The Chief Designer

S.P. Korelev

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In the former Soviet Union there is a deep rooted passion for Space Exploration, and in the early days the world was amazed at their list of triumphs, and today as we see the disintegration of the USSR that led the world in Space exploration for so long, this is a good time to give credit to a legend among rocket engineers.

He was known only by his title – Chief Designer, for officially he did not exist – the Political leaders insisted that he remain anonymous. Not till after his death was has identity revealed. His name was Sergei Pavlovich Korelev. The cosmonauts knew him as SP.

This stood for Sergei Pavlovich, as they didn’t even know his surname. He was a very demanding father figure who referred to the cosmonauts as ‘Little eagles’.

coverIn 1926 Korelev went to Moscow to study aircraft design, but he dreamed of designing spacecraft which could travel at speeds of 20,000 miles per hour and go into earth’s orbit. His first steps down this path came when he was asked to join an exclusive band of young engineers driven by the idea of building rockets. Their first rockets barely escaped the treetops but by 1933 under Korelev’s leadership their rockets could reach speeds of 2,000 miles per hour.

In 1938 Korelev was denounced as an enemy of the State by Stalin who thought that the Army and the Rocket engineers were plotting to overthrow the State, but with the threat of war Stalin recruited rocket engineers and aircraft designers to design rocket planes, and rocket research in the Soviet Union stagnated.

After the war the Americans recruited the German Rocket Engineer Werner Von Braun, shipped his rocket parts to the USA and destroyed the factories. Korelev was dispatched to Berlin to salvage what he could, he had enough to build a copy of von Braun’s rocket, and the Soviet Rocket programme was on its way. The object was to defend the USSR from the circle of American military and naval bases, and build a rocket that could carry nuclear warheads all the way the United States. 

Korelev however still had a dream of a Space Rocket and used military funds to develop a new multi stage rocket called R7, at a secret location in a remote region of Kazakhstan. The maiden flight of R7 was on the 3rd August 1957 and the stage was set for the launch of the world’s first satellite. The Soviet Academy of Science gave permission for the launch. 

The first SPUTNIK was a steel ball containing a simple radio transmitter. It was called PS, for Primary Satellite, although the workers christened it SP for Sergei Pavlovich. Sputnik circled the earth 16 times a day for 90 days before it finally burnt up. Sometime later the Nobel Prize Committee approached the USSR. They wanted to know who should win the Nobel Prize for the work on Sputnik. Khruschev replied ‘All the Soviet People’ and Korelev was not recognised. 

Korelev continued to work on a project to get a man into space, and following Gagarin’s triumph the Chief Designer developed his strategy to put a man on the moon, A new giant rocket would have to be designed big enough to carry a lander and a command vehicle to the moon. Vostok and Voskhod 1 followed. The race for the Noon was on, and Korelev, sent one man, two men and then three men at a time to gain prestige for the USSR. Meanwhile the USA was becoming more advanced in its technology and beginning to take the lead. 

Korelev died in 1966 at the age of 59, he didn’t life to see a man on the moon, but his contribution to space exploration and space travel was immeasurable. During his lifetime he had been considered so unimportant to the Soviet Union that he never officially existed. However, philatically he was honoured by the issue of a Commemorative Cover.

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