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Zond L-1

The Zond spacecraft consisted of an instrument module and a descent module. The instrument module contained solar cells, a propulsion unit, fuel tanks and avionics. The descent module had an improved heat shield so it could survive a return to Earth after circumlunar flight.

The majority of the Soviet Zond missions were designed as part of a stepped up program to put a cosmonaut on the moon. Though a Zond spacecraft never put anyone on the moon, the program provided useful operating experience for manned Soyuz missions. The Soviets used an automated version of the manned Soyuz spacecraft, first flown in 1967, for the Lunar L1 program. The program included two Soyuz-designated flights and the Zond lunar flights.

The first two Lunar L1 flights were Soyuz 7K-L1 s/n 4L and Soyuz 7K-L1 s/n 5L. They launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome on Sept. 27 and Nov. 22, 1967 respectively. Both attempts failed. The first lasted 67 seconds, and the second lasted only four seconds.

The Soviets then launched Zond 4. The spacecraft took off from Baikonur on March 2, 1968 and succeeded in completing a five-day mission. However, the launch sent the spacecraft 180 degrees away from the moon. This allowed the Soviets to test the spacecraft in the absence on the lunar gravitational field.

A guidance system failure prevented the performance of a double reentry, as was planned. A self-destruct command was sent, and the spacecraft exploded 12 kilometers above the Gulf of Guinea.

The decision to destroy the spacecraft resulted in a bit of controversy. It was decided that in the future every attempt would be made to recover the spacecraft before taking such measures.

Zond 4 was followed by two failed missions. One of these missions resulted in the deaths of three people.

Then the Soviets launched Zond 5. It launched on Sept. 15, 1968. It carried turtles, wine flies, meal worms, plants, seeds, bacteria and other living things so scientists could then examine the potential hazards of space flight. It also brought a tape recorder with a recording of a cosmonaut's voice to test radio reception from the moon. After a seven-day circumlunar flight, Zond 5 returned to Earth and crashed into the Indian Ocean. It was the first recovered spacecraft from a lunar mission.

The mission was repeated in the Zond 6 flight, lasting from November 10 to November 17, 1968. This time a double reentry was performed -the spacecraft dipped in and out of the atmosphere once before reentering and landing. The double reentry demonstrated the ability to lessen the effects of gravity during reentry and landing.

However, a gasket failure caused the cabin was depressurized during the return. The event, along with the failure of the parachute, would have killed a crew. The criteria necessary to ensure a safe manned flight was not met, and the U.S. was preparing to launch the manned circumlunar Apollo 8 mission the next month.

The next flight, Zond 7, turned out to be the only Lunar L1 flight a manned crew could have survived. It too was a circumlunar flight. It launched on Aug. 7, 1969 from Baikonur and performed a double reentry return on Aug. 14. Zond 7 returned the first color pictures of the moon by a Soviet spacecraft.

Zond 8 was the last Zond mission. This was another circumlunar flight, but it only made a single reentry. The mission lasted from Oct. 20 to Oct. 27, 1970. However, Zond 8 suffered the same problem as Zond 4 - the reentry guidance system failed, that again would have killed a manned crew.

Despite the failures, the Lunar L1 program was still considered a success. Aside from the experience useful to the Soyuz program, the Zond 6, 7 and 8 missions also returned photos of the lunar surface, especially of the limb and farside regions.


Russian Spacesuits by Isaak P. Abramov, A. Ingemar Skoog from,,,

Soyuz: A Universal Spacecraft by Rex Hall, David J. Shayler from,,

Rocket and Space Corporation Energia by Robert Godwin from,,


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Copyright 2000-2014 Vic Stathopoulos. All rights reserved.
Updated: Tuesday 1st, April, 2014

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