25 June 2002
Opinion - Vehicles (None)
Voyage Around the Moon
How the Russians can take the next step in space tourism
by Alan Breakstone
By Alan Breakstone

With Soyuz spacecraft taking millionaire tourists to the International Space Station, can existing technology be applied to launch even more tourist flights? I believe the answer is yes. Using 35-year-old blueprints and the existing Soyuz spacecraft along with Proton launch vehicle technology, the Russian space effort and visionary international investors can revive a celebrated Cold War project and send space tourists around the moon.

In the heat of the 20th century space race, Soviet engineers struggled to develop two projects for sending cosmonauts to the moon. One such project was the N-1/L-3 effort to land a man on the lunar surface. The other project, called L-1 (a modified, stripped-down Soyuz), was more modest by current standards but no less a challenge for the fledgling Soviet space program. The Proton rocket would launch the L-1 craft into an elliptical orbit, carrying two cosmonauts around the far side of the moon and back to earth.

Both the Soyuz and the Proton were brand new in the late 1960's, and there were many bugs in the pioneering technology. As the Soviets struggled, America took the piloted Apollo 8 around the moon. Out of 11 unpiloted launch attempts from 1967 through 1969, the Russians successfully flew only one modified Soyuz around the moon, unmanned.

The Soyuz was conceived in the early 1960's for a number of projects. The earth orbital version served as the equivalent of the American Gemini, giving the Soviet space program experience in orbital maneuvering, rendezvous and docking, and the EVA crew transfer that would have been needed for the Soviet moon landing program. Since the 1970's, the Soyuz has been used for ferrying cosmonauts and space tourists to space stations.

L-1 was a modified Soyuz designed to send two cosmonauts on a lunar fly-by that was planned for the late 1960's. This flight would have been roughly similar to the US Apollo 8 mission which sent astronauts into lunar orbit in 1968. Since the Americans got there first, L-1 was shelved.

L-3 was the Soviet lunar landing program and was equivalent to the US Apollo program. It included a heavily-modified Soyuz serving as the equivalent of the Apollo Command/Service Module, and a small one-man lunar lander equivalent to the two-man Apollo Lunar Module. The flight profile of L-3 was basically similar to Apollo, requiring the development of a large, heavy booster, the N-1, which was the equivalent of the Saturn V.

The N-1 failed all its unpiloted flight tests and was cancelled in 1974.

It took years to refine the Proton rocket and the Soyuz spacecraft. But 35 years later, both vehicles have a sterling reputation. The Proton regularly lofts satellites and ISS modules into orbit, and the Soyuz is an indispensable part of the ISS program. And the Soyuz has successfully carried both paying space tourists into orbit and back to earth. Both travellers had the time of their lives.

With Soyuz and Proton perfected and with travellers lining up for future Soyuz flights into orbit, it is time to revive the L-1 effort and take the next step in space tourism. A modern Proton lofting a suitably modified Soyuz could carry one cosmonaut and one space tourist on a five-day journey around the moon and back to earth. The paying space traveler would fly much farther from earth than any previous tourist, view the earth as a small blue globe in deep space, and come within 2,000 kilometers of the lunar surface. Deep-space tourism would be born, and the trip would be completed in the same amount of time as a Soyuz flight to the ISS.

Now it is up to investors and space tourism companies to determine how much a revived L-1 would cost, and whether there would be a return on investment, as modifying the existing vehicles for the circumlunar voyage would cost roughly the same as developing a small tourist station like MirCorp's Mini Station One. And there will undoubtedly be a long line of prospective customers. The lure of the moon would be an even stronger draw than cruising into low earth orbit.

We are well into the new age of space tourism. With the same technology already in use to build the ISS and send tourists up to it, the expansion of tourism to the moon can be accomplished.


Encyclopedia Astronautica http://www.astronautix.com

Johnson, Nicolas. _The Soviet Reach for the Moon: The L-1 & L-3 Manned Lunar Programs & the Story of the N-1 'Moon Rocket'_ Cosmos Books. Canton, OH. 1994.
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Alan Breakstone 25 June 2002
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