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The First Manned Space Flight Was the Rocket Designer's Victory as Much as Yuri Gagarin's (smithsonianmag.com) 78

From an article on the Smithsonian magazine: On this day in 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first person in space. And given the risks inherent to early spaceflight, he certainly deserves his place in history. But what about the man who designed the rocket that got Gagarin there? His name was Sergei Korolev, and his influence on the Soviet space program stretched much farther than Gagarin's 108 minutes of fame -- the time it took to make a single orbit of Earth. The flight of Vostok 1, Gagarin's craft, "was a defining moment of the 20th century and opened up the prospect of interplanetary travel for our species," writes Robin McKie for The Guardian. For Gagarin, it was the moment that made him a famous figurehead for the Soviet Union. As Gagarin toured the globe, the space program's chief designer remained at home and unknown. That Sergei Korolev ran the Soviet Union's rocket program wasn't revealed until after his death. "Gagarin became the face of Soviet space supremacy," McKie writes, "while Korolev was the brains. The pair made a potent team and their success brought fame to one and immense power to the other. Neither lived long enough to enjoy those rewards, however."
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The First Manned Space Flight Was the Rocket Designer's Victory as Much as Yuri Gagarin's

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Riding tons and tons of flaming high explosives is dangerous.

    When non-engineers or politics get into rocketry decisions, bad things tend to happen.

    Think Challenger and Columbia

    • Re:Well duh (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @12:11PM (#54222231)

      Think Soyuz 1 [wikipedia.org].

      At least with Challenger and Columbia you could say it was an accident, it did work before and it was some freak problems that occurred that should not, and the design itself was at least mostly ok.

      Soyuz 1 was murder. Plain and simple.

      • Challenger and Columbia were not dissimilar. Like Soyuz 1 a lot of people were very well aware of the problems that could occur, and had in the case of Columbia, and they chose to do nothing. You then got a lot of virtue signalling about space exploration being 'worth the risk' and every moon shot being a triumph of technology, and other such crap from people who have no clue whatsoever.

        Soyuz 1 did show how vital Korolev was. Not only was he a brilliant technologist but he also needed to be an exceptiona
        • by Anonymous Coward

          I think you will find that every single person who died while attempting to reach orbit or beyond would say everything they did was 'worth the risk'. And every moon shot was a triumph of technology and a triumph of what can be accomplished when everyone is pulling in the same direction.

          "people were very well aware of the problems that could occur, and had in the case of Columbia, and they chose to do nothing"
          Nobody has ever claimed to know every single that could go wrong on a manned space flight. Going to

      • by dbIII ( 701233 )
        It turns out that large parachutes are not so simple.
        in hindsight there should have been more unmanned tests but there was far less value put on the life of the crew than would be expected.
        Of all things the Anime "Space Brothers" had a side story told in flashback based on what happened to Soyuz 1.
      • You can't blame Korolyev for that though the mission failed over 2 years after Korolyev's death and most of the faults were in systems that had been redesigned after his death. Many of those redesigns were reverted back to Korolyev's original and are still there on Soyuz capsules to this day. The loss of all three Cosmonauts in Soyus 11 [wikipedia.org] was again due to a redesigned element of the space craft. If you take those two out of the equation Soyuz has an excellent track record if you keep them in the equation
  • On this day in 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first person in space.

    Well, the first person to survive being in space, if you believe the conspiracy theory.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      It doesn't matter. The U.S. definitively won the space race when we put Sputnik on the moon.

      • by PPH ( 736903 )

        We won it with the manhole cover.

      • Get your facts straight.

        Despite what you may have read in your so-called history books, Yuri Gargarin's trip was a total failure. He was tasked with planting quatrotriticale on the moon because of the agreement between the USSR and USA that the satellite would be awarded to the first country able to establish agriculture there.

        While it's true that, several years later, Neil Armstrong also failed to establish a planting... the original agreement was abrogated after Buzz Aldrin inadvertently released General

