Nothing but the rocket
Vladimir Lositsky, historian of national aviation and cosmonautics, director of the Cosmonaut Serebrov Foundation
In September 1940, Korolev was taken to the NKVD special prison. No.156 on Radio Street in Moscow.
Andrey Tupolev, who headed the in-prison design bureau, used to be Korolev’s tutor at the Moscow Technical University; he supervised his graduation project and had a great liking for his former student. As it turned out later, Korolev owed it to Tupolev that he was transferred from the labor camp to Moscow, a move that literally saved his life.
After the war began, the Tupolev group was evacuated to the town of Omsk where they were assigned to supervise mass production of the Tu-2 bomber. Korolev was the head of the fuselage shop. He lived in a prison dormitory, went to and from work in a regular suit, but always under guard. In 1942, Korolev was transferred from Omsk to Kazan, where his former colleague at the Reaction Engine Institute Valentin Glushko worked on rocket engines. It was planned to install such engines in airplanes, which was what Korolev was tasked to do.
Progress Rocket and Space Center in Samara. May 2021
To experiment with the rocket engine they picked the Pe-2 dive bomber designed by Vladimir Petlyakov, one of the main aircraft of the war years.
Korolev estimated that the speed of the Pe-2 equipped with the engine built by Glushko would increase by about 100 km/h, and the plane would take off and gain altitude much faster.
Tests began in the spring of 1943. For almost half a year they ran engine tests on the ground. On October 1, 1943, the rocket plane took off for the first time. Beside the pilot, there were two engineers on board, Korolev was one of them.
The rocket-powered Pe-2 made over 100 flights. All of Korolev’s calculations were validated. The experience gained from those tests came in very useful later on, when first Soviet fighters with turbojet engines were developed.
On July 16, 1944, Korolev was released early. It was a «reward» for the successful work on the rocket plane.
After the release, Korolev stayed in Kazan for another year to continue flight testing the Pe-2 rocket plane.
In August 1945, after returning to Moscow, Korolev met with Mikhail Tikhonravov, an engineer that Korolev had worked with in GIRD and considered his mentor. Tikhonravov talked about the idea of a large rocket capable of lifting two pilots into the stratosphere.
At an altitude of 200 km the pressurized cabin was to separate from the rocket and parachute down. When approaching the ground, a special extendable probe on coming in contact with a hard surface would switch on a braking engine. Tikhonravov thought over all the details, most of which seemed completely unfeasible at the time.
* As narrated by writer Yaroslav Golovanov who might have heard about this episode from Tikhonravov himself
The conversation referred to the Nazi «retribution weapon», a ballistic missile of great destructive power designed by Wernher von Braun. Launched from German territory, the V-2 was capable of reaching London.
Progress Rocket and Space Center in Samara. May 2021
For the sake of practice
In September 1945 Korolev flew to the Soviet occupation zone in Germany to study captured German rocket hardware. On October 15, he attended a demonstration launch of the V-2, which had been captured by the British.
In May 1946, Korolev was appointed chief designer of the Product No. 1 and tasked with reconstruction of the V-2 from parts captured in the Soviet occupation zone. The V-2 production was re-established at the underground plant Mittelwerk in Thuringia, near the town of Nordhausen, where the V-2 was produced during the war by prisoners of the concentration camp Dora-Mittelbau.
Eleven launches of reproduced V-2s were made in 1947; five of them were successful.
Along with recovering the V-2 production, Korolev developed an improved version, the R-1 missile. It was manufactured completely with parts made by Soviet enterprises. The R-1 was first launched on October 10, 1948, and 20 more launches were made over the next year.
The R-1 missile used ethanol, liquid oxygen, sodium permanganate, and hydrogen peroxide. The missile took six hours to be prepared for launching, had a maximum range of about 270 km and could miss the target by as much as 1.5 km.
But it was flying!
The chief designer of the R-1 missile as a whole was Korolev. However, each of the main systems of the missile had its own chief designer. These people would remain Korolev’s closest associates in the future and would take part in creation of his next rockets.
