Friday, October 21, 2011

Video Del Fuego, Part XLVIII

When Space-X recently announced their proposed Falcon Heavy rocket, one of the selling points they touted was extreme engine-out reliability. This comes from the fact that, at liftoff, the three core stages have 27 Merlin rocket engines between them. This got me to thinking. Specifically, it got me to thinking of an earlier rocket, that also had a fair number of first-stage engines.

The Soviet entry into the Moon Race, their equivalent of the Saturn V, was the N-1. The N-1 was a giant beast of a rocket, with thirty engines. I had always called that first stage a plumbers' nightmare, because of the complicated piping that I associated with so many engines firing simultaneously. It occurs that, perhaps, I was being unfair to Mr. Korolev.

And another curious thing: the last test flight of the Soviet Moon rocket was in 1974. Five years after the first American landing, and nearly two years after the last. If they'd given up on going to the Moon, then what in the world were they doing still trying to perfect a rocket for doing just that?

Therein, perhaps, lay a curious tale. In history as it actually happened, all four N-1 test flights ended more or less like this:

But what if they hadn't? What if they'd gotten all the kinks worked out? From everything I've read, they came close. One more test might have done the trick.

Maybe not next time, but soon, I'll take up the question of what might have happened next.

No comments: