sokolovOn the eve of the 54th anniversary of the launch of the first artificial satellite of Earth, we (the editorial board of the Great Start project – editor’s note) we invited to the Korolev’s Planet web site an honored worker of science of Russia, doctor of engineering science, member of the Tsiolkovsky Russian Space Academy and of the International Academy of Astronautics, winner of the Lenin, State and RF government prizes, holder of the Order of Lenin, and, at present, RSC Energia President’s advisor Boris Sokolov and asked him to share with us his recollections about that great and unforgettable time.

Воспоминания Б.А. Соколова
Воспоминания Б.А. Соколова

“The farther the rapid stream of time takes us away from the events of more than 50 years ago, the clearer becomes the great role of such manager as Sergei Korolev, who was actually not just a manger, but also a sort of a commander taking his army on a trek into the unknown. Fading from memory today are the names of officials, managers, generals. But significance and importance of the figure of S.P. korlev shine brighter with every day.

To remember the situation that existed at the time in the Soviet Union is to remember that the end of the Second World War saw the beginning of the cold war against the Soviet Union. It is a known fact that President Truman had on his desk a plan submitted by Pentagon to deliver a nuclear strike against many towns in the Soviet Union. Under these conditions, the county’s leadership made S.P.Korolev and the team of the Special Design Bureau 1 under his direction responsible for the development of an intercontinental ballistic missile, which could deliver an atomic bomb to an intercontinental distance, including US

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the work began on the development of the intercontinental ballistic missile, the famous R-7, which, modified and upgraded, to this day serves to launch cosmonauts and conduct major space exploration programs. The role of S.P. Korolev has been described in many books, articles and lectures. The best such description was provided by B.Y. Chertok in his outstanding book “Rockets and People”. But I would like, without repeating what has already been written, to tell you how Korolev acted whenever an “insurmountable” situation arose, how made his decisions, what decisions were then implemented.

May 15, 1957, saw the first launch of the R-7 rocket. The first launch of R-7 was not successful. 10 minutes after the launch, there was an explosion and the flight ended in failure.

In June there was a second rocket. Launch attempts continued for two days, but they failed. In fact, the rocket never took off.

During the third launch attempt a month later, in July, the rocket did take off, but it went into a spin and, eventually, failed to accomplish its mission.

Developed on the basis of the results of the first three launches of R-7 rocket were measures, which were implemented at a pace that is absolutely unthinkable today. And in August, a fourth rocket did take off and reach Kamchatka. That is, it demonstrated that Russia had an intercontinental ballistic missile. There was an announcement to this effect from the TASS news agency. The rocket was supposed to deliver a payload useful to us, but noxious to an adversary. Unfortunately, it failed to do this, because that payload had an insufficient heat shield, it did not reach Earth and disintegrated in the upper atmosphere. Then, there was a pause. Measures were developed to improve thermal insulation. Specialists estimated that this would take half a year. The tests would have to be stopped for half a year.

And S.P.Korolev, being a true commander, changes the strategy of the rocket development. He said that in order to launch a satellite, there is no need to develop the payload heat shield. It would be sufficient to launch this payload, to put this satellite into its target orbit. It should be noted that as early as in 1954, Michael Tikhonravov, a colonel at research institute NII-4, came up with a proposal, which stated that the intercontinental ballistic missile, at the time under development, would be capable of putting a satellite into Earth orbit. Both Korolev’s co-workers and the staff of NII-4 (prime institute of the defense industry for missile projects – editor’s note) gave this proposal a cold reception. It was argued that such proposals divert Russian industry and everybody working on the project from the main task. In the end, M. Tikhonravov had to leave NII-4. Korolev gave him a job at the Special Design Bureau 1. But Korolev’s associates, the Council of Chief Designers, also gave a very cold reception (to the idea of a satellite launch – editor’s note), in fact, they did not support him, and he said that in that case he would have to appeal to the country’s leadership. And that’s what he did. He had enough force, insistence and perseverance to prove convincingly that this could be done. He was given permission. And I should also tell you about the practical implementation of this proposal.

The fact is that the engines, which Glushko delivered for the first vehicles (first units of the R-7 rocket – editor’s note), did not meet all the specifications: specific impulse, specific thrust, etc., and according to the calculations, the satellite which was being designed at the Special Design Bureau 1 and could end up weighing from one ton to a ton and 400 kg, in fact could not be lifted by such a rocket. It was then that Korolev made the decision: “Let us build a simplest satellite with a mass of up to 100 kg and no more than 1 m in size and it will then be within the rocket’s lifting capability”.

Things were set into motion, people stayed at the factory for days on end. And, literally within a month, they built a sphere weighing 87 kg and a little less than one meter in diameter (actually, the satellite parameters were 83.6 kg and 58 cm in diameter – editor’s note), with only one function left – to transmit a simple signal as a proof that it is in orbit.

While the satellite was being built, there was one more launch, the fifth one. The rocket again reached Kamchatka, with the same results. S.P.Korolev and everybody (involved in the tests – Editor’s note) received a re-confirmation of the positive result. And that is why the sixth vehicle, just the sixth rocket built was intended for the launch of the first satellite.

The first launch took place on October 4, 1957. In half an hour a message came through from telemetry people (specialists monitoring the operation of the launch vehicle and the satellite – editor’s note) after the launch of the satellite into orbit, and when the “beep, beep” signal from the satellite was heard, this made an indelible impression. The satellite is alive, it flies. It should be said though, that in September of 1957, there was a grand meeting at the Hall of Columns, where S.P.Korolev, virtually unknown back then, made a report. He said that at the time the Soviet Union and United States were planning to launch artificial satellites of Earth for scientific purposes. This (announcement – Editor’s note) did not draw much attention. But as a matter of fact, US was also actively preparing for such a launch.

The launch on October 4 was ahead of the US satellite launch be four months, and the US satellite weighed only 9 kg.

And if S.P.Korolev had non insisted on the launch of that satellite, we would not have been able to do this before the US. This was an example of S.P.Korolev’s strategic approach as a commander. The launch of the satellite produced an unexpected effect throughout the world, and the Soviet leadership used all this (that is, the successful launch of a satellite on a multistage intercontinental ballistic missile - editor's note) to demonstrate the capabilities of the country, which was rising from ruins.





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