While the official
history of the Soviet Space program does not include information about the sort of mission Flatwoods
mission described bears a resemblance to two different series of Soviet space missions...
During the mid-1960s the Soviets sent a series of 4 missions designated Zond (probe
in Russian) 1-3 - a failed 1964 mission of the same type
did not receive an official designation, a common (and sometimes confusing) practice of the Soviet space program - to explore the moon, Venus, and
Mars. The last of these, Zond 3
, flew past the moon and entered a heliocentric orbit, i.e.
it "circled the sun forever". Zond 3 did this by design and continued in its original planetary science mission.
The Soviets also sent a series of missions on free-return trajectories around the moon during the late 1960s and into 1970. These missions were also
designated Zond missions and continued numerically from where the previous Zond series had left off. These missions were intended to travel to the
moon on free-return trajectories using modified Soyuz capsules called Soyuz 7K-L1
. The 7K-L1
differed from the then-standard Soyuz in many ways, most notably in that their orbital module was deleted from the configuration to save weight and
that they launched using the then relatively new Proton rocket.
The 7K-L1 Soyuz were unmanned, but seem to have been fully capable of supporting a crew - biological samples, including turtles, were flown on
. However, while the Proton is now a workhorse of the Russian space
program, back in the 1960s it was temperamental at best; several Zond missions suffered first or second stage failures (and were thus not officially
labeled Zond missions), there were issues reliably landing the capsule within Soviet territory, etc. In any case, by the time the Zond 8 capsule had
been recovered - in October of 1970 - NASA had already conducted Apollos 11, 12, and 13, beating the Soviets to the moon and demonstrating how
hazardous a manned lunar mission could be. The Zond program was canceled.
It seems possible that Flatwoods'
science teacher was aware of the Zond missions - including Zond 3, which did go into a heliocentric orbit,
and the second Zond series, which was capable of being manned but never was. It would be reasonable to speculate that the teacher either mish-mashed
details of the missions, detailing an attempted lunar mission going horribly wrong, or reported to Flatwoods
and his classmates what he
believed to be the truth, but ultimately was shown to be untrue - possible, given the questionable veracity of the information available in the West
about Soviet space activities in the 1960s and 1970s.