Space in Russia (4)

Space in Russia (4)


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“We’re at the wrong place.

This can’t be the famous rocket plant !!”

The dozen (or so) space enthusiasts and journalists I was travelling with could not believe it. Alter a two hour journey in a tour bus through the morning rush hour of Moscow (population 10 million) to the outskirts of the Russian metropolis, we found ourselves at a shabby road, in shabby surroundings at a shabby gate to a shabby complex of buildings.

But in fact it was true. We were at the doorway of NPO Energiya, developers and builders of solid rockets and space ships for many years. There was no one at the gale, but it was not necessary as it opened electronically, the first such mechanism we had seen in Russia. There was a lot of very time consuming bureaucracy and then, finally we were allowed to enter the ” holiest house” of Moscow, though, alas we were not permitted to see the plant itself with the building facilities of rockets and space ships.

All we had access to was the Energiya Museum. Our Cosmos Tours rep. tried his utmost but all was in vain. Nevertheless none of us was disappointed to be there, because even in the museum are displays of space memorabilia you cannot see elsewhere and – speaking as one who has been m the Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. – I am not exaggerating. In the field of space artefacts the Energiya Museum is unique as it displays no duplicates – it’s all, as you might say ‘the right stuff.” All of it actually Hew in space.

Within the museum is a large hall absolutely packed with materials instantly recognisable as famous and I only note what were highlights for me. For instance – the original Sputnik 2 with the first space dog. stuffed of course but looking very much alive. It is amazing that the Soviet Union in 1957 did not issue a stamp for Laika. Others did and the one with the best likeness of the dog is in my view the 12.5p from Ascension (1971) shown here.

NPO Encrgiya was established in 1956 as the Office of Experimental Construction under the name of OKB (Opytnoie Konstrouktorskoie Biuro) and was the originator of the first Soviet intercontinental rocket, a forerunner of the large rockets needed to launch Sputnik. Vostok and Soyuz craft. The OKB specialised in the construction of space craft like probes to Mars and Venus, communication satellites like Molinva and of course the most powerful rocket in the world “Energiya” itself on which the Soviet space shuttle Buran (Snowstorm) was launched.

Let us pay tribute to the man who founded OKB and so NPO Energiya – Sergei Korolev, of course, chief engineer and the main constructor of most Soviet spaceships. He was the first Director of the plant and oversaw all the engineering till his death in 1966. A small plaque in the wall of the main building at the plant commemorates the great man.

Since July 94 NPO Energiya has been known by a new name “Korolev Space Corporation Energiya” – KSCE for short. Korolev himself is honoured with many stamps, postmarks, pictorial envelopes and postal cards depicting his features. The one displayed was issued on 11.9.86 to mark what would have been his 80th birthday had he lived.

On the remarkable imprinted 5k stamp there are three cancels, all dated 12.1.87 at Shitomir. Korolev’s birthplace. The cancel on the top is for his 80th birthday, then beneath is the pictorial cancel for the Korolev museum in Shitomir and finally the regular date cancel. On the left is the R-mail registration of Shitmoir, so there are five philatelic items on this envelope.

It was a pity our tour at NPO Energiya ended without meeting a cosmonaut. They are often visiting the plant to give advice on manned spacecraft and some even work there.

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