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In the meantime:

1945 May: World War II ends.

1953 March: Joseph Stalin, who ruled the USSR with fear and terror, has died.

1956 February: During the 20th Congress of the Communist Party, Khrushchev initiates a generations-long process of exposing the horrific scale of Stalin's crimes.

Early pages in the history of Sputnik would had never been written, if not the work of a single journalist. Unlike many representatives of the official Soviet media whose ignorance about space technology often granted them access to the secretive program, Yaroslav Golovanov used his "pass behind the scene" to preserve a unique body of personal recollections by the pioneers of the Soviet quest for space. Although it took decades for his work to see the press, it eventually provided the first uncensored look at the origin of Sputnik.

In the post-World War II USSR, a group of scientists led by Mikhail Tikhonravov at the newly created NII-4 military institute pioneered the work, which would ultimately lead to the first Soviet artificial satellite. This effort paved the way to the political decision to go ahead with the launch of Sputnik.

The concept of the artificial satellite of the Earth

For many centuries, the humanity's dream of travel through space resembled sailing through the endless ocean, between the shores of faraway celestial bodies. Yet, in 1609, in his Astronomia Nova, ("New Astronomy") Johannes Kepler first described elliptical orbits of planets and laws of their motion around the Sun, essentially founding the science of celestial mechanics. (80) Combined with Newton's laws of physics, the concept of an artificial satellite emerged in 1687. It stated that an object accelerated to a certain speed would move freely around the Earth along a closed circle, or orbit. "...Increasing the velocity (of a projectile)... it might never fall to the earth, but go forward into the celestial spaces, and proceed in its motion in infinitum," Newton predicted. (249)

However, even founders of the modern rocketry, mostly envisioned "spaceships" manned by people, not unlike sea vessels or airplanes. Only in the middle of the 20th century, a concept of unmanned robots circling the globe had finally emerged. (80)

The idea crystallized

As the allied armies sifted through the ashes of World War II, a mere look at the infamous German V-2 rocket invoked the idea of space flight, among both Soviet and American specialists. (3) Suddenly, there was a vehicle, which was just few engineering leaps away from testing Newton's 17th century theory. Indeed, it wouldn't take another 250 years to do it, instead, only 22 years would pass between the day the guns of World War II fell silent and the moment when an artificial moon closed the circle around Earth once described by Newton.

In 1945, the Bureau of Aeronautics of the US Navy considered a satellite, designed to deliver scientific hardware into space. (123) A year later, Major. Gen. C. E. LeMay of the US Air Force commissioned RAND Corporation to research the same subject. It resulted in the project of "World-Circling Space Ship," which, if implemented, could reportedly produce the first American satellite as early as 1951. (56) Various studies of satellites continued in the US at a leisurely pace during the 1950s, hampered by the competition between various groups within the military establishment. (123) American rocket and satellite projects produced little enthusiasm among nation's strategists, who were resting on the laurels of perceived air force and nuclear supremacy in the Cold War with the USSR. However same projects would cause an invisible storm across the Atlantic. In the USSR, the rocket development program took an energetic start under Stalin, and the idea of a manned spaceship and a satellite was naturally crystallizing along with it.

As the Soviet authorities forcefully sent German rocket specialists into the USSR, the chief of the group Helmut Grottrup asked Minister Dmitry Ustinov, when they could return home. "As soon as you make rocket fly round the world," was reportedly Ustinov's reply. Although it sounded as a cruel joke in October 1946, it probably sincerely reflected Soviet ambitions at the time. For the German rocketeers, who ended up playing a minor role in the Soviet quest for space, the direction of the Soviet rocket program was clear by the time they were leaving the USSR at the beginning of the 1950s. On her last day on Gorodomlya Island, Irmgard, the wife of Helmut Grottrup made following record in her diary: "Once more we had a meal with our friends, draining glass after glass and taking stock at the past years. We came to the conclusion that they had not been wasted, as we had so often believed. The men agreed that … the long-range rocket has made the conquest of space a definite possibility in the foreseeable future." (64)


Tikhonravov: a visionary among skeptics

Very first steps toward what would become the first Soviet satellite project were made inside the walls of a top-secret NII-4 research institute located in the north-eastern Moscow suburb of Bolshevo, along the Yaroslavl railroad. The organization was created in the wake of the World War II, to provide theoretical support for the USSR's newly inaugurated missile development program. (71) In December 1946, Mikhail Tikhonravov, the veteran of the Soviet rocket research in the 1930s, transferred to NII-4 from the aviation-oriented RNII (NII-1), to serve as a deputy chief of the new organization. (255)

