On July 16, 1965, the first launch of the Proton booster occurred in the Soviet Union.
For over 40 years no other Soviet rocket has been more controversial than the Proton booster. Proton, developed in the 1960s, still remains one of world’s most powerful and reliable boosters, with a history of almost 350 launches.
However, most ecologists argue, the propellant used by the rocket contains toxins and its use seriously harms the environment.
Proton was originally planned for military purposes, as were all Soviet rockets in the middle of the Cold War. To the thinking of Soviet military planners, a heavy-lift missile was to propel large military satellites and nuclear bombs. Though perfectly fit, even for delivering men to the Moon, such an option was never considered. Proton designs may have been more appropriate for lifting atomic bombs up to 100 megatons in size. However, mass production of the weapon-carrying version was never put into place and Proton’s capacity was reduced to launching satellites.
The 1960s in the Soviet Union saw a surge in space exploration and a multitude of design bureaus specializing in spacecraft of all kinds. The competition for the production was fierce, but the creation of the first booster was trusted to the design bureau of Vladimir Chelomey. To accomplish this project, his bureau expanded through a series of mergers and acquired several aviation plants.
The order to begin development of what would eventually become the Proton was issued in April of 1962.
The overall configuration of the rocket, called the UR-500 – UR standing for universal rocket – was completed in the following years and on July 16, 1965 the rocket was given its first mission. The launch was very successful and a scientific research satellite, Proton-1 weighing 12,2, was put into orbit. Though at first ground control failed to receive any signals from the satellite, a few hours later the situation stabilized and the satellite continued functioning properly.
Originally, aside from its serial number, the booster was given the name Hercules, or Atlas, the name painted on its side, but it didn’t catch on and soon mass media widely referred to it as the Proton, after the research station where it was designed.
As of 1982, the number of launches to geo-stationary orbit significantly increased, as the work began on creating the Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS), with the first three satellites launched on October 12, 1982.
The Proton also lifted space stations of the Salut, Almaz, and Mir series; it was extensively used when assembling the International Space Station and is the only rocket in Russia capable of carrying satellites to the geostationary orbit.
A deterrence weapon designed to carry atomic bombs in the midst of the Cold War, the Proton is currently used to lift American telecommunication satellites.
Over the years, the Proton’s configuration improved as its fuel tanks were lengthened, engines were upgraded and more stages added. Already a hero among other boosters, it will be much relied upon in the upcoming decade. Such innovations allowed the rocket to put 45,000 pounds into low orbit, enabling it to send versions of proposed lunar ships into orbit for test flights, rehearse more advanced missions to the moon, and even send research stations into deep space.