The Russian Space Program - The Early Years


Sergi Korolev – The Father of Space Travel

"Everybody that had come before him was a dreamer, however, Korolev was an intelligent and practical person. He is remembered to this day as the one who made the dream of space travel a reality".

Sergei Pavlovich Korolev was born on 12 January 1907 in Zhytomyr, Ukraine. The son of a Russian literature teacher, From his earliest days he loved everything to do with aeronautics and designed his own glider at the tender age of 17. Later he joined the University of Moscow and although it was still a theoretical subject, rocket propulsion became his love and his focus.
In 1931 he founded an organization that developed the USSR's first liquid-fuelled rocket. They were called the Group for Investigation of Reactive Motion (GIRD). But in 1933 the group was absorbed into the Russian military and became known as the RNII the official centre for research and the development of missiles and rocket-powered gliders

In the 1940s and 1950s this group, under Korolev's leadership worked on the Soviet ICBM missile program, codenamed R-1. This was a direct response to Germany's war-time V-2 missile project.  The military funded the ICBM missile program which was developed by the rocket forces. The space travel program was of secondary importance. Americans falsely believed that the Russian leader Khrushchev was involved in the Russian space mission for propaganda purposes and for this reason he was close to Korolev, but Khrushchev was more enthusiastic about the missiles rather than the space mission. Also, Khrushchev had no plans to compete with the American spacecraft, Apollo.

As Soviet rocket designs progressed, improvements were made, and by 1957, the Soviets had a rocket powerful enough to place a satellite into orbit. The R-7 was a highly useful rocket for the strategic delivery of not only nuclear weapons but a credible launch base for space vehicles. All this is due to its large five-tonne transport capacity and its excellent global reach.

Another key moment occurred in 1957, the Americans announced they were entering the space race. This was Korolevs opportunity to beat the Americans into space and fulfill his lifelong dream of interplanetary travel.

Korolev wrote a heartfelt letter to the Soviet premier Khrushchev, insisting that he could indeed launch his satellite "Sputnik" before the US and after much deliberation, Khrushchev finally agreed to let him try. The space race was on in earnest.
Now he had to convince engineers it was possible too, but his passion and drive convinced them there was no doubt that they would be first.
On 4th October 1957, while the Americans were still racing to try and complete their satellite., Sputnik launched to the amazement of the world. The USSR had the world's first artificial satellite in orbit.