Nobody expected it
Vladimir Lositsky, historian of national aviation and cosmonautics, director of the Cosmonaut Serebrov Foundation
The Soviet government approved the decision to build the intercontinental ballistic missile proposed by Korolev on May 20, 1954. As soon as a week later, Korolev began bombarding officials, the military, and the Academy of Sciences with letters suggesting that the not yet created missile be used to launch an artificial earth satellite and to carry out other space missions, including a flight to the moon. He received no official response. The opinions expressed unofficially ranged from negative to sharply negative.
The military did not want to even hear about it, and only a few notable scientists supported Korolev’s initiative, although not without hesitation. It took several meetings at the Academy of Sciences before Korolev succeeded in convincing leading academicians, including the famous and most distinguished Soviet physicist, future Nobel Prize winner Pyotr Kapitsa, of the importance of space program.
Shortly before Khrushchev’s visit, the R-5 missile — an upgraded version of the R-2 — with a nuclear payload was successfully tested. This became an important instrument of foreign policy. The USSR was now able to deliver a nuclear bomb almost anywhere in Europe, except as far away as Spain.
Korolev showed Khrushchev different models of missiles from the R-1 upwards, spoke about their capabilities, history of creation, successes and failures along the way. For all the failures, Korolev blamed himself. Khrushchev was surprised; he was not accustomed to such sincerity.
Finally, it was the turn of the R-7 missile, almost ready, but yet untested.
In early 1957, Korolev got word that a report entitled Satellite Over the Planet! would be delivered at a session to coordinate US rocket and satellite initiatives in Washington on October 6.
As there was no way to know if this was supposed to be just the title of the report or a launch announcement, it was decided to take the lead and launch the Soviet satellite the soonest possible. The basic Sputnik seemed the safest bet of the three.
Progress Rocket and Space Center in Samara. May 2021
Based on recollections of Konstantin Shustin, Korolev Design Bureau employee, and Konstantin Feoktistov, Soviet cosmonaut
The USSR leader’s visit to the assembly plant in Podlipki was staged by Korolev with remarkable skill.
Korolev was showing the missiles gradually, one at a time, in the order they were built and was giving explanations along the way without going into too much technical detail. He spoke about how they were created, their range and payload capacity.
As they proceeded from rocket to rocket, the numbers kept increasing manifold. The missiles were getting bigger and bigger too. Khrushchev looked extremely pleased.
There was a separate guard in front of the huge new workshop. When the doors swung open, the visitors saw an incredibly large missile standing upright and filling the entire space of the brightly lit hangar. It was the R-7.
The missile seemed like a real miracle, and the visitors were visibly overwhelmed.
According to eyewitness accounts of those events recorded many years later, Korolev thoroughly enjoyed the effect produced. While Khrushchev was walking around the rocket with his head craned, Korolev was giving explanations. Khrushchev was simply beaming with joy.
Speaking about new opportunities opened with creation of R-7, Korolev brought Khrushchev to a small stand with a model of some device, and made a true «presentation» of a satellite.
The main arguments were:
‑ we already have a rocket, no need to develop anything extra, no additional costs involved
‑ the Americans announced they would launch a satellite in 1958, and here’s the chance to beat them to it
The Sputnik was to travel in outer space, and it was necessary to make sure that, at least for a while, it would be able to withstand the destructive influence of external forces, the magnitude of which was hard to accurately estimate.
Due to a lack of time, some of testing operations were performed in an unconventional way. To test freeze-thaw resistance, for example, the sphere was half-submerged in a tank with a mixture of alcohol and dry ice, while the other side was heated with dozens of powerful lamps. Every 15-20 minutes, the sphere was rotated, and the routine kept repeating for two days.
To test how far the satellite beep-beep signal would reach, the transmitter was air-towed by a helicopter over the Moscow region, while they tried to pick up the signal all the way to the Far East.
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