Oleg Nikolayevich Volkov, Deputy Manager of the Great Start Project, conducts the interview

Volkov: Dear visitors to the Internet portal «Korolyov’s Planet», on September 17 this year, the 155th anniversary of the birth of Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky, the outstanding man of Russian science, the founder of world cosmonautics, took place. Therefore, we here at the museum of Rocket-Space Corporation Energia are taking an interview with Sergei Nikolayevich Samburov, the great-grandson of Konstantin Eduardovich who has been working at RSC Energia 36 years now. He is the chief specialist at the cosmonauts’ technical training and activity planning department, as well as the academician of the Russian Academy of Cosmonautics and the President of the Fund after Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky.

– Good afternoon, Sergei Nikolayevich! It is interesting to trace your family tree. You are the great-grandson of Konstantin Eduardovich. I wonder if Konstantin Eduardovich had a large family. Were there seven children? Whom of the relatives do you represent?


Samburov: Yes, Tsiolkovsky had seven children, five grandchildren and five great-grandsons later on. My granny was his middle daughter, while my mother was his granddaughter. When they got married, they changed their last names twice. Now my last name is Samburov and I lost the Tsiolkovsky’s name.

Volkov: Tell me, please, about how you came to work for RSC Energia. What was the reason for your coming here, and what are you doing at RSC Energia?

Samburov: The point is that there was no other way. It was the Universal Mind’s order that the hundredth anniversary of Tsiolkovsky’s birth was marked by the development of space industry and the launch of a satellite. Sergei Pavlovich Korolev who turned 50 decided to launch the first spacecraft beyond the Earth on the hundredth anniversary of Tsiolkovsky’s birth. Those 2 weeks meant nothing for universal time (because the satellite was launched on October 4). Before the 100th anniversary (of K.E. Tsiolkovsky’s birth – ed.), the scientists came to Kaluga and visited the house where I lived (on Tsiolkovsky Street). They said to me: — “No one should know about it. It is a state secret. We shall launch a satellite to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Tsiolkovsky’s birth, in honour of your grandfather as my mother was told». My parents also warned me: — «If you tell anybody at school (or at kindergarten, I was only 6 years old) that satellite is going to be launched, we shall flog you». I was in fear of being punished and kept the secret, although I was eager to say: — «Do you know that we are going to launch a satellite soon?». Such was my family which was frequently visited (by chief specialists involved in space activities – Ed.).

Then Gagarin flew onboard space vehicle. Everybody rejoiced at the event, people threw hats. In two months, before going to his Gzhatsk, Gagarin stopped at Kaluga and visited our family (K.E. Tsiolkovsky’s – ed.) to give an account of the events. Gagarin came into house. There was the grandmother, the Tsiolkovsky’s daughter, and me; he patted me on the head and said: – «Here is one more cosmonaut». I seemed to believe that I would be a cosmonaut. I remember German Stepanovich Titov coming to our place (he became, actually, a friend of our family and just came to stay with us and have a rest); also the first cosmonauts such as Popovich, Nikolayev, Leonov visited us. All of them came to give their accounts. Thanks to Gagarin, it became a good tradition for cosmonauts to drop into our house. All those events and persons I met had grown on me and I, naturally, would like to become a cosmonaut. I was unwilling to be a military man. I found out that it was MVTU after Bauman which educated specialists for Korolev and they flew onboard space vehicles afterwards. That’s why I graduated from that higher educational establishment (the «Baumanka» as they call it) in the specialized field of radio engineering and came to RSC Energia to be enlisted in cosmonauts. I was included in the cosmonauts staff. Then I was carefully examined and got some remarks. After a time, I was called up for active military service. After the Army I carried on with my work at RSC Energia.

V.: Sergei Nikolayevich, do I understand you right that you did not just want to take a job at the enterprise in order to build space vehicles, but also were going to fly into space and achieve the dream of your famous great-grandfarther?

S.: Of course, I took up wrestling, attended sports section, went in for race and jumps and my health was good enough. Therefore, I, naturally, wanted to fly into space and to implement this idea. I had read a lot of books, had a comprehensive knowledge of subject, was eager to do everything myself. A lot of my friends were provided training along with me. It is known that only one of the 100 candidates is recognized fit. As for me, I continued my work among cosmonauts and since then I conducted training sessions with cosmonauts. So, cosmonauts and astronauts are my good acquaintances and many of them are my friends.

V.: Could you expand on your activities at RSC Energia? Why are cosmonauts and astronauts your frequent guests? What are you busy with?