Within NII-4, Tikhonravov formed a nucleus of specialists, which would tackle problems of multistage rockets and orbital flight. (71) Bulk of this work work was concentrated within a department led by P. I. Ivanov. (255)

In December 1947, Captain Igor Yatsunsky, who joined Tikhonravov's group some four months earlier, compiled a report on the so-called "rocket package," a concept envisioning several rockets combined into a single vehicle. While the report merely summarized previous work on the subject (possibly foreign), it became one of the first documents in a decade-long effort to create a multistage rocket and the world's first space launcher. (71)

By 1948, Mikhail Tikhonravov showed it would be possible to "package" several existing rockets into a single vehicle, thus reaching the velocity needed to orbit a satellite of a considerable mass. Taking Tsiolkovsky's theories about "rocket trains," Tikhonravov argued that they could be applied to the already flying R-2 rocket or even to the R-3 rocket, which was on the drawing board at the OKB-1 design bureau led by Korolev. (126) Possible configuration of such rocket was drafted, trajectories of its flight calculated and various flight control systems for such rocket evaluated. (71) Around the same time, Tikhonravov's associates also took on the task of determining a possible configuration of the artificial satellite and its possible flight modes. (18)

Lobbying for multistage rockets

In February 1948, Mikhail Tikhonravov participated in the meeting of the Scientific and Technical Council of NII-4. He presented a report entitled "Means of increasing firing range of the liquid propellant ballistic missiles." The presentation contained a concept of a multistage rocket. Yatsunsky also co-presented the report. According to memoirs of the participants, the reaction to the report was primarily skeptical. (247) One critic characterized a pack of rockets as a "wooden plank flying against the airflow."(18)

Still undeterred, at the beginning of summer 1948, Tikhonravov convinced his boss, General Aleksei Nesterenko, the head of NII-4, to make another presentation about multistage rockets and satellites at the upcoming summer session of the Academy of Artillery Sciences, AAN. After some wrangling and hesitation caused by the exotic nature of the subject, the AAN president Anatoly Blagonravov reluctantly accepted Tikhonravov's paper. (247) "Prepare to have red faces," Blagonravov reportedly told Tikhonravov and his associates from NII-4. (18)

The session took place on July 14, 1948. Tikhonravov presented a report entitled "Means of reaching long range of firing with missiles," arguing that by "packaging" multiple rockets into a single vehicle, it would be possible to reach unlimited range of flight and to launch a satellite, using existing technology. As expected , the report did not impress majority of the AAN members, except for Sergei Korolev and Yuri Pobedonostsev, who asked for more details on the study.

In December 1948, NII-4 issued a second report on multistage rockets. Tikhonravov's presentation at the summer 1948 session of AAN was included as an addendum to that document.

In July 1949, Korolev visited NII-4 and carefully studied work by Tikhonravov and Yatsunsky, which showed the possibility of not only launching a satellite, but also achieving manned space flight with the use of multistage rockets. Korolev liked what he saw and proposed Tikhonravov to make yet another presentation on the subject during a scientific conference at NII-4 in the spring of 1950. At the time, Korolev was finishing preliminary design of the R-3 rocket and, according to Russian historians, likely used Tikhonravov's work in the introductory volume to the R-3 documentation, which Korolev personally edited.

Expansion of the group

To support the R-3 development, on December 16, 1949, Korolev commissioned Tikhonravov an official technical assignment, or TZ, entitled "Research of capabilities and viability of the development of the rockets type "pack." The work from OKB-1 enabled Tikhonravov to hire a new breed of experts at the end of 1949. (247) It included Gleb Maksimov, L. N. Soldatova, Ya. I. Koltunov, A. V. Brykov. During 1950, B. S. Razumikhin joined the group and G. M. Moskalenko returned.

The same year, students from Moscow Aviation Institute. MAI, I. Bazhinov and O. V. Gurko came to NII-4 to write their college thesis under Tikhonravov's tutelage. Upon graduation, both returned to NII-4 as full-time employees. V. N. Galkovsky returned to the group in 1953. (255) At its peak, Tikhonravov's collective included 22 people. (256)

Within the group, Igor Yatsunsky, in addition to his role as a coordinator of the project, also worked on developing methods for calculating trajectories of multistage rockets. Such methods would model powered and ballistic modes of the flight and take into account resistance of the atmosphere and rotation of the Earth. With this knowledge, Yatsunsky attempted to determine optimal configurations of multistage rockets.

