This is a day where we re write our history books…NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/ASU officials have just announced: NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has come across a most unexpected discovery of the previously unknown Soviet LK (Lunniy korabl) landing site.
Image Credit: LK Landing Site - NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/ASU)
Image brightness and contrast have been altered to highlight surface details.
Earlier last week, the lunar orbiting LRO captured an image that contained an unknown object reflecting sunlight from the lunar surface. Scientists at the Goddard Space centre decided to move the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter into a lower lunar orbit to capture higher resolution images of the surface anomaly. The result was a jaw dropping discovery of a Soviet Manned landing site.
The exact dates of the Soviet moon mission remains an unknown. It is estimated that sometime in 1970-72, an LK-R unmanned L3 complex and two Lunokhod automated rovers were sent to the lunar surface to establish radio beacons for a manned Soviet craft.
A Soviet N1 rocket was launched a few weeks later, and was tracked by American satellites, but at the time, it was thought to be carrying a much less historically significant lunar probe, when in fact it was the L3 Moon expedition complex, comprising two spacecraft (LOK and LK) and two (Block G and Block D) boosters.
A variant of the Soyuz craft, the “Lunniy Orbitalny Korabl” (LOK)command ship, manned by two Soviet Cosmonauts was estimated to be less than half the mass of the three-crew Apollo orbital command ship. The “Lunniy Korabl” (LK) landing site captured in the LRO imagery indicates the Soviet Lunar Lander was only 40% the mass of the American Lunar Lander. The size depicted in the images demonstrates that it would have only accommodated one cosmonaut, so that only one cosmonaut could have actually landed on the surface of the Moon.
During the L3 complex’s journey to the Moon, there would be no need to undock and re-dock the orbital and landing craft as was done in Apollo, because the cosmonaut would transfer from the LOK to LK by a ‘spacewalk’. On the Apollo missions, the transfer was accomplished using a safer internal passage.
Block D was to slow the LOK and LK into lunar orbit, while with Apollo this phase was undertaken by firing the engine on the service module to slow the complex and enter lunar orbit since the Apollo complex traveled with the Command Module and Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) facing back towards the Earth."
Once in orbit, the LK with Block D would separate from the LOK and descend toward the surface of the Moon using the Block D engine. After Block D exhausted its fuel, the LK was to separate and complete landing using its own engine. NASA engineers speculate that the Cosmonaut would have been able to spend only a few hours on the lunar surface, the LK’s engine would fire again using its landing structure as a launch pad, similar to the American design used on the Apollo missions.
Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot has declined to make a statement until further information is obtained by Space Administration officials.
To many, this news is of no great surprise, as it has been long rumoured that a Soviet Moon mission did take place, although it is suspected that it remained undisclosed to the public due to some form of mission failure. The names of the two Soviet Cosmonauts remain unknown, as does the question weather they were safely returned to Earth. At this time the only known is the fact that the Soviet Space Agency did in fact land a spacecraft on the surface of the moon at least once. "Although unexpected, this discovery has only served to refocus America's space program on human spaceflight exploration, the president has ensured America's leadership in space and prioritized our return to the moon and future manned missions to Mars," House Space Subcommittee Chairman Brian Babin said in a statement. "Under the president's leadership, we are now on the verge of a new generation of American greatness and leadership in space — leading us to once again launch American astronauts on American rockets from American soil."
In the Ocean of Storms, a 1967 Soviet painting by Alexey Leonov and Andrei Sokolov, depicts a Cosmonaut examining the Luna 9 braking rocket and landing capsule which had performed the first uncrewed Moon landing in 1966. Leonov, who made the first spacewalk, was at this time generally viewed as the Soviet cosmonaut most likely to become the first human on the Moon.