THE DETAILS: There actually was a Moon hoax, but not the one most space conspiracy theorists talk about: the Soviet one, meant to hide all evidence of their failed attempts to be the first to fly a crewed mission around the Moon and then achieve a crewed lunar landing.
The secret Russian L1 fly-around project was based on two scenarios. In the first one, a Proton rocket would launch an L1 spacecraft (a stripped-down Soyuz) equipped with an additional Block D booster stage, flying directly to the Moon.
In the second scenario, the same type of Proton launcher would place an uncrewed L1 spacecraft and Block D stage in Earth orbit; a three-man crew would climb to Earth orbit using a second Soyuz on another rocket. Two of the three cosmonauts would then transfer to the L1 spacecraft and accelerate to fly around the Moon, while the third crewmember returned to Earth.
This project was approved and funded by the Soviet authorities and spacecraft manufacturing was started, with the goal of a lunar fly-around by 1967, one year before the Americans. However, the fatal accident of Soyuz 1, which cost the life of cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov, and the reliability problems of the Proton launcher caused delays that allowed the American space program to achieve the first crewed flight around the Moon with Apollo 8 in 1968.
The Russians also had another secret project, the N1-L3, for landing a single cosmonaut on the Moon, as described in Chapter 1. However, the unreliability of the massive N1 launcher (Figure 7-2) once again caused delays that gave the United States the time to perfect their technology and be the first to land a crew on the Moon.
Russia’s last attempt at a lunar fly-around took place a few days before the Apollo 11 landing and failed when the N1 rocket that carried the uncrewed L1 spacecraft exploded catastrophically on the launch pad.
Figure 7-2. Size comparison between the Soviet N1-L3 system (left) and the Saturn V-Apollo stack (right).
The Soviet conspiracy to hide all traces of these attempts and failures was quite successful, so much that even today many Moon hoax believers are blissfully unaware of this aspect of the space race. At the time, the Russian authorities declared that they had never taken part in a race for the Moon, that they had no intention of taking a Russian to the Moon and that they would never risk a Soviet citizen’s life on such a dangerous endeavor, which could be accomplished just as effectively with uncrewed vehicles. That was the official party line.
Many in the Western media fell for the Soviet hoax. Even celebrated newsman Walter Cronkite stated on TV in 1974 that “it turned out there never had been a race to the Moon”.*
* Fifth Anniversary – Apollo in Retrospect, CBS, July 1974, as quoted in Cronkite on Space: Inspiration, not Information, by James Oberg, in Space Review, 6 March 2006.
However, the reality of the Russian attempts to land a man on the Moon, long suspected by Western experts and partly known to US intelligence, became very public with the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. Today we even have insider’s reports, such as Russian rocket designer Boris Chertok’s four-volume Rockets and People (1994-1999), detailing the Soviet lunar plans.