Another member of the group, G. M. Moskalenko, summarized weight of various components of long-range rockets, based on information from Korolev's bureau and from available American publications. He then tried to analyze types of upgrades to these systems, which would be required to form a multistage vehicle. (255)

Taking the heat

In the meantime on March 15-16, 1950, NII-4 held the first scientific conference dedicated to the development of long-range ballistic missiles. A high-profile event was chaired by the chief of the institute A. I. Nesterenko; among the participants were Colonel General P. P. Chechulin, who was inspecting the organization's work, as well as Sergei Korolev, and Vasiliy Mishin.

On March 15, during one of the sessions, Tikhonravov made a presentation entitled "Rocket packs and prospects of their development."

Again, he advocated a concept of multistage rockets and reported results of calculations on the mass of vehicles for various flight ranges. (247) Particularly, the report considered a launch vehicle consisting of three R-3 rockets. Such combination would offer practically unlimited flight range and the capability to reach orbit, possibly with the satellite heavy enough to carry a pilot! (255)

Tikhonravov concluded that even with the current state of technology there is no technical limitations to the flight range of ballistic missiles. He argued that such conclusions pave the way to serious considerations into the problems of artificial satellites. Tikhonravov finished his visionary report with the outline of various applications of artificial satellites and the possibility of the manned space flight.

Again, Tikhonravov's "far-fetched" ideas produced mixed reaction. During a discussion session, (where Mishin and Korolev apparently did not participate) General Chechulin commented that the creation of a satellite is a useless idea, not even worthy of discussion, let alone its actual development. To make matters worse, Chechulin went further, concluding that such research testified that the institute was wasting time on insignificant topics, instead of practical needs of rocketry. (In the conditions of Stalinist Russia, such accusations could potentially lead to charges of intentional obstruction of the strategically important military work, resulting in the prosecution for treason and long prison sentence, as the "enemy of the people.")

"Fortunately," in this case Chechulin only recommended the management to take his advise seriously. As a result, head of the institute General Nesterenko, who usually supported Tikhonravov, had to agree to his demotion to a consultant for the department of long range rocket flight. Ironically, a year later, it was Chechulin, who replaced Nesterenko as a head of NII-4. (247)

Ivanov's department, responsible for multistage rockets was disbanded, and only thanks to Tikhonravov's persistence, Yatsunsky was allowed to continue studies on the subject. With patronage from Blagonravov and Korolev, Tikhonravov's writings were published in the limited-access publications, such as Reports of Academy of Artillery Sciences and Rocket Technology. (255)

Fortunately, assignments from OKB-1 on long-range rockets ensured the survival of the team, which Tikhonravov formed at NII-4. However any ongoing work on the prospects of satellites "went underground" for several years.

At the end of 1950, Tikhonravov's group issued the first report on multistage rockets to their "customers" at OKB-1. In 1951, two more documents on the subject had came out, evaluating various aspects of different versions of vehicles. One of the chapters in these reports still specifically dealt with satellites. (247) At the same time, Tikhonravov was even able to publicize the idea of space flight in Soviet newspaper articles and books. Soon, western press took notice: in November 1951, a US newspaper quoted "Dr. M.K. Tikhonravov, a member of the academy of artillery sciences," as saying that "space ships could and would be developed on the discoveries already made in the Soviet Union..." and that "Russian engineers can now calculate precisely the characteristics of a space ship designed to reach the Moon... The calculated weight of a moon ship designed to carry two men to the Moon, circle the (natural) satellite and return to earth would weigh about 1000 tons." However "if an artificial satellite was first established at an intermediate point, the estimated weight of the space ship to travel to the moon would be only 100 tons." Western sources quoted Tikhonravov as saying that flights to the Moon and nearby planets would be possible within 10-15 years. (795)

First space exploration program

In March 1953, Joseph Stalin, who ruled the Soviet Union with fear and terror for several long decades, has died. As once medieval darkness gave way to the European renaissance, in Russia, the oppression and paranoia of Stalinism slowly receded in the face of hope for better tomorrow. Although fundamentals of the Soviet system did not change -- borders remained shot and all political and economic power remained concentrated in the hands of a single party -- the Soviet people, from top scientist to an ordinary worker could breathe easier. Night arrests and disappearances, paranoid cult of personality, long imprisonment for slightest mistakes at work, tortures, mass killings and exile of entire nations had finally ceased.

