Staff and leadership

Space flight programs

Manned programs

X-15 rocket plane

Project Mercury

Project Gemini

Apollo program


Apollo–Soyuz Test Project

Space Shuttle program

International Space Station

Commercial programs

Beyond Low Earth Orbit program

Soviet space program

The rocket and space program of the USSR, initially boosted by the assistance of captured scientists from the advanced German rocket program, was performed mainly by Soviet engineers and scientists after 1955, and was based on some unique Soviet and Imperial Russian theoretical developments, many derived by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, sometimes known as the father of theoretical astronautics. Sergey Korolev (also transliterated as Korolyov) was the head of the principal design group; his official title was "chief designer" (a standard title for similar positions in the USSR). Unlike its American competitor in the "Space Race", which had NASA as a single coordinating agency, the USSR's program was split among several competing design bureaus led by Korolev, Mikhail Yangel, Valentin Glushko, and Vladimir Chelomei.
Under the direction of Dimitri Ustinov, Korolev and others inspected the drawings. Helped by rocket scientist Helmut Gröttrup and other captured Germans until the early 1950s, they built a replica of the V-2 called the R-1, although the weight of Soviet nuclear warheads required a more powerful booster. Korolev's OKB-1 design bureau was dedicated to the liquid-fueled cryogenic rockets he had been experimenting with in the late 1930s. Ultimately, this work resulted in the design of the R-7 Semyorka intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) which was successfully tested in August 1957.
Because of its global range and large payload of approximately five tons, the reliable R-7 was not only effective as a strategic delivery system for nuclear warheads, but also as an excellent basis for a space vehicle. The United States' announcement in July 1955 of its plan to launch a satellite during the International Geophysical Year greatly benefited Korolev in persuading Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to support his plans in January 1956, in order to surpass the Americans. Plans were approved for Earth-orbiting satellites (Sputnik) to gain knowledge of space, and four unmanned military reconnaissance satellites, Zenit. Further planned developments called for a manned Earth orbit flight by 1964 and an unmanned lunar mission at an earlier date.
While the government and the Communist Party used the program's successes as propaganda tools after they occurred, systematic plans for missions based on political reasons were rare, one exception being Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, on Vostok 6 in 1963. Missions were planned based on rocket availability or ad hoc reasons, rather than scientific purposes. For example, the government in February 1962 abruptly ordered an ambitious mission involving two Vostoks simultaneously in orbit launched "in ten days time" to obscure John Glenn's Mercury-Atlas 6 that month; the program could not do so until August, with Vostok 3 and Vostok 4.
Yangel had been Korolev's assistant but with the support of the military he was given his own design bureau in 1954 to work primarily on the military space program. This had the stronger rocket engine design team including the use of hypergolic fuels but following the Nedelin catastrophe in 1960 Yangel was directed to concentrate on ICBM development. He also continued to develop his own heavy booster designs similar to Korolev's N-1 both for military applications and for cargo flights into space to build future space stations.
Following this disaster and under new pressures, Mishin developed a drinking problem. The Soviets were beaten in sending the first manned flight around the Moon in 1968 by Apollo 8, but Mishin pressed ahead with development of the problematic super heavy N1 in the hope that the Americans would have a setback, leaving enough time to make the N1 workable and land a man on the moon first. There was a success with the joint flight of Soyuz 4 and Soyuz 5 in January 1969 that tested the rendezvous, docking and crew transfer techniques that would be used for the landing, and the LK Lander was tested successfully in earth orbit. But after four unmanned test launches of the N1 ended in failure, the heavy booster was abandoned and with it any chance of the Soviets landing men on the moon in a single launch.