- Birth Date:
- Death date:
- Person's maiden name:
- Серге́й Па́влович Королёв
- Extra names:
- Sergejs Koroļevs, Сергей Королев, Скорпион, , Сергей Павлович Королев, Сергій Павлович Корольов, Serhiy Pavlovych Korolov,
- Academician, Scientist, Victim of repression (genocide) of the Soviet regime
- Star City Cemetery
Sergei Pavlovich Korolev (Russian: Серге́й Па́влович Королёв, Ukrainian: Сергі́й Па́влович Корольо́в, Serhiy Pavlovych Korolov, also transliterated as Sergey Pavlovich Korolyov; 12 January [O.S. 30 December 1906] 1907 in Zhytomyr, Russian Empire (now Ukraine) – 14 January 1966 in Moscow, USSR) was the lead Soviet rocket engineer and spacecraft designer in the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union during the 1950s and 1960s. He is considered by many as the father of practical astronautics.]
Although Korolev was trained as an aircraft designer, his greatest strengths proved to be in design integration, organization and strategic planning. Arrested for alleged mismanagement of funds (he spent the money on unsuccessful experiments with rocket devices), he was imprisoned in 1938 for almost six years, including some months in a Kolymalabour camp. Following his release, he became a recognized rocket designer and a key figure in the development of the Soviet ICBM program. He was then appointed to lead the Soviet space program, made Member of Soviet Academy of Sciences, overseeing the early successes of the Sputnik and Vostok projects. By the time he died unexpectedly in 1966, his plans to compete with the United States to be the first nation to land a man on the Moon had begun to be implemented.
Before his death he was often referred to only as "Chief Designer", because his name and his pivotal role in the Soviet space program had been held to be a state secret by the Politburo. Only many years later was he publicly acknowledged as the lead man behind Soviet success in space.
Korolev was born in Zhytomyr, a small provincial center in the Volhynian Governorate of the Russian Empire (now Ukraine). His father, Pavel Yakovlevich Korolev, was aRussian from Mogilev and his mother, Maria Mykolayivna Moskalenko, was Ukrainian from Nizhyn. His father had originally moved to Zhytomyr to be a teacher ofRussian language. Three years after his birth the couple separated due to financial difficulties. At the time, Korolev was informed by his mother that his father had died, and only later learned that Pavel had lived until 1929. The two never met after the family break-up, although Pavel later wrote to Maria requesting a meeting with his son.
Korolev grew up in Nizhyn (Nezhin), under the care of his grandparents. His mother had wanted an advanced education, and so she was frequently away taking courses in Kiev. He grew up a lonely child with few friends, but he proved a good student, especially in mathematics. In 1916 his mother married Grigory Mikhailovich Balanin, an electrical engineer, and Grigory proved a good influence on the child. Grigory moved the family to Odessa in 1917, after getting a job with the regional railway.
The year 1918 was tumultuous in Russia, with the close of World War I and the ongoing Russian Revolution. The internecine struggles continued until the Bolshevik sassumed unchallenged power in 1920. During this period the local schools were closed and young Korolev had to continue his studies at home. In 1919 there were severe food shortages, and Korolev suffered from a bout of typhus. Even after this the family suffered through hard times, as did much of the remainder of the nation.
Korolev continued his schooling at the Odessa Building Trades School (Stroyprofshkola No. 1) where he received vocational training in carpentry and in various academics. However his primary interest was in aeronautical engineering, perhaps due to the influence of an air show he had enjoyed back in 1913. He made an independent study of flight theory, and also worked in the local glider club. A detachment of military seaplanes had been stationed in Odessa, and Korolev took a keen interest in their operations.