Although Khrushchev set out to reform and reverse many aspects of Stalin's wasteful military's doctrine, he would continue and even accelerate the rocket development program, as the only hope for the USSR to overcome the US air supremacy. In fact, the Soviet ability to strike the US at will, would become the cornerstone of Khrushchev's peaceful co-existence policy. Paradoxically, Khrushchev felt he needed this ability in order to negotiate, compete and cooperate with the West as equal.

At the time, Korolev made key engineering decisions needed to proceed with the development of the first intercontinental-range missile, which would ultimately emerge as a magnificent R-7. The Soviet ICBM project was quickly morphing into a giant multi-faceted effort involving a multitude of institutions and dwarfing the pioneering effort of Tikhonravov's collective at NII-4. As remembered by one member of the group, I. Bazhinov, at the beginning of 1953, he and G. Yu. Maksimov concluded that, as their ICBM research was becoming less relevant, it would be a good time to focus on the satellite. They quickly drafted a plan of action and received full support of their boss. Tikhonravov asked engineers to add more details to the plan, which would become a base for a proposal on the initiation of a special research project at NII-4 on the subject of the satellite. With the contribution of all members of the group, Tikhonravov went to the NII-4 management and Directorate of the Rocket Armaments within Chief Artillery Directorate, GAU. GAU took over the supervision of the institute soon after Stalin's death. (255)

With Tikhonravov's gift of vision, his research into long-range multistage missiles allowed the concept of orbiting satellites mature into a real space program. One of the first, he conceptualized a possible plan for space exploration, which would start with simple satellites designed primarily for science and for testing rockets carrying them. The next step would be launches intended to test the possibility of manned rocket flights. In turn, these missions would pave the way to a small experimental satellite with one or two people onboard, capable of long-duration flights. Ultimately, a large size "station-satellite" would be launched, to be maintained via regular transports from Earth. The station-satellite would be used for scientific research and serve as a launch pad for deep space missions. Final goals of Tikhonravov's plan envisioned lunar landing or circumlunar flights. (126)

Upon Stalin's death, Tikhonravov's confidence in the satellite project (and perhaps in his personal safety) was solid enough, to take it outside of the military-oriented NII-4 research institute and into the realm of the Soviet politics. He was going to employ the usual trick in lobbying for his "pet project" -- to convince the Soviet government that America was about to do it. Tikhonravov prepared two album presentations outlying US efforts in preparing the satellite launch and comparing them to the Soviet capabilities in the field. With these materials, he appeared before G. N. Pashkov, chief of military department of the State Planning Ministry. Pashkov then talked to Marshall Vasilevsky, Minister of Armed Forces, who approved Tikhonravov's work. Moreover, he promised the scientist political support and even prohibited the chief of NII-4 to put any obstacles to this work.

Finally, Tikhonravov and his team were able to come out from "the underground" with their satellite studies. In January 1954, NII-4 officially initiated Scientific and Research Project No. 72 entitled "The research on the issue of creation of the artificial Earth satellite." (247)

Lobbying scientific establishment

Findings of the Tikhonravov's group became a basis for the "Proposals on the possibility and necessity of creation of artificial Earth satellites" approved by Korolev. Korolev recommended to add the work completed by a group led by Keldysh and to send combined proposals to the Soviet government. (247) However prior to "knocking on the Kremlin gate," Korolev ensured he had a solid support within Soviet scientific circles, who would be first "end users" of the satellite data.

At the beginning of 1954, Korolev asked Tikhonravov to prepare a report on the artificial satellite for the Soviet government. Tikhonravov group completed the document and it was further edited at Korolev's OKB-1 and later at the Academy of Sciences by Mstislav Keldysh and Peotr Kapitsa. (248) A special meeting on the subject of the satellite took place on January 23, 1954, at the Institute of Applied Mathematics, where Korolev arranged a meeting between Keldysh and Tikhonravov. Three weeks later, Keldysh and a number of other scientists, among them physicist Vernov, astronomer Boris Kukarkin and Peotr Kapitsa meet again with leading satellite developers Tikhonravov, Yatsunsky and Maksimov. (18)

