While taken from a helicopter, this angel of accident to an N-1 barrage pad shows detail agnate to what American assay satellites could accept apparent in the backward 1960s and aboriginal 1970s.
It’s not accessible pinpointing absolutely aback the chase to the Moon was won. Abounding historians affirmation it was aback Apollo 8 circled the Moon in December 1968. Absolutely it was over by July 20, 1969, aback Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin put their bootprints in the lunar dirt. But alike afterwards the chase was over, the Soviets connected alive on their affairs to accelerate men to the Moon, and the US intelligence association kept a authentic watch on their activities.
Throughout the 1960s, American CORONA and GAMBIT assay satellites had overflown the sprawling Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, which the CIA referred to as Tyura-Tam, and photographed the development of what National Authentic Estimation Center (NPIC, or “enpic”) experts had labeled “Complex J,” the massive barrage pad ability area the Soviets launched their N-1 rockets. In 1969, several American intelligence systems had detected a massive access of the rocket that CIA analysts had initially alleged “the big mother” and afterwards formally appointed the “J vehicle.” The rocket had almost austere its belfry aback it malfunctioned, fell aback assimilate the pad, and blew itself to commonwealth come. The access had been devastating, causing above accident to the pad.
Seventeen canicule later, Neil and Buzz landed at Tranquility.
The July access was, in fact, the additional N-1 barrage and the additional failure. The aboriginal had occurred in February 1969 and been absent by US intelligence agencies aback it blew up too far downrange to leave a arresting bits field, but not aerial abundant to arise on tracking radar. The July 1969 abortion had dealt a added austere draft to the program, however, demography one of the two barrage pads out of account for years. Over the aing few years, US intelligence satellites connected to adviser that ability for signs of accretion and new activity. CORONA flew a few added missions afore it was retired, and a GAMBIT aircraft flew every few months, accouterment absolute aerial resolution images of the barrage complex.
In 1971, the US intelligence association acquired a cogent new asset in the anatomy of the bus-sized HEXAGON aircraft congenital by Lockheed. The HEXAGON was the bigger assay accessory anytime lofted into apogee at that time, launched aloft a Titan IIIB rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California area it had becoming the appellation “the big bird” from arena crews. HEXAGON represented the best of American adeptness and engineering prowess. The Swiss accomplish accomplished watches, the Germans accomplish accomplished cars, and the Americans fabricated adult aircraft like HEXAGON. The HEXAGON’s two able cameras, bogus by Perkin-Elmer, could photograph all-inclusive swaths of Soviet area at a time, imaging bags of aboveboard kilometers of the Tyura-Tam circuitous in seconds.
HEXAGON was declassified in 2011 and, although clearly its resolution was two to three anxiety (0.6 to 0.9 meters), in absoluteness it was far bigger than that aback attractive beeline down. As anon as HEXAGON entered account it began abiding adumbration of the Tyura-Tam missile assay range, including Circuitous J. Photo-interpreters alive in Washington, DC, produced abundant letters about the things spotted in HEXAGON’s imagery, such as all the activities demography abode at assorted barrage pads and silos. These adumbration estimation letters were alleged “OAK,” from the old adage that from an acorn a boss oak grows. Ironically, abounding copse gave their lives for the accumulation of adumbration letters that ran to abounding bags of pages for anniversary assay mission.
The aboriginal HEXAGON was launched in mid-June 1971, abiding its aboriginal set of blur on June 20 and its additional set on June 26. OAK adumbration estimation letters from this allotment of the HEXAGON’s mission accept not been declassified yet, but if the HEXAGON flew over Tyura-Tam and if the barrage ambit was billow free—both of which assume likely—then the HEXAGON assuredly took photographs of the third N-1 “J vehicle” rocket on its barrage pad. That rocket launched on June 26, but bound accomplished problems and burst 48 abnormal afterwards liftoff.
According to a anew declassified NPIC report, in summer 1972, amid July and September, the third HEXAGON mission beheld Circuitous J and spotted “little or no change” in the about-face accomplishment at the damaged J1 pad. During that time a barrage agent was confused to the absolute pad J2 and both transporter/erectors were arresting at the arctic end of the agent accumulation building. In a afterwards angel one of the transporters was gone, assuredly central the building, but it appeared afresh during addition authentic pass.
On November 21, 1972, the fourth HEXAGON mission, appointed 1204, empiric a barrage agent on pad J2, but it was gone on November 30. “Little or no change was empiric in the about-face of barrage pad J1,” a mission address stated.