S.: After graduating from the Institute, I in the capacity of the developer of electronic equipment came to work at the department of antenna-feeder devices. I was engaged in developing the systems for orbital station, all sorts of devices for the Buran (the Buran is the Soviet reusable space vehicle – ed.). At the same time, I was going through Cosmonauts Selection Board (Cosmonauts Selection Board – ed.). Then I was taken to the Army. Later I came back to RSC Energia and took up other work at cosmonauts division where I started training of the Buran crew (cosmonauts for flight onboard the Buran space vehicle – Ed.). At that time there was no Buran yet. Training simulators were not available either. Training sessions were organized for all the Buran-related cosmonauts. When the Buran program was terminated, I was transferred to work at MCC, to the group analyzing crew activity, in order to review their errors, comments on cosmonauts’ activities.

During flight piloted by cosmonaut Musa Manarov , we hit upon an idea to develop ham radio communication system onboard, because no other particular types of communication were available there. Cosmonauts usually flew onboard space vehicles half a year and had a psychological need to communicate with people throughout the world. We developed a communication system and cosmonauts used it to communicate, exchange computer images, files. It so happened that we were one of the first to develop a new type of communication.

V.: Do I understand you right that you followed your grandmother’s example and became the founder of ham radio communication onboard space vehicles?

S.: Overall that’s true, as far as the station is concerned. Because there was the antenna installed on Shuttle Orbiter (One of the Shuttle Orbiters housed ham radio station and antenna – Ed.). But the Shuttle performed short trips. The Americans left us behind with their Orbiters. But we became the first with our orbital stations. Cosmonauts used actively the communication system, were happy about it and always with pleasure attended my training sessions. Beginning with the Mir station, cosmonauts used this type of communication.

V.: Are there your antennas on the ISS Russian Segment now?

S.: Yes, there are. This type of communication continued to be used. About the same system was installed; a bit better system which is being upgraded, but the competing systems emerged as a satellite phone, modern types of communication. Technology is moving ahead and it is more advanced now than it used to be earlier. Ham radio communication is now not the only type of communication.

V.: Are cosmonauts getting training at your office, given radio call signs? Do they communicate via this channel with the Earth inhabitants?

S.: Yes, of course, they communicate. While on the Mir station it was the communication channel needed for cosmonauts, on the ISS it is the channel required for Earth. That is why both we and the US and European cosmonauts use all weekends to provide communication with schoolchildren, students: conduct communication sessions. Schoolchildren, students ask questions, cosmonauts answer them. It has got going properly and we permanently arrange these communication sessions through Mission Control Center. Schoolchildren throughout the world are very happy about it; they can ask question to cosmonauts and receive a reply without leaving their schools. It is sufficient to have adequate equipment at school and they need not go to any MCC. It is very convenient.

V.: All Russian cosmonauts get training at your place. And what about foreign astronauts who had flown Russian space vehicles, space tourists who visited the Russian Segment? Did you train them as well?

S.: The point is that the Mir is the Russian station, therefore, everybody got training and the Mir-NASA as well (the American astronauts who had flown the Mir station under the Mir-NASA Program – Ed.). The ISS Russian Segment also houses the system of ham radio communication. Nowhere else it can be found yet, it is being installed on the Columbus now (the European module as part of the ISS – Ed.). So far it is in the process of installation and before that there had been the only communication system on the Russian Segment Service Module. Thus, everybody who is going to fly into space, gets training at our place. I mean American, European and Canadian astronauts.

V.: What about a certain space tourist, the son of the US astronaut who conducted the first ham radio communication from the US space vehicle? Tell me about it.

S.: Yes, there was the astronaut, Owen Garriott, who flew into space and was the first to conduct ham radio communication session from the Shuttle Orbiter to the ground. Apart from other people, his son was able to hear him. Many years elapsed and his son, Richard Garriott flew into space as a tourist (onboard the Soyuz space vehicle from Russia – Ed.), with most of his program being devoted to ham radio communication activity, i.e. he had brought the equipment for images transmission. He transmitted images to the ground, including views of Tsyolkovsky’s Museum. He visited Kaluga, gazed long enough at the local places of interest, visited the house, wanted to spend the night on Tsiolkovsky’s bed. We refused to give him this chance, but he was allowed to drink from Tsiolkovsky’s cup and sit at his table. He flew and held communication with the farther. The farther was already on the ground, while his son was in space. That was a sort of symbolic link, everybody was very happy.

V.: As I know, ham radio communication is not your only occupation. Several artificial Earth satellites were launched from the ISS orbit with your help. Give me more detail about it, please.