On March 16, 1954, Mstislav Keldysh chaired a meeting at the Academy of Sciences, aimed to determine scientific tasks of a future satellite. More discussions took place during March and April 1954 between Keldysh and the President of the Academy of Sciences A. N. Nesmeyanov. (52) Nesmeyanov supported the satellite project. (248)

On May 25, 1954, the satellite project was formally evaluated in the Presidium of the Academy of Sciences and received full approval. (18, 248)

Lobbying Kremlin

With scientific establishment on his side, Korolev was ready to bring the satellite into politics. According to Yaroslav Golovanov, Korolev had an early conversation about the satellite project with Dmitry Ustinov in February 1954. He apparently convinced the influential minister of defense industry to evaluate Tikhonravov's papers on the subject. Around the same time, Tikhonravov himself contacted Marshall Vasilevsky, who returned his letter with an inscription: "To Comrade Tikhonravov. If you have any difficulties, call me at any moment." (18)

Now, on May 26 or 27 (52) 1954, Korolev submitted Ustinov a formal proposal entitled "On the artificial satellite of the Earth." The documented was accompanied by the research results and a review of the American work in the field compiled by Tikhonravov. Korolev also asked for the creation of a department within OKB-1, which would specialize in spacecraft: (247)

Per your request, I submit a memo by Comrade Tikhonravov M. K. "On the artificial satellite of the Earth," along with translated materials on the related work in the US. The development of the new vehicle, being conducted at this time, makes it possible to discuss the possibility of creation in the upcoming years of an artificial satellite of the Earth.

By ways of insignificant reduction of the payload mass, it would be possible to achieve a necessary final velocity for the satellite of 8,000 meters per second. The vehicle (the satellite) can be developed on the base of the above mentioned new vehicle, which is currently under development, however with serious rework of the latter.

It seems to me that at present time, it would be timely and useful the organization of the research and development department for conducting initial research work on the satellite and more detailed development of the complex of issues, related to this field.

Request your permission. (137)

Copies of the letter apparently went to Vasily Ryabikov at the Soviet of Ministers and Georgy Pashkov at State Planning Ministry (Gosplan). (18)

In his proposal Korolev wrote that "the satellite is an inevitable stage on the path of the rocket development, which would make possible interplanetary travel." Korolev stressed that the interest of the foreign media in satellites and in the interplanetary travel had increased in the past two-three years. (247)

In his memoirs, Boris Chertok, the pioneer of the Russian space program, gave credit to Ustinov for his positive attitude toward the satellites, despite obvious military priority of the R-7 development over any prospective spacecraft. (62) As a head of Ministry of Armaments, MV, Ustinov had personally supervised missile development program since its inception in 1946. He then led powerful Military Industrial Commission, VPK, within the Soviet of Ministers. (173)

Clearly with Ustinov's help, in August 1954, Soviet of Ministers of the USSR approved proposals on the development of problems of space flight made by V. A. Malyshev, B. L. Vannikov, M. V. Khrunichev and K. N. Rudnev. (247)

In April 1955, the NII-4 research institute issued a preliminary report No. 571 within Project 72 entitled "The research on the issue of creation of the artificial Earth satellite."* (126, 247) In the meantime, the Academy of Sciences created a special commission chaired by Keldysh, with Korolev and Tikhonravov as deputies, which was tasked to oversee the satellite development program. In the same month, it became known in the West that Academician P. Kapitsa was "in charge of satellite development group." (148)

Korolev, who became a corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences on October 23, 1953, worked hard to ensure an ongoing support of this influential institution in his pursuit of space flight. On June 25, 1955, Korolev signed a "Report on scientific activities in 1954," which among other things, proposed to "launch the work on all aspects of development of the artificial Earth satellite, initially in the simplest configuration." Korolev wrote that based on the research conducted by Tikhonravov, the preliminary design of the satellite could be ready by the end of 1956. He then reminded about the great interest toward the satellite in the United States, and expressed concern about the lack of attention toward the problem in the USSR. Korolev advised to merge two commissions within the Academy led by A. A. Aleksandrov and L. I. Sedov into a single body specialized in the exploration of the outer space. (137)

Around the same time, Korolev asked an associate from OKB-1 I. V. Lavrov to prepare a proposal on the organization of work in the field of spacecraft. According to the official history of OKB-1, the proposal was dated June 16, 1955, and bore numerous notations by Korolev. He especially liked the author's reasoning that the launch of the satellite would have an enormous political significance as a demonstration of the nation's technological prowess. (52)

