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Sergei Korolev's 100th Birthday

Sergei Korolev

January 12 marks a hundred years since Sergei Korolev’s birth and 41 years since his death. It was only after he died that the nation and the rest of the world learnt the name of the Chief Designer of Soviet missile and space systems, and the founder of cosmonautics.

Usually, Korolev’s name is associated with the first achievements of Soviet cosmonautics – the first satellite, the first lunar robot, the first interplanetary station, and the first manned flight into space. But his influence on the development of missile space technology as a unique new instrument of learning about the world was much greater than that. Owing to him, humankind has been givena new dimension – it has turned from the Earth’s eternal prisoner with very limited living area and resources into an explorer of boundless space, and received an opportunity of endless advance in space and time.

In late October of 1929, Sergei Korolev visited Konstantin Tsiolkovsky to discuss the idea of going into the stratosphere on a glider. He was only 22 then. Instead of getting an approval for his project, the young Korolev received the great Goal of his Life, the program for its implementation, and awarning about incredible difficulties of space exploration. It seems, the early choice of this goal, one of the most challenging and important for the destinies of humanity explains Korolev’s unparalleled achievements.

In 1931, he met Fridrikh Tsander and other reactive motion enthusiasts, and established a public Group for the Study of Reactive Motion (GIRD). Its aim was to promote rocket technologies and cosmonautics, as well as to construct a simplistic rocket propelled aircraft with a liquid rocket engine. Very soon Korolev realized that this task could only be accomplished by collective effort, and developed close cooperation with the Leningrad-based Gas Dynamic Laboratory (GDL). He also established business contacts with potential clients, primarily, in the Ministry of Defense and the U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences, and drafted a large-scale experimental program for rocket development and testing.

On instructions from RKKA (Red Army) Chief of Armaments Mikhail Tukhachevsky, Korolev worked on a reactive research institute project together with the GDL scientific supervisor Boris Petropavlovsky. Successful launch of the first test liquid fuel rocket GIRD-09 in August 1933 was a decisive event in speeding up the institute’s establishment. Unfortunately, the institute’s directors did not wish to go in this direction, in particular develop a five-ton powered liquid rocket engine – the priority was given to missiles. As a result, Korolev lost his high-ranking position in the institute, but continued his work on cruise and ballistic missiles, which was started atGIRD. In two years, he managed to convert the institute’s directors into his soul mates.

By the end of 1937, Korolev’s work developedin all directions, and there were grounds to expect big achievements, which would open up broad prospects for missile technologies. Regrettably, a bright and active personality, Korolev did not escape the state purges in 1937-38, and was sent to a forced labor camp in Kolyma. Atthe end of 1940, his name was put on the list of specialists with whom AndreiTupolev wanted to work on a project of a new bomber. Korolev went to work ataso-called sharashka – a design bureau in prison, run by the NKVD (Soviet secret police), where the best designers and engineers from different parts of the GULAG consolidated the domestic defenses. In 1944, Korolev was appointed deputy chief designer on testing in a similar sharashka in Kazan. Valentin Glushko was his boss. Korolev was still a prisoner when he received his first government Medal for Valiant Labor during the Great Patriotic War.

Upon the rout of Nazism, Korolev was sent to Germany to study local missile technologies together with many other specialists of the same profile. He was charged with testing trophy missiles in flight, like the Americans were doing. But Korolev not only prepared the ground for copying FAU-2s, but also returned from Germany with a practically finished project of a new ballistic missile with a double range as compared with its long-range German counterpart.

On May 13, 1946 the U.S.S.R. Council of Ministers issued a decree on missile armaments, which was signed by Stalin. The decree resolved many financial and institutional questions pertaining to the development of missile technologies; work was launched atthree head ministries and inrelated sectors of another five ministries. The Main Center for Missile-Building Industry – NII-88–was set up, and Korolev was appointed to two positions,head of the design department, and chief designer of long-range ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Later on, he became the director of the center’s OKB-1 (design bureau), which became an independent organization. At his initiative, the military-industrial complex (MIC) resumed cooperation with the Academy of Sciences. As a result of this cooperation, all missiles, starting with trophy rockets (1947 launches) came to be used in high-altitude physical and biological testing; academic institutes rendered effective support to research on multi-stage missile theory, and possibilities of creating artificial Earth satellites.

Sergei Korolev did much for close connections between the missile industry and the atomic program. They were working for a common goal – to give the ICBMs a new strategic dimension by equipping them with nuclear and thermonuclear warheads. Korolev realized better than others that intercontinental missiles had a special role to play in preventing a nuclear war, and did everything he could for the nation to receive them as soon as possible. He was also always committed to his initial goal – space exploration based on Tsiolkovsky’s ideas and his own plans. He launched manned lunar programs, the piloted Soyuz spaceship, orbital refueling craft, and upper stage rocket transfer vehicles. Korolev was designing manned spacecraft for flights around the Earth, and to other planets of the solar system.

Having set up a new direction in missile or space technologies in his OKB, Korolev usually transferred it to other organizations, and appointed his colleagues and students to supervise it. Thus, Mikhail Yangel was put in charge of special OKB . 586 in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine, to design systems of land-based ballistic missiles and space vehicles.

OKB-1’s Affiliate .3 was set up in the city of Kyibyshev (Samara) on the Volga. Later on, it was transformed into a central specialized design bureau (TsSKB) headed by Chief Designer Dmitry Kozlov. The Progres Plant was part of it. TsSKB was charged with producing and upgrading the famous Korolev’s Seven – the R-7A missile. Now, 50 years after its construction, its versions continue being used in many Russian and international space programs. The same design bureau developed the first domestic camera-carrying satellites. Credit for the idea of these satellites goes to Korolev. Their subsequent development provided material and technical foundations for the adoption of all treaties on reduction of nuclear weapons and missiles.

OKB-1’s eastern Affiliate .2 was established in the city of Krasnoyarsk in Siberia, and later on renamed OKB-10 (Chief Designer Mikhail Reshetnev). Its task was to develop space-based systems of communication and navigation. OKB .385 was set up in the city of Zlatoust in the Chelyabinsk Region in the southern Urals to test produce sea-based missiles (Chief Designer Viktor Makeyev).

The father of cosmonautics Konstantin Tsiolkovsky wrote: “The chief motive of my life is to do something useful for people, to bring humanity at least one step forward, not to waste my life for nothing…” These words fully apply to Sergei Korolev, just as his own description of Tsiolkovsky: He “…was a man, who lived far ahead of his century, as a genuine and great scientist should do.”

Sergei Korolev's 100th Birthday

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