S.: It is now the 55th anniversary (of launching the first artificial Earth satellite – Ed.), while 15 years ago it was fortieth anniversary of the satellite launch. Specialists came forward with the proposal initiated by Valeriy Polyakov, physician-cosmonaut, to organize symbolic launch of satellite. we made about one-third as large copy of satellite, it followed accurately the basic parameters of the satellite: the same ball, antenna, transmitter. The model was able to generate «beep-beep» (transmitted signal identical to the one transmitted by the first artificial Earth satellite – Ed.). We delivered it onboard the Mir station and launched (with the aid of cosmonauts, during their extravehicular activity (space walk – Ed.). Everybody was glad, especially the veterans who had heard the first satellite signals. In their letters they wrote: «We thought our life was over but it was just the beginning». As the result of such an unexpected agiotage, in a year we launched another satellite which could not only utter «beep-beep» but also extend greetings in child’s voices and speak different languages. Everybody liked it very much. Next year we made an identical satellite. It was a mockup of satellite in shape (at a 1:3 scale), but it was stuffed with totally different things: it could speak and utter computer phrases. Then we set to work over «Kolibri» satellite with Space Research Institute involved. Three years later, we built satellite but it was not launched by cosmonauts. Satellite was installed onboard Progress space vehicle (transport cargo vehicle Progress – Ed.). Progress departed, satellite was jettisoned from container and arrays were deployed (panels of satellite solar arrays which provide charging of its storage batteries – Ed.). One year ago, similar «Chibis» satellite was launched following the same procedure. Then we hit upon an idea to conduct «Radioskaf» experiment.

I have to devote plenty of time to space education in Russia: take part in various contests, run some programs. There is a program called «I’ll be appreciated in the XXI century», in which children from all over Russia participate. We intended to make such equipment for schoolchildren and students which could be used to conduct experiments and be cheap enough. An idea was put forward to take the proven space suit with its service life expired, install scientific instruments, transmitter, receiver. Accommodate all these things on the platform rather than in «Progress», stow the used space suit for submergence, and launch it into space. The used space suit will return to the ground and burn up (in dense atmospheric layers with no remainder and will not leave space debris falling on the Earth surface – ed.). That’s what we did. We got a cheap base, equipment not so expensive as we expected (students made it). Cosmonauts installed instruments within space suit, mounted antenna externally and launched the space suit during one of space walks. it had flown and we called it «Uncle Vanya». The Uncle Vanya was flying beautifully. Cosmonauts got used to their fellow-workers walking nearby and all of a sudden somebody had flown away. It was a bit of a shock to them. Although they knew that there was special equipment rather than man inside the space suit.

V.: Have you got the photograph?

S.: Yes, I have. We actually have diplomas. We awarded everybody who could hear the flying equipment. Then we continued with our work. It so happened that new space suits came and no equipment was ready for them, while old space suits were nowhere to store onboard. The station was stuffed with other necessary things. that is why the space suits were submerged. Thereafter, we made the «Kedr» equipment in place of the «Radioskaf». While we were busy with changing the equipment, the 50th anniversary of Gagarin’s flight came. So we launched the equipment in honour of the 50th anniversary. We recorded the Gagarin’s and Korolev’s voices: – «I am Zaria. I am Kedr» (the satellite was called «Kedr»); Tsiolkovsky’s voice on the Red Square. We made 27 messages in 15 languages, including those spoken in Bangladesh and in Japan… – welcomes given by children’s clear voices.

The satellite was flying, sent greetings, uttered «I am the «Kedr» satellite». There were 4 video cameras installed which shot views of the Earth on 4 sides downlinked to the ground. All radio hams on the Earth received images and placed them on a dedicated site. All this was generally recognized and the Academy of Sciences supported us. Then that satellite was proposed to UNESCO on behalf of the Academy of Sciences. The satellite was called UCESCO SAT1; it was the first satellite which got approval. The event gained wide recognition which was very pleasant. Now we are making the «Radioskaf-3», the same satellite. Then there will be the 4th, 5th, 6th satellites, etc. We are going to add little by little attitude control system, engines to them. Perhaps, it will fly to the Moon or to Mars. I mean such a students-made satellite, which could accommodate within an experiment different types of radio equipment and be checked for proper operation, i.e. it is not the FOBOS-Grunt which needs to be perfectly fabricated to exclude any failures. The point is that students can make the equipment which either does not operate properly, or generates the wrong parameters. Everything can be corrected afterwards. What are the advantages of such satellites? First of all, you can receive information at your place, at university or in the city where you are staying, because information is transmitted over radio ham channels and they are free. Extravehicular activity is frequently conducted, launches can be performed during any space walk. It is not a very elaborate procedure. Normally, the satellite flies half a year which is long enough to get a scientific result from any device. You can make a new, more advanced device and launch it again. Designing such satellites is one of the best ideas for young people’s development and their involvement in cosmonautics. The result can be seen immediately. Specialist came to work at RSC Energia, in three years’ time he would see his satellite flying. Surely, it would make him happy.

V.: Sergei Nikolayevich, where should apply persons who are interested in your information, to what E-mail address, what organization or should they apply directly to you personally? How to do it by those who are really willing to take part in building a satellite partially made by their own hands?