Help from America

A month later, Korolev received perhaps the most efficient "political support" yet. On July 29, 1955, President Eisenhower formally announced the intention of the United States to launch a satellite during International Geophysical Year, IGY. The National Geographic then confidently assured Americans that "History would record that date as the day the White House announced that the United States would build the first true space vehicle." (258)

Not to be outdone, on Aug. 3, 1955, at the VI Congress of the International Astronautics Federation, Academician L. I. Sedov said that the USSR intended to launch a satellite. No doubt, Sedov's statement was sanctioned in Moscow in response to the US challenge. (248)

On Aug. 5, 1955, Korolev sent a note co-signed by Khrunichev and Ryabikov to Khrushchev and Bulganin, proposing to respond to the American challenge with a 1.5-2-ton Soviet satellite carried by the R-7 missile. Using his traditional ploy, Korolev warned that in the US, Wernher von Braun had been working on a 7,000-ton rocket, which would make it 25 times bigger than the yet-to-be completed R-7! According to the document, the Soviet satellite could be launched upon the completion of R-7 testing, in 1957-1958, at a price tag of 250 million rubles, excluding the cost of the launch vehicle. Korolev stressed that the satellite launch would open new prospects for science and military technology. Korolev promised that in case of the project approval, a plan of necessary activities would be submitted within 1.5-2 months. Even that early in the project, Korolev already noted that the development of scientific instruments for the satellite would be the main challenge of the program.

Just three days later, on August 8, the proposal was formally approved at the meeting of the Central Committee Presidium. The Presidium also directed to prepare a public statement on the Soviet satellite development, however a draft of a TASS statement submitted by Korolev, Khrunichev and Ryabikov on August 11, (465) which would promise the launch of the satellite in 2-3 years, (509) was deemed unacceptable by the Presidium during its meeting on August 18. The work on the new draft was then delegated to the party's leading ideologist Mikhail Suslov. It was ready for circulation among Presidium members on August 24. The text would say that the USSR was working on "reactive apparatus capable of becoming artificial satellites" of the Earth. It also referred to sounding rockets probing the Earth atmosphere at altitudes more than 100 kilometers as one of the phases of work toward the artificial satellite. In the usual Soviet fashion, the announcement concluded with a statement that ideas, theory and main calculating principles of the artificial satellite were given by the famous Russian scientist K. E. Tsiolkovsky back in the 1920s. (465) Even this vaguely worded document was never made public, however Khrushchev was soon quoted bragging that the Soviet Union had been building a satellite much bigger than the American one. (148)

To the Moon!?

With the America officially racing into space, things apparently started moving faster for Korolev. (196) On Aug. 29, 1955, Korolev sent to the Soviet government a detailed outline for space exploration, covering missions from "simplest satellites" to manned flights. (18) The next day became perhaps the most significant milestone in the fate of the satellite, as various Russian sources put Korolev at two different and high-profile meetings dealing with space exploration.

One meeting took place in the office of Alexander Topchiev, the Chief Scientific Secretary of the Academy of Sciences. Keldysh and Glushko were present, discussing possible scientific applications of satellites. Korolev also informed the group that few days ago, the council of chief designers had evaluated modifications needed to convert the R-7 rocket into a space launcher. Korolev proposed to create a special body within the Academy of Science, which would oversee various scientific programs and development of scientific instruments for future satellites, including those capable of carrying live animals. Korolev insisted that Keldysh chaired the new commission, to give the satellite project a legitimacy within the scientific community and avoid the impression that Korolev is a sole advocate of the project. (18)

Another meeting Korolev attended on Aug. 30, 1955, was led by the Chairman of the Military Industrial Commission V. P. Ryabikov. Here, Korolev presented a new ambitious proposal -- an unmanned probe to the Moon! The plan was based on the estimates made by E. F. Ryazanov, a division head at OKB-1, who worked on the assignment from Korolev. The document envisioned two versions of the upper (third) stage for the R-7 rocket, one burning a classical propellant mix of oxygen and kerosene and another, employing exotic ftor monoxide and ethyl amine. The first rocket was expected to deliver a 400-kilogram probe in the vicinity of the Moon, another could carry as much as 800-1,000 kilogram of payload to the same destination. (52)

Mstislav Keldysh supported the idea, however Colonel A. G. Mrykin, dutifully representing military interests, hypothesized that Sputniks and lunar dreams would derail R-7's development schedule, by deflecting efforts and resources. He proposed to postpone the work on Sputnik until after testing of R-7 was completed. (52)

On Sept. 3, 1955, Korolev sent preliminary specifications for a 1,100-kilogram spacecraft to his major subcontractors in the industry and to the political leadership. The document was accompanied by the outline of the project development plan. (248)

A bump on the road

On Sept. 14, 1955, the first draft of a government decree on the development of the satellite was submitted to the Presidium of the Central Committee.