In 1923 he joined the Society of Aviation and Aerial Navigation of Ukraine and the Crimea (OAVUK). By joining the Odessa hydroplane squadron he had his first flying lesson, and also had many opportunities to fly as a passenger. In 1924 he personally designed a glider called the K-5, which was accepted by the OAVUK as a construction project. At about the same time he also trained to become accomplished as a gymnast, but his academic work began to suffer from his distractions with these other interests. To pursue his interests, he decided in 1924 to attend the Kiev Polytechnic Institute as they had an aviation branch. In Kiev he lived with his uncle Yuri, and he earned money to pay for his courses by performing odd jobs. His curriculum was technically oriented, and included various engineering, physics and mathematics classes.
In 1925 he was accepted into a limited class on glider construction. He was allowed to fly the training glider on which he worked, but ended up with two broken ribs. He continued with his courses, completing his second year in 1926. In July of that year he was accepted into the Bauman Moscow State Technical University (MVTU, BMSTU).
Until 1929, Korolev studied specialized topics in aviation at the school. He lived with his family, who had moved to Moscow, in what were typical but crowded conditions. In addition to his studies, Korolev had more opportunities to fly gliders and powered aircraft, and he revelled in the experience. He also designed a glider in 1928, and flew it in a competition the next year. During 1929 the Communist Party had decreed that the education of engineers be accelerated to meet the country's urgent need for their skills. Korolev could obtain a diploma by producing a practical aircraft design, and had the design completed and approved by the end of the year. His advisor was none other than Andrei Tupolev.
Korolev sitting in cockpit of glider "Koktebel."
Having graduated, Korolev began work at an aircraft design bureau designated OPO-4, or 4th Experimental Section. It was headed up by a Frenchman named Paul Aimé Richard(fr) who emigrated to USSR in the 1920s and included a number of the Soviet Union's best designers. He did not stand out in this group, but while so employed he also worked privately on a pair of personal design projects. One of these was a glider design that was capable of performing aerobatics. By 1930 he became a lead engineer on the Tupolev TB-3 heavy bomber.
In 1930, Korolev finally earned his pilot's license. The next year, on 6 August, he was wed to Xenia Vincentini, a woman he had been courting since 1924. He had proposed marriage to her back then, but she declined as she wanted a higher education. It was during 1930 that Korolev became interested in the possibilities of liquid-fueled rocket engines. As his interest was primarily in aircraft, he saw the potential for use of these engines to propel airplanes. In 1931, together with Friedrich Zander, a space travel enthusiast, he participated in the creation of the Group for the Study of Reactive Motion (GIRD), one of the earliest state-sponsored centers for rocket development in the USSR. In May 1932 Korolev was appointed chief of the group.
During the following years, GIRD developed three different propulsion systems, each more successful than the last. In 1932, the military became interested in the efforts of this group, and began providing some funding. In 1933, the group accomplished their first launch of a liquid-fueled rocket, which was called GIRD-X (not GIRD-09 as often cited; hybrid GIRD-09 used solid gasoline and liquid oxygen). This was just seventeen years after colonel Ivan Platonovich Grave's first launch in 1916 (patent in 1924). In 1934, Korolev published the work "Rocket Flight in Stratosphere".
With growing military interest in this new technology, it was decided by the government in 1933 to merge GIRD with the Gas Dynamics Laboratory (GDL) in Leningrad. The merger created the Jet Propulsion Research Institute (RNII), headed up by the military engineer Ivan Kleimenov and containing a number of enthusiastic proponents of space travel, including Valentin Glushko. Korolev became the Deputy Chief of the institute. He led the development of cruise missiles and a manned rocket-powered glider.
On 10 April 1935, Korolev's wife gave birth to their daughter, Natasha. In 1936 they were able to move out of his parents' home and into their own apartment. Both Korolev and his wife had careers, and Sergey always spent long hours at his design office. By now he was chief engineer at RNII. The RNII team continued their development work on rocketry, with particular focus on the area of stability and control. They developed automated gyroscope stabilization systems that allowed stable flight along a programmed trajectory. Korolev was a charismatic leader who served primarily as an engineering project manager. He was a demanding, hard-working man, with a disciplinary style of management. Korolev personally monitored all key stages of the programs and paid meticulous attention to detail.
