When Sputnik successfully launched into space in 1957, it kickstarted one of the greatest periods of human exploration in history. The Space Race saw two global superpowers pour a staggering level of resources into their respective space programs. The USSR may have been the first into space, but when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the moon, the US and NASA won ultimately won the race.
Since that momentous day in 1969, a lot of attention has quite rightly been applied to how the US won the space race, but what about how the Soviet Union lost it? In a new video by The Air Show, we learn about how tantalizingly close the USSR came to becoming the first nation to make it to the moon. So close in fact, that for most of the space race, the Soviets found themselves leading by a country mile. However, just three weeks before Apollo 11 launched, the Soviet space program would be struck a fatal blow.
In 1969, the Soviets were well on their way to launching their bid to place a man on the moon, but this bid was plagued with technical difficulties. Their N1 rocket was the most powerful ever to be constructed, capable of delivering 11 million pounds of thrust. The 300ft behemoth was supposed to be the crown jewel of the Soviet space program, but the N1's potential was never to be realized. On July 3rd 1969, the Soviet N1 rocket failed to launch with disastrous consequence. Shortly after take-off, the giant rocket exploded, destroying the Soviet launchpad and essentially bringing the whole Soviet space program to a grinding halt.
After decades of being committed to the private vaults of Soviet history, the N1 rocket would get a new lease of life when Soviet rocket engines were discovered by the private propulsion specialists, Aerojet. Now, some 45 years after the disastrous events of 1969, components of the USSR's behemoth rocket are being utilized in the Antares rocket program that has successfully made three trips into Earth orbit.