    • I don't know why it would be a conspiracy theory. The Soviet Union was a totally closed society, especially around that time, the space programme was very important in terms of prestige and propaganda and they weren't going to, and didn't, tell anyone about their failures. Gagarin was just the success we heard about, and given its importance in history I doubt we will ever know if they had tried and failed before.
      • by dbIII ( 701233 )
        Think for a moment. The USSR is gone and there's probably some people who grew up in it in your street. With the number of people involved in such projects there is no way to keep such secrets to the present day. Also the USSR was very keen on documentation and many historians have been through the information on the space program.
        Also we already know about many of their failures. They may not have ended up in the newspapers of the day but they ended up many books, tv programs etc. Deborah Cadbury's "T
    • Knowing what soviet union was like I would say its probable that there were prior failures that were not talked about. Firstly, first attempts were definitely more likely to fail than succeed, secondly, there is no way soviet union would have admitted it if such a thing did happen. However, if prior failures did happen, nobody who knew about it has talked so far and probably never will, so its unlikely we will ever know for sure. Example of how things worked in soviet union - Nedelin catastrophe, they didn'
    • by Opyros ( 1153335 )
      Proving a negative is of course always difficult outside of pure mathematics. The research which debunked the "dead cosmonauts" legend to most people's satisfaction was by James Oberg, and here [jamesoberg.com] is the relevant chapter from one of his books.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @12:07PM (#54222201)

    Unless Yuri took a far more active role in the launch than seems likely, Yuri was basically payload.

  • in soviet russia we rocket you!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    It's on Netflix and does well explaining Korolev's role.

  • by Baron_Yam ( 643147 ) on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @12:32PM (#54222387)

    ...that we celebrate the astronaut and hardly notice the rocket scientist and the engineers.

    Yes, it takes impressive balls/ovaries to get into a small tin can mounted on top of a giant tube of explosives and ride that into space. (Though this could also be stupidity or insanity..)

    Yes, it takes an impressive amount of composure, skill, and training to handle a trip into space, especially if anything goes off-plan. More than I'll ever have.

    But NONE of that would be useful or necessary at all if someone hadn't conceived of and built the hardware, and there are a lot fewer people capable of designing an orbit (or beyond) capable rocket than there are people of capable of riding one. And that was even more true in the early days when a lot of the theory and best practice wasn't available with a Google search.

    It's nice when you read about the astronauts acknowledging that. Outside of astronauts and space enthusiasts, you find a lot more people who know an astronaut's name than that of the engineer behind the equipment that made them an astronaut...

    • Yeah it's been bothering me for 500 years, how the shipbuilders and designers are never acknowledged, only guys who ride the ships like Columbus and Pizarro.

      • by PPH ( 736903 )

        500 years

        More like 5000 years. Back then, the first person to sail or paddle a boat was probably also it's builder. And it probably took guts to venture out further than you could wade or swim back to shore. By 500 years ago, shipbuilding was old hat. So was sailing. But navigating out of sight of land was still an accomplishment. That's why people like John Harrison [wikipedia.org] were the heros.

    • The engineers certainly get plenty of attention. For example: when one of them donned a somewhat odd t-shirt, the entire world took notice (and offense)
    • by k6mfw ( 1182893 )

      I'm also thinking what is remarkable is how someone like Korolev managed to get a good education, learn management skills, live through Stalin abuses, able to get Politburo to provide him resources... What if he died in the gulags? Did USSR have others with the engineer/manager talent but perished in purges, what if they lived?

      US managed to get talent that excelled like Goddard, Ames, Glenn, Dryden (these four guys with others laid the groundwork for the space age), Von Braun, Kraft, Low, Gilruth, etc. al

      • by dbIII ( 701233 )

        What if he died in the gulags

        He died because of his time in a prison camp. Because of the way his jaw had been broken and healed without splinting in the camp a doctor, years later, could not get a tube down his throat in time when he was undergoing surgery.

        Did USSR have others with the engineer/manager talent but perished in purges


    • The only reason Korolev was not more widely celebrated is that the Soviet leadership kept his identity secret for fear of assassination/abduction/etc. Von Braun never faced the same limitations and was much more of a celebrity.
    • Nobody who's ever played Kerbal Space Program has anything but utter respect for actual rocket scientists.

      Yes, I get it, astronauts are highly trained and it takes a particular sort of bravery to strap yourself atop 100t of (basically) explosives....but in terms of the rocket going where it's supposed to, and coming back safe: it's not like the astronauts are anything but spectators to a programmed series of events.

      • but in terms of the rocket going where it's supposed to, and coming back safe: it's not like the astronauts are anything but spectators to a programmed series of events.

        Apollo 13. Yeah, the real heroes were the guys on the ground, but as I recall, one of the astronauts had to actually pilot the thing in a completely unplanned maneuver or three.

        For that matter, Apollo 11 LM had to do an unplanned manuever or two, when they realized it was coming down onto a boulder field....