On 22 June 1938, during the Great Purge, Korolev was arrested by the NKVD after being denounced by Ivan Kleymenov, Georgy Langemak, and Valentin Glushko. He was accused of deliberately slowing the work of the research institute, and following torture in the Lubyanka prison to extract a confession, was tried and sentenced to ten years in a labor camp. Korolev later learned that he had been denounced by Glushko, and this may have been the cause of the lifelong animosity between the two men. Glushko and Korolev had reportedly been denounced by Andrei Kostikov, who became the head of RNII after its leadership was arrested (Kostikov was ousted a few years later over accusations of budget irregularities).
Believing that his arrest was a mistake, Korolev wrote many appeals to the authorities, including Stalin himself. Following the fall of the NKVD head, Nikolai Yezhov, the new chief Lavrenti Beria chose to retry Korolev on reduced charges in 1939, but by that time Korolev was on his way from prison to a gulag camp in the far east of Siberia, where he spent several months in a gold mine in the Kolyma area before word reached him of his retrial. Towards the end of 1939 he was sent back to Moscow, but he had already sustained injuries and had lost most of his teeth due to the labor camp's brutal conditions. When he reached Moscow, Korolev's sentence was reduced to eight years, which he did not have to serve in a labor camp.
Other members of the RNII had also been arrested. Kleymenov and Langemak were executed, leaving Korolev very fortunate to have even survived. The rocket program was set back for years and fell far behind the rapid progress taking place in Germany.
Korolev was assigned to a "sharashka", a penitentiary for intellectuals and the educated. These were effectively slave-labor camps where scientists and engineers worked on projects assigned by the Communist party leadership. The Central Design Bureau 29 (CKB-29, ЦКБ-29) of the NKVD, served as Tupolev's engineering facility, and Korolev was brought here to work for his old mentor. During World War II, this sharashka designed both the Tupolev Tu-2 bomber and the Petlyakov Pe-2 dive bomber. The group was moved several times during the war, the first time to avoid capture by advancing German forces.
In 1942 Korolev managed to be moved to another "sharashka" under Valentin Glushko, which designed rocket-assisted take off boosters for aircraft. Korolev was kept in the sharashka and isolated from his family until 1944. He lived under constant fear of being executed for the military secrets he possessed, and was deeply affected by his time in the gulag, becoming reserved and cautious. On 27 June 1944, Korolev – along with Tupolev, Glushko and others – was finally discharged by special government decree, although the charges against him were not dropped until 1957. The design bureau was handed over from NKVD control to the government's aviation industry commission. Korolev continued working with the bureau for another year, serving as deputy designer under Glushko and studying various rocket designs. In 1944, Korolev and Glushko designed the RD-1 kHz auxiliary rocket motor tested in an unsuccessful fast-climb Lavochkin La-7R.
In 1945, Korolev was awarded the Badge of Honor, his first decoration, for his work on the development of rocket motors for military aircraft. The same year he was commissioned into the Red Army, with a rank of colonel. Along with other experts, he flew to Germany to recover the technology of the German V-2 rocket. The Soviets placed a priority on reproducing lost documentation on the V-2, and studying the various parts and captured manufacturing facilities. That work continued in East Germany until late 1946, when the Soviet experts and some 150 German scientists and engineers were sent to Russia. Most of the German experts, with the exception of Helmut Gröttrup, were those involved in wartime mass-production of V-2, and they had never worked directly with Wernher von Braun. The leading German rocket scientists, including Dr. von Braun himself, surrendered to Americans and were transported to the United States as part of Operation Paperclip.
