It's a basic fact of history
that on July 20, 1969, NASA astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became
the first human beings to set foot on another celestial body, making history
and defeating the Soviets in the space race.
The Soviets, of course, never
made it to the moon at all. But why is that? After all, for most of the space
race the Soviets were in the lead. They were the first to put a satellite into
orbit, the first to send a man into space, and the first to send a spacecraft
around the moon, taking pictures of the far side. Surely, even if they
ultimately didn't win the race, they were close to the finish line. So what
This new video from Curious
Droid explains. Essentially, the answer is a combination of political intrigue,
poor infrastructure, and unstable technology. Take a look:
The Soviet political structure
was one of constant infighting and backstabbing, and the Soviets were often
their own worst enemy. Even as they were racing against the U.S., they were
also racing against each other. Different research groups were simultaneously
developing competing rocket designs instead of working together. At one point
there were thirty different designs, all vying for the Kremlin's approval.
Ultimately, the job went to
Sergei Pavlovich Korolev, a rocket expert who oversaw both the Sputnik launch
as well as Yuri Gagarin's spaceflight. His job was to build a rocket powerful
enough to bring astronauts to the moon.
However, he ran into a problem.
While the U.S. had the infrastructure to build the massive F1 engines used on
the Saturn V rockets, the Soviets did not. They were forced to build smaller
engines for their N1 rocket, which ultimately used thirty engines arranged in a
The Soviet N1 Rocket needed
thirty engines to provide thrust.
These smaller engines had to
use a closed-cycle system, or staged combustion, which produced more thrust at
a greater risk of overheating. NASA was able to use the more reliable, but less
powerful, open-cycle system on the Saturn V.
While the Soviets did
eventually build their N1 rocket and launch four test flights, every single
flight failed and the rockets were destroyed. After those failed launches, the
entire program was scrapped due to cost concerns. The Soviets never made it out
of the atmosphere.
Years later, the U.S. acquired
several of these closed-cycle engines, and it was discovered that the Soviets
had advanced the technology further than anyone thought possible. They had
managed to solve the instability problem, producing the most powerful and fuel
efficient engine of that size in the world. The technology they developed was
later incorporated into the scaled-up RD-180 engine, which powers the Atlas V
rocket to this day.
This post was written by Usman Abrar. To contact the
writer write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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