S.: RSC Energia issued the order to set up a department of small satellites which would encourage building such satellites. We shall start developing, drawing up new projects. So you may turn directly to us, our Space Flight Center. Those who are eager to create such satellites, develop, conduct tests, take part in this interesting work, should approach the site management, apply to the Center where this department of small satellites development is being established. We should be very happy if young people came here. This work leaves much room for imagination. You can develop new satellites, great projects. We would be glad to take part in this work.

V.: Thank you very much, Sergei Nikolayevich. You earlier said to me that the satellites spoke in children’s voices. As far as I know, at least one of the satellites spoke in your children’s voices. Can you give us more detail about your children, grand-childs continuing dynasty of Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky?

S.: The satellite called «the 41st year of Space Age» was made fast. There was no time to collect children’s voices. That is why we had to involve our children. My two sons uttered a few phases both in English and in Russian. As a matter of fact, they heard their voices while the satellite was flying as if they were in space, but they did not get interested in space-related activities, although they went in for sports, had a good health. Both my sons got married. My elder son Konstantin has a grandson of 3,5 years old. Both of them do not smoke; nor do they indulge in alcohol. Overall, they are healthy guys. I was unable to entice them into RSC Energia and even into cosmonautics, because they live in Korolev city, Moscow is nearby. They preferred to work in Moscow. True, their work has nothing to do with space. I wish my sons would continue the cause initiated by Konstantin Eduardovich. But it turned out otherwise. The grandson is our hope. Perhaps, other grand-childs will appear. Maybe they will fly into space.

V.: Sergei Nikolayevich, you are the great-grandson of Konstantin Eduardovich. So, may be your grandson or your great-grandson will achieve Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky’s dream. Therefore, I would like to ask another question: Tsiolkovsky is the founder of space theory; Sergei Pavlovich Korolev has virtually implemented Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky’s ideas; Yuri Alekseevich Gagarin was the first to implement those ideas. Are you on friendly terms with Korolev’s and Gagarin’s families?

S.: Yes, of course. We meet the daughter of Natalia Sergeevna Korolyova frequently, take part in all events. Since the time when Tsiolkovsky had made friends with Korolev who considered him as his teacher. Due to Korolyov’s efforts, the house-museum devoted to Tsiolkovsky was built in Kaluga, as well as the Cosmonautics museum. We are good friends. Also we are on friendly terms with Gagarins’s family. We attend the Gagarin’s readings, meet the family. In due time we had the club of runners called «Muravey». We arranged race to Yu.A. Gagarin’s mother, carried soil from the Zvezdny, Kaluga. Just imagine how long such Marathon races were. We frequently met Anna Timofeevna, have a lot of photographs, books. Our friendship continues. We are on the best of terms with the Korolyov’s daughter. She was a close friend of my mother. This friendship lasts several tens of years. The same is true for the Yu.A. Gagarin’s family. We meet Gagarin’s relatives when we attend the Gagarin’s readings, we arrange “round tables” there. Things tend to develop.

V.: Part of what K.E. conceived has been already implemented. But we all know that Tsiolkovsky’s activities and ideas are vastly more complex and diverse. What Tsiolkovsky’s ideas are, in your opinion, most topical now?

S.: As a matter of fact, Tsiolkovsky had a lot of plans. One of the best known plans is a 16-item plan for space development not mastering as people used to say, but development. Now we are half-way through with the plan, but only the simplest items of the plan are implemented. In percentage terms, it is just one-hundredth of the plan. The plan further reads as follows: space suit is made; orbital station is built, then greenhouses are created for replenishing the supply of food, oxygen. We are just coming to this stage. Now we are at an early stage of cosmonautics development. Tsiolkovsky said: - “Earth is the cradle of the human mind, but one cannot live for ever in the cradle”. Cosmonautics is in its infancy just as the child connected with its mother through umbilical cord. When we give birth to a child it is supplied with food, water and all the rest. At the present time, on these stations we are tied to the Earth like a child to its mother. Now we, definitely, need to “tear the umbilical cord”, build new stations which could allow us to travel throughout the Universe, around the Sun and farther. The experience has been gained. It only remains to provide normal life support so that an independent flight becomes possible. Then we shall be able to explore different planets.

V.: Thank You very much, Sergei Nikolayevich. I expect You to take part in our discussion on our site “Korolyov’s Planet” more than once. I wish You all the best.

S.: Ask your questions. We can tell You a lot not only about cosmonautics, but also about huge legacy handed down by Tsiolkovsky, about which much remains still unkown. This is Tsiolkovsky’s philosophy, philosophy of cosmism, reasoning about extra-terrestrial civilizations: who we are on the Earth; what we are for on the Earth; what the God is; what the Universe consists of; what the origin of life is both in the Universe and on the Earth. He pondered a lot over humanity, that is why many his works (about 2/3 of them) were devoted to the very same subject.

Интервью с Самбуровым С.Н.
Интервью с Самбуровым С.Н.





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