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I know that after the untimely death of Korolev, the crewed moon mission was having struggles, but could they have overcome them? What would their timeline have been?

Side question/pure conjecture: would the outcome be the same if Korolev had lived through that surgery?

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I think they would have eventually. Their N1 program faced technical challenges both before and after Apollo 11 landed on the moon on July 20, 1969.

N1 Launch Attempts
Feb 21st, 1969
July 3rd, 1969
June 26th, 1971
Nov 23rd, 1972
Aug 1974 (Canceled)

The N1 program started almost 4 years after the Saturn V, so until around 1973, it could be argued that the Soviet program was still "keeping pace" with the American program. But by 1974, in light of the USA's success a full five years earlier, it might have started seeming to the Soviet leadership that the N1 program was becoming a bit of an embarrassment. The N1 program was suspended in May of 1974 and officially canceled in 1976.

However, the Venera program involved 16 separate probes which were sent to Venus from 1961 through to 1983. This program demonstrates that the Soviets were willing to persevere despite repeated failures.

I think that if Korolev had lived, under his leadership the N1 might have been successful by its fourth launch. That would probably have given the Soviet leadership the reassurance they needed to continue funding the program in 1974.

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  • $\begingroup$ What's the basis of your assertion that the N1 would have been successful on the 4th launch? That seems pretty speculative. $\endgroup$
    – GdD
    Feb 19 at 13:16
  • $\begingroup$ It is. This addresses the "Side question/pure conjecture' part of the original post. That said, he did have a pretty good track record delivering successes in space flight. $\endgroup$
    – phil1008
    Feb 19 at 17:10
  • $\begingroup$ It's the speculative aspect that got it closed, but fair enough. It's a shame that the competition was named a race, because there was no motivation to keep going once one side 'won'. $\endgroup$
    – GdD
    Feb 19 at 17:49

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