    • The Chicken is involved, but the Pig is committed

  • Soviet Rocket Design (Score:5, Interesting)

    by segedunum ( 883035 ) on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @12:36PM (#54222425)
    The history of Soviet and Russian rocket design beyond just the headlines is really interesting. The closed cycle rockets that we have today, that at one point no one thought possible, came about from the Soviet moon programme. Korolev realised that they simply didn't have the time or resources to design a new engine comparable to the F-1 so he had to cluster together thirty smaller rocket engines. Even then, to get the lift necessary the cycle had to be closed, so the Soviets embarked on a long trial and error research and development project (and some massive explosions) which resulted in the NK-33.

    On face value the Soviet moon programme was a failure, but this was arguably its greatest contribution. It's all the more remarkable since the Soviet leadership wanted to hide any notion they had ever had a moon programme so ordered everything scrapped. Soviet engineers hid around sixty NK-33 engines in a warehouse until they were re-discovered over twenty years later.
    • You know the SpaceX Falcon 9 "Octaweb" engine layout in the base of the 1st stage? Look at the base of the first stage of the N1 rocket sometime.

  • They were the Brady and Belichick of spaceflight.
  • Wasn't Yuri just the next step up from animal testing? Seems him, Armstrong, etc deserve the same respect one would give a person testing pharmaceuticals in a phase III trial.
  • Yuri did the same thing as a monkey. I know it's an honour to be "the first" and all that, but he definitely doesn't deserve any of the acclaim for the accomplishment. Glad to see this, even if the accolades are coming a little late.

    • by dbIII ( 701233 )

      Yuri did the same thing as a monkey

      Among other things he had to eject and parachute from outside of the capsule. That design would have killed a monkey. It wasn't built for a monkey.

  • by jsm300 ( 669719 ) on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @03:48PM (#54224165)
    The BBC produced a documentary called "Space Race" in 2005 that covered both the US and USSR space programs. Sergei Korolev and Werner Von Braun were main characters in the documentary. Many people in the US didn't like it because they felt it was overcritical of Werner Von Braun. Since I was already aware of the controversy regarding Werner Von Braun's nazi past, it wasn't surprising to me, and I thought it was reasonably balanced in its approach. Note that the subject is fairly controversial, so opinions span the spectrum from he should have been sentenced to life imprisonment for war crimes, to he was completely innocent. I believe that he did get a pass on a thorough investigation of his involvement due to his value to the U.S., and it is not clear from the details (biographies and documentaries tend to spin the facts differently) what the true story is. Anyway, if you want to learn more about Korolev you can search for "BBC space race" on youtube. The entire four part series is still available for viewing, and I thought it was well done.
  • Did Gargarin actually orbit the earth in 108 minutes, or did his craft follow a ballistic profile, like Alan Shepard?

  • by superwiz ( 655733 ) on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @05:17PM (#54224839) Journal
    Korolev remained unknown? Who is writing this tripe? He was a much more celebrated figure in the Soviet culture. It could be because Gagarin died in an while flying an experimental aircraft a few years later, but there were movies made about Korolev. Not even documentaries. They were full-feature movies glamorizing his life. Soviet Union featured distinguished scientists in movies roughly at the same rate as Hollywood features stock brokers. It's not surprising, either. Both do something esoteric to most people while it is something that the society-at-large views as its archetype.
    • He had been denounced by his colleagues who wanted his job, nearly died in the Gulags, then released under Khrushchev.

      He was completely unknown during the space race. His identity hidden.

      He was resurrected during Glasnost, and only recently became a public hero. I spoke to a Russian back packer recently who was very proud of Korolev but completely unaware of the purging.

      Ultimately this cost them the race to the moon. Korolev's mistreatment in the Gulags lead to his early death, after which their space pr

      • He was completely unknown during the space race. His identity hidden.

        Yeah, top secret is more like it.

        then released under Khrushchev.

        And that's when the space race actually started. Many members of the Politburo did a stint at the Gulag under Stalin. Including some of the top brass of the army, if my memory is not failing. In itself, it's not very telling. Any slight disagreement with those high-enough in power was enough to get a few years in the Gulag's (if one was lucky).

        Ultimately this cost them the race to the moon. Korolev's mistreatment in the Gulags lead to his early death, after which their space program collapsed. A very Soviet story.

        Oy! This is just not even connected to reality. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]. Korolev was released in 1944 (still during W

I've finally learned what "upward compatible" means. It means we get to keep all our old mistakes. -- Dennie van Tassel