Space: The Soviets Blast Out in Front

Energia's launch widens Moscow's edge in rocketry

When the 170 million-horsepower Energia rocket thundered from its launching pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome near Tyuratam in Kazakhstan on May 15, the Soviet Union took another stride in its steady march toward pre-eminence in space. Streaking eastward, the massive heavy-lift rocket reached 6,000 m.p.h. and 30 miles in altitude before the first stage separated and dropped to earth as planned. At nearly 14,000 m.p.h. and 60 miles up, the second stage fell away and splashed into the Pacific Ocean "in strict conformity with the flight mission," as the official report put it. Then, unexpectedly, there was a glitch: the payload,...