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Dreams and Dreamers

The first flights to space in the middle of the XX century were built upon a substantial real and theoretic foundation. Generations of Russian artists, philosophers, engineers were dreaming of flying to space, they were writing about the future being impossible without it. A century ago Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, dreamer and prophet, natural scientist and inventor, supposed that the problem of how to reach the Moon and closer planets will be solved within the coming generations. Together with his associates he inspired a galaxy of young talented designers and engineers from Friedrich Zander and Valentin Glushko to Sergey Korolev. They started practical work in rocket building in the 1930s. Just in a couple of decades they overcame gravity and achieved notable success. However, their journey was not easy.

Sergei Korolev’s personal mug from the Kolyma gulag camp, 1939

Sergei Korolev, the future Soviet scientist and rocket engineer, the member of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR (1958), the leader of the Soviet rocket and space programs, was born in 1907 in Zhitomir. As a child, he met with pilots of the hydro squad and began to actively participate in a social life of the aviation community. He started as an aviation educator when he was sixteen years old. When he was seventeen he developed a project of a non-motorized aircraft K-5 which he officially presented before an authorized committee and received the approval for its construction.

In 1926 he took part in organizing the country’s first glider school in Moscow. After finishing it, he became the instructor and the glider test pilot. Starting from his fourth year at Moscow Higher Technical School, Sergei Korolev combined study with work in the engineer bureaus. Since 1927 he participated in the All-Union glider competitions in Koktebel four times consecutively. There in 1929 Korolev presented his first glider SK-1 "Koktebel", which he flew himself and reached the longest duration of the flight — 4 hours and 19 minutes. In the same year, Sergei Korolev visited Konstantin Tsiolkovsky in Kaluga, to get consultation concerning his ultra-long flight glider, but the scientist advised Korolev to work on the idea of a space flight and encouraged him to contact Friedrich Zander, the engineer at the Central Aero-Hydrodynamic Institute (TsAGI). In September 1931, the Group for the study of reactive motion (GIRD) was created within Osoaviakhim (Society of assistance to defense, aviation, and chemical construction). Headed by Zander, the Group worked on the development and testing of the experimental rocket plane RP-1 equipped with the OR-2 liquid rocket engine (LRE). In 1932, Korolev organized his first aviation research bureau, also called GIRD.

In June 1938 he was arrested for his alleged participation in