Stalin had decided to make rocket & missile development a national priority, and a new institute was created for the purpose, the NII-88 in the suburbs of Moscow. For the German engineers, Branch 1 of NII-88 was set up on Gorodomlya Island in the Lake Seliger some 200 kilometres (120 mi) from Moscow. The facility was surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards, although Boris Chertok, chief designer of guidance and control systems, notes in his book Rockets and People,
All structures on Gorodomlya island were renovated and living conditions were quite decent for those times. At least married specialists received separate two- or three-room apartments. Visiting the island, I could only envy them, because I and my family lived in Moscow in a shared four-room apartment, where we had two rooms of 24 square metres (260 sq ft) combined. Many of our specialists and workers lived in barracks without most elementary necessities. [...] This is why life on the island behind barbed wire could not compare at all to prisoner of war conditions.
Development of ballistic missiles was put under the military control of Dmitriy Ustinov, with Korolev serving as a chief designer of long-range missiles at the Special Design Bureau 1 (OKB-1) of NII-88. Korolev demonstrated his organizational abilities in this new facility, keeping a dysfunctional and highly compartmentalized organization operating.
With the blueprints reproduced, thanks in part to disassembled V-2 rockets, the team now began producing a working replica of the rocket. This was designated the R-1, and was first tested in October 1947. A total of eleven were launched, five hitting the target. This was comparable to the German hit ratio, and demonstrated the unreliability of the rocket. The Soviets continued to utilize the expertise of the Germans on V-2 technology for some time; however, in the regime of secrecy surrounding the ballistic missile program, Gröttrup and his team had no access to classified work of their Russian colleagues on new rocket technology as well as adequate production and testing facilities. This made any meaningful development impossible and negatively affected the morale of the German team. In 1950, the Ministry of Defence made an official decision to dissolve the German team and repatriate the German engineers and their families. The first group was sent to Germany in December 1951, and the last in November 1953.
In 1947, Korolev's group began working on more advanced designs, with improvements in range and throw weight. The R-2 doubled the range of the V-2, and was the first design to utilize a separate warhead. This was followed by the R-3, which had a range of 3,000 kilometres (1,900 mi), and thus could target England. However, Glushko couldn't get the engines to develop the required thrust, and the project was canceled in 1952.
Later in the same year work began on the R-5, which had a more modest 1,200 kilometres (750 mi) range. It completed a first successful flight by 1953. The first trueintercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), not only in USSR but in the whole world, was the R-7 Semyorka. This was a two-stage rocket with a maximum payload of 5.4 tons, sufficient to carry the Soviet's bulky nuclear bomb on an impressive distance of 7,000 kilometres (4,300 mi). After several test failures, the R-7 successfully launched on August 1957, sending a dummy payload to Kamchatka Peninsula.
"The Chief Designer" Sergei Korolev (left) and "the Chief Theoretician" Mstislav Keldysh (right). In the centre: Igor Kurchatov, 1956
It was in 1952 that Korolev joined the Soviet Communist Party, a tactical necessity if he was to request money from the government for his future projects. It was only 19 April 1957, however, when he would be fully "rehabilitated", as the government acknowledged that his sentence was unjust.
Korolev's tomb (left) in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis.
On 3 December 1960, Korolev suffered his first heart attack. During his convalescence, it was also discovered that he was suffering from a kidney disorder, a condition brought on by his detention in the Soviet prison camps. He was warned by the doctors that if he continued to work as intensely as he had, he would not live long. However Korolev reasoned that once the Soviets lost their leadership in space, the capricious Khrushchev would likely cut off the funding for his programs. So he continued to work - now even more intensely than before.
By 1962 Sergei Korolev's health problems were beginning to accumulate and he was suffering from numerous ailments. He had a bout of intestinal bleeding that led to him being taken to the hospital in an ambulance. In 1964 doctors diagnosed him with cardiac arrhythmia. In February he spent ten days in the hospital after a heart problem. Shortly after he was suffering from inflammation of his gallbladder. The mounting pressure of his workload was also taking a heavy toll, and he was suffering from a lot of fatigue. Korolev was also growing deaf, perhaps due to much exposure to noise from rocket engine tests.