In November 1950, the first Soviet ballistic missile R-1, modified and enhanced, was put into military service. Korolev, though, was no longer interested in it, he was thinking about the next rocket. That one would not only come to be a real scientific and technological breakthrough, but would also gain the USSR the status of a superpower.
Based on recollections of Esther Rachevskaya, engineer of Tupolev Design Bureau, and Alexander Skoptsov, employee of Korolev Design Bureau
AUTHOR, PRODUCER, PROJECT MANAGER
cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko
DESIGN AND DEVELOPMENTPixeljam Studio
3D VIDEO AND MODELING
Anna Ulyanskaya, Alla Chetaeva, Victor Koreshev, Georgy Kulikov, Vladimir Derevyanko, Alexei Taranin, Natalya Bogoyavlenskaya, Maxim Makarov, Svetlana Alexikova, Dmitry Anzhaparidze, Dmitry Koshelev, Danila Koshelev, Ivan Karyshev, Arthur Salikhov, Mikhail Tatyanin
SPECIAL THANKS TO
Progress Rocket and Space Center in Samara for the filming opportunity
Museum of Cosmonautics in Moscow for the filming opportunity on the territory of the Memorial House Museum of Academician Sergey Korolev in Ostankino
ILLUSTRATIONS AND VIDEO PROVIDED BY:
Russian State Archive of Scientific and Technical Documentation
Russian State Documentary Film and Photo Archive
PHOTO AND VIDEO MATERIALS FROM PERSONAL ARCHIVES OF:
Yaroslav Golovanov, Boris Smirnov, Evgeny Ryazanov
VIDEO CONTENT SOURCES
«Pilot Shabanov’s Flight Moscow-Berlin (1920-1930)», «The Country of the Soviets Turns 16. (1933)», " May 1 Celebration in Moscow (1923)», «Sovjournal No. 64/173 (1928)», «Aero March (1934)», «Aircraft Inventor Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (1927)», «Into the Air Now! (1923)», «The Great Scientist of the Great People (1935)», «The Eastern Flight (1924)», «Socialist Village No. 3 (1935)», «Fighter Planes (1942)», «Airplane in the Service of Culture (1925)
Documentary films and stories (1960-1992):
«Korolev», «Conquerors of the Universe», «Columbuses of the Space Era», «Twenty-Five Years' Undertakings», «Documentary Filings of Yuri Gagarin and Gherman Titov» — footage of cosmonauts in the TV studio, footage of flight preparation of the first team of cosmonauts
MAIN SOURCES OF CONTENT
Special prisons appeared as the authorities attempted to address an acute shortage of qualified specialists in the USSR, in particular, in defense programs. The situation even got worse in the mid-1930s following a massive oppressive campaign against saboteurs wherein lots of engineers and technicians were arrested. The NKVD came up with a way to use the expertise of enemies of the people by setting up secret research and development laboratories within the prison system, sharashki, in common parlance, where they gathered scientists and engineers from various camps and prisons and assigned them to work on scientific and technological projects.
Along with Korolev, many leading aircraft engineers and several chief designers worked in the Tupolev’s sharashka, an in-prison design facility headed by Tupolev. Prior to or immediately after the war began, some of them were released — Vladimir Petlyakov and Vladimir Myasishchev in July 1940, and Andrey Tupolev in July 1941.
On May 12, 1945, three days after the Victory Day, in one of test flights, the rocket engine blew up and heavily damaged the Pe-2 tailplane. Korolev refused to follow the pilot’s order to bail out and stayed on. The plane managed to land, but Korolev was badly hurt — his face and eyes were burned — and the danger of losing his sight seemed quite real.
After treatment his eyesight was recovered and Korolev was back to test flights. Both the pilot who flew the plane and Korolev were rewarded with two months' salary.
The impossibility of keeping the missile in a ready state as it had to be stored unfueled, overlong pre-launch preparations, limited precision — the R-1 was not exactly a super weapon.
According to the recollections of academician Boris Chertok, after one of the test launches, a combat general invited to the range said, «Are you insane? Wasting four tons of alcohol on a rocket? Give that alcohol to my division, and the guys will take over any town on the march. Your rocket won’t even hit the place! Who needs it?»
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