The acumen the barrage agent was gone was because it launched on November 23. But it too accomplished problems like its three predecessors, and 103 abnormal afterwards barrage it exploded downrange. This time the US intelligence association aggregate intelligence on the abortion through a array of means, including interception of signals from the rocket and the barrage site. According to declassified National Security Agency cables labeled “Top Secret UMBRA”—a appellation advertence that they were acquired from signals intelligence—the rocket was launched on November 23 at about 0612 GMT, and “the agent malfunctioned aboriginal in flight, possibly about 120 abnormal afterwards launch.” The NSA cables articular this as the third ablution of the rocket, and estimated the rocket’s ascent advance amid “12 and 14 actor pounds” (53 to 62 actor newtons), which was essentially college than the absolute advance of the rocket: a attenuate archetype of the intelligence community’s assay actuality mistaken aback it came to the N-1.
Amid March 10 and May 11, 1973, HEXAGON mission 1205 photographed Tyura-Tam. In March, a mission address declared that “the ample blasting adjoining to pad J1 has been backfilled.” A afterwards mission address noted, “The about-face of pad J1 was evidently complete except for the adjustment of one of the two 600-foot-high lightning arrester towers.” That belfry had been absolute bottomward about four years earlier. “The account belfry was at the barrage point at barrage pad J2,” the address stated, and although both transporter/erectors were anchored outside, no rocket was arresting at the pad.
HEXAGON mission 1206, which was launched in summer 1973, additionally produced accordant adumbration of the Zagorsk Missile and Amplitude Development Center. Zagorsk was the armpit of a miniature N-1 barrage pad, and in afterwards July or aboriginal August the HEXAGON spotted action there for the aboriginal time in allegedly abounding months. “Darkened areas were on the accessory about one of the three bankrupt flues and the tripod accessory was positioned over the barrage position,” according to a declassified mission report. “A triangular agent was positioned on the apron.” A abundant accord of accessories was additionally present on the apron, the address stated.
Amid mid-December 1973 and mid-January 1974 HEXAGON mission 1207 photographed Tyura-Tam and got lucky. According to a anew declassified mission report, “At barrage pad J1, the lower three stages of a J barrage agent were erected. This allocation of the J agent was about 215 anxiety high.” The amplitude of the cone-shaped barrage agent has been deleted from the document, but NPIC’s abstracts were absolutely absolutely accurate. The added important affair was that the attendance of a agent at the aforetime damaged J1 pad adumbrated that it was about to reenter service. The mission address indicates that no added action was apparent at the pad. During this time a J agent was removed from the J2 barrage pad and alternate to the agent accumulation building, although it is cryptic if there were two cartage on the pads simultaneously, or if the agent was confused from one pad to another.
At one point the accessory photographed a barrage agent at the pad with the transporter/erector alongside with its bed in the vertical position, implying that the rocket was actuality removed from the pad. A abbreviate time afterwards (the ascertainment dates abide classified), the rocket and one agent were gone, advertence that they had gone into the agent accumulation building, but the added agent was anchored outside. At added times no rocket was arresting and both transporters were anchored outside. These kinds of capacity accustomed interpreters to accept how barrage operations worked, abrogation no agnosticism that a lot of action was still action on added than four years afterwards Americans aboriginal absolved on the Moon.
The anew declassified HEXAGON mission address indicates that the barrage circuitous was photographed eight times during the advantage period, but the specific dates that action was empiric accept been deleted. What is bright from the mission letters is that the Soviet barrage crews confused their rocket and the transporters about absolutely a bit during this time, possibly bringing the rocket to and from the pad several times in a few weeks. Clearly they were planning addition N-1 rocket launch.
According to amplitude historian Bart Hendrickx, a Russian book by a above N-1 architect indicates that a non-flight assay agent called 1M1B was on the J2 pad during this period. That assay agent underwent a cardinal of modifications over the years (1M, 1M1, 1MA, and assuredly 1M1B). At the present time it is cryptic if US intelligence analysts, application abundant college resolution GAMBIT photography, anytime spotted differences amid the operational N-1 rockets at the pad and the 1M1B assay vehicle.
Despite this flurry of action in backward 1973, the Soviets never launched addition N-1 rocket. According to Asif Siddiqi in Challenge to Apollo, the Soviets initially planned a fifth barrage for August 1974 and abounding in the affairs had aerial aplomb that the adapted barrage agent would assuredly be successful. The mission was added aggressive than antecedent launches and would accept complex sending an unmanned lunar lander to accomplish assignment at the Moon afore the acknowledgment agent headed aback to Earth. Had it worked, a cosmonaut aggregation ability accept eventually followed, sending bodies aback to the Moon for the aboriginal time back Apollo 17 had been there in December 1972. Although the likelihood of mission success was slim, a success would accept occurred during a abeyance in NASA’s animal spaceflight affairs and could accept upstaged the Americans. But the Soviet lunar affairs was canceled in May 1974 during a political shakeup in the amplitude leadership.
The N-1 barrage facility—still appointed Circuitous J by American intelligence agencies—was put in mothballs. Far overhead, American spysats connected to float silently by demography their photographs. But at Circuitous J, there was no best annihilation to see.
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