Forgotten, aborted Soviet moon-lander

Jalopnik has a wonderful set of photos of the abortive Soviet moon lander, the LK Lander, abandoned in 1971. It currently rots gently in a private lab at the Moscow Aviation Institute. The photos come from the Russos Livejournal.
Getting to the Moon requires launching a command module and a lander. Both are heavy objects and require massive amounts of thrust to get into orbit. The Soviet's planned to use their N-1 rocket, but two failed launches in 1971 and 1972 destroyed dummy landing and control modules, as well as the rockets themselves, and led to the program being shelved for lack of a proper launch vehicle.

The LK was sent into space for numerous test missions. The first two unmanned flights were successful tests of the vehicle through a simulated orbit. The third flight ended when the N-1 rocket crashed. The fourth test in 1971 was a success, but years later the decaying test module started to return to Earth with a trajectory that would put it over the skies of Australia.

Inside The Soviet's Secret Failed Moon Program (via Sciencepunk)


  1. Gorgeous! Love it! There’s just something about the look of Soviet technology (especially military and space technology) that I find really appealing.

    Forget steampunk (sorry Cory). I want to see some Soviet-spacepunk. Somebody PLEASE make a sci-fi movie about the Soviet space program. Pretty please.


  2. It’s actually quite beautiful to look at and amazing in that this is actually a moon lander and yet it has similarities to things my kids brought home from school.
    Yes I’d also like to know more about the soviet space program and the other stuff like dowsing, esp etc that they took seriously.

  3. Slight nitpick – that particular photo isn’t of the LK (although the first batch in the link are) – rather, it looks like an engineering model of the Ye-8 lunar probe that was used both for sample return missions and to land the Lunokhod moon rovers. A developed version of it is still in service as the Fregat upper stage used on some Russian space launchers.

    As for the Russian approach to space engineering, I a friend once toured their main launch facility. Used to Western clean-room conditions for space hardware, he was taken aback when they entered a hanger with an assembled Proton launch vehicle to see a cat curled up by it.

    “Um, you’ve got a cat in here.” he said to his Russian guide.

    “Oh yes,” was the reply, “it keeps the mice down…”

  4. If you find yourself near Hutchinson Kansas, check out the Cosmosphere. Aside from the largest collection of space stuff next to the Smithsonian, They have a Lunokhod. Freaking awesome.

    They have a lot of Soviet items. I admire their program because they had to do a lot more with less and often times greater risk. But their simplicity often lead to innovation and reliability.

    We may scoff that they never mastered something like a shuttle program, but their old school Soyuz program is still going strong, and the only way we can get shit up to the Space Station and back at this point.

    Also – if we are to explore further, we must be willing to accept higher degrees of risk. The original astronauts were test pilots and the like. Skirting death was what they were born for. Now we clip their wings so they don’t fly too high.

    Finally – for another awesome space age technology you never heard of – check out ROPE MEMORY. I would love to get my hands on some of this.

  5. Some of those photos ARE of the Soviet manned lunar lander. Encyclopedia Astronautica has a GREAT page about this craft:

    The Soviet N1 moon rocket was overcomplicated and not held to the same quality control standards that the US applied to the Saturn V. Even if it had been a successful launcher, it would only send 70% of the mass that the Saturn could send to the moon. One of them exploded on and destroyed the launch pad, leading to a big delay of 18 months that ended all hope of winning the race to land men on the moon.

  6. Looks top heavy to me. The low C of G of the Apollo LM was definitely needed. You really should put your fuel tanks beside the descent engine, to keep it nice and flat and low.

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