The actual circumstances of Korolev's death remain somewhat uncertain. In December 1965, he was supposedly diagnosed with a bleeding polyp in his large intestine. He entered the hospital on 5 January 1966 for somewhat routine surgery. He died nine days later. It was stated by the government that he had what turned out to be a large, cancerous tumor in his abdomen. But Glushko later reported that he actually died due to a poorly performed operation for hemorrhoids. According to Harford, Korolev's family confirmed the cancer story. His weak heart next contributed to his demise—Korolev never regained consciousness after the operation. When doctors tried to intubate him to assist his breathing, they found they could not do so due to the heavy damage done to his jaw by the beatings he received in the gulag.
Under a policy initiated by Stalin and continued by his successors, the identity of Korolev was never revealed until after his death. The purported reason was to protect him from foreign agents from the United States. As a result, the Soviet people didn't become aware of his accomplishments until after his death. His obituary was published in the Pravda newspaper on 16 January 1966, showing a photograph of Korolev with all his medals. Korolev's ashes were interred with state honors in the Kremlin Wall.
Korolev is often compared to Wernher von Braun as the leading architect of the Space Race. Unlike von Braun, Korolev had to compete continually with rivals, such asVladimir Chelomei, who had their own plans for flights to the Moon. He also had to work with technology that in many aspects was less advanced than what was available in the United States, particularly in electronics and computers.
Korolev's successor in the Soviet space program was Vasily Mishin. Mishin was a quite competent engineer who had served as Korolev's deputy and right-hand man. After Korolev died, Mishin became the Chief Designer, and he inherited what turned out to be a flawed N1 rocket program. In 1972, Mishin was fired and then replaced by a rival, Valentin Glushko, after all four N-1 test launches failed. By that time, the rival Americans had already made it to the Moon, and so the program was canceled by CPSU General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev.
The Soviet émigré Leonid Vladimirov related the following description of Korolev by Glushko at about this time:
"Short of stature, heavily built, with head sitting awkwardly on his body, with brown eyes glistening with intelligence, he was a skeptic, a cynic and a pessimist who took the gloomiest view of the future. 'We are all going to be whacked and there will be no obituary' (Khlopnut bez nekrologa, Хлопнут без некролога - i.e. "we will all vanish without a trace") was his favorite expression."
Korolev was rarely known to drink vodka or other alcoholic beverages, and chose to live a fairly austere lifestyle. He remained a handsome and solidly built man, and he was as fond of women as they were of him.
About 1946, the marriage of Korolev and Vincentini began to break up. Vincentini was heavily occupied with her own career, and at about this time Korolev had an affair with a younger woman named Nina Ivanovna Kotenkova. Vincentini, who still loved Korolev and was angry over the infidelity, divorced him in 1948. Korolev and Kotenkova next were married in 1949, but he is known to have had affairs even after his marriage to Kotenkova.
Awards and honors
Monument to Sergei Korolyov on Cosmonauts Alley, Moscow. Ostankino Tower is on the background.
Among his awards, Korolev was twice bestowed the Hero of Socialist Labor in 1956 and 1961. He was also a Lenin Prizewinner in 1971, and was awarded the Order of Lenin three times, the Order of the Badge of Honour and the Medal "For Labour Valour".
In 1958 he was elected to the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. In 1969 and 1986, the USSR issued 10 kopek postage stamps honoring Korolev. In addition he was made an Honorary Citizen of Korolyov and received the Medal "In Commemoration of the 800th Anniversary of Moscow".
The Nobel Prize committee attempted to award Korolev but the award was turned down by Khrushchev in order to maintain harmony within the Council of Chief Designers.
|Relation name||Relation type||Description|
|1||Михаил Решетнёв||Coworker, Employee, Idea mate|
|5||Robert Ludvigovich Bartini||Teacher|
|6||Georgij Langemak||Idea mate|