The draft proposed to launch the 1,000-1,400-kilogram Soviet satellite identified as Object SP with 200-300 kilograms of science instruments in the first half of 1957. Interestingly, the officials urged special measures by the KGB aimed to retain secrecy around the R-7 project, during the satellite project and also proposed a smaller satellite, MSP, to be launched as a demonstrator on the third stage of R-5 and R-11 missiles. It would be later used for a systematic scientific research. It was probably the first official reference to what would eventually become the first simple satellite - PS-1. (509)

Despite being signed by all leading figures in the industry, this draft would never come to the table for approval, probably due to other priorities at the top, or/and a lack of an agreement between various institutions whose cooperation was needed. (465) As the result, the Soviet satellite project apparently stalled for more than three months.

Only on January 7, 1956, in his annual report to the Academy of Science, Korolev wrote that at the end of 1955, the research and development work on the satellite had been started and "general understanding" for the creation of the satellite had been reached. (137) Not coincidently, just four days later, the second draft of the decree on the satellite development agreed upon by all ministries involved was submitted to the Central Committee Presidium.

Next chapter: Sputnik project approved


*Authors of the preliminary report No. 571 on the Subject No. 72, entitled "The research on the issue of creation of the artificial Earth satellite" (Tikhonravov's group):

  • Mikhail Klavdievich Tikhonravov (project leader)
  • Igor Marianovich Yatsunskiy (Original member of the "Sputnik team;" general coordination of the project; ICBM flight optimization)
  • Gleb Yureivich Maksimov (Original member of the "Sputnik team;" specialized on reentry issues) (196)
  • Oleg Viktorovich Gurko (thermal problems)
  • Igor Konstantinovich Bazhinov (specialized on reentry issues)
  • A. V. Korolkov
  • V. T. Garibyan
  • Yu. S. Shukshin
  • A. A. Zakharov
  • A. V. Viaktovskiy
  • Lidiya Nikolaevna Soldatova (power sources)
  • Anatoly Viktorovich Brykov

The report was signed by Deputy Chief of NII-4 G. A. Tyulin, Acting Deputy Chief for Science A. Z. Krasnov and Chief of Department 11 G. S. Narimanov.

Signatories of the Draft of a Decree of the Soviet of Ministers on the development of the satellite signed on Sept 14, 1955:

M. Khrunichev, V. Ryabikov, D Ustinov, V. Kalmykov, A. Topchiev, M. Nedelin, S. Korolev, M. Ryazansky, N. Pilyugin, M. Keldysh, V. Glushko. (465)

Signatories of the Draft of a Decree of the Soviet of Ministers on the development of the satellite submitted on Jan. 11, 1955:

M. Khrunichev, A. Nesmeyanov, D Ustinov, G. Zhukov, V. Ryabikov, V. Kalmykov, P. Denetiev, P. Parshin, S. Korolev, M. Keldysh. (465)


Article by Anatoly Zak

All rights reserved

Last update: October 9, 2016


Mikhail Tikhonravov.

Sputnik team

Veterans of the Sputnik project had a reunion in 1970. First row (sitting): Vladimir Galkovsky, Gleb Maksimov, Lidiya Soldatova, Mikhail Tikhonravov, Igor Yatsunsky. Second row (standing): Grigory Moskalenko, Oleg Gurko, Igor Bazhinov. Click to enlarge. Credit: RKK Energia


The R-3-based launch vehicle. Credit: TsNIIMash


Dmitry Ustinov's political support for the satellite was critical for the success of the project.


A monument to Mstislav Keldysh in Moscow, a key figure behind Sputnik. Click to enlarge Copyright © 2000 Anatoly Zak


An MSP satellite proposed in a draft of a government decree on Sept. 14, 1955, could be carried into orbit by a light-weight launch vehicle derived from R-5 and R-11 missiles, which previously launched small scientific packages like the one shown above to suborbital trajectories. Copyright © 2011 Anatoly Zak

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