonlander revealedThe find has sparked a sudden interestamongst space enthusiasts for more detailon the mysterious craft and thecircumstances that led to its construction. Inkeeping with the state policy of Glasnost,Soviet authorities have permitted therelease of archived engineering notes anddraft-work formerly withheld under thestrictest security classification.Details are still emerging. Howeverpreliminary analyses of documents now intranslation suggest an extraordinaryinvestment of money in a project thatspanned more than a decade and drewupon the expertise and labour of thousandsof individuals who, to this day, have beenobliged not to speak on the subject.Perhaps this is all about to change, in lightof the recent discovery.
In 1971, when I was eleven years old, I began reading books about space travel.Expecting to find stories about trips to the Moon and other adventures in space, Icame across references to a rocket explosion that had happened in the SovietUnion in 1969. Three weeks before Apollo-11 landed on the Moon, there hadbeen a rocket on the launch pad in Kazakhstan. An American spy satellite hadphotographed it, and the length of the shadow showed that it was as tall as aSaturn-5. A few days later the rocket was gone, and so was the launch pad. Therocket had blown up on the ground with such force it had destroyed the entire pad.What could this rocket have been for?Were there people on board? Whatpossible use could there be for a rocketthis big if it were not headed for theMoon? And was it a coincidence or notthat the explosion happened so close tothe American Moonlanding?
Another book I read the same year described mysterious Soviet spacecraft thatlooped around the Moon and returned to Earth in 1968, the same year thatApollo-8 orbited the Moon. The Soviet spacecraft were pressurised and could havecarried cosmonauts, yet apparently did not. Why? What was the point of theexercise? What had gone wrong?These were hints of an enormous project that somehow went wrong in the finalstages. I have been gathering pieces of this story ever since.
In writing this story now, many years later, I have attempted to stay faithful to thetruth and have painted the details in accordingly. But ultimately it is a story, andthat means minutiae will be wrong. I have reduced a very complex tangle of eventsto a single cohesive thread. Worthy subplots have been left out, and holes havebeen filled with flights of the imagination. A research paper would have beendifferent, and so would an encyclopedia. This is a story.-DC
The text herein is protected by copyright. Whereas illustrations have been gathered from sources in the publicdomain, the narrative is the property of the author and should not be copied or modified without permission from theauthor.Author: David CoulsonDate of this publication: April 2012For communications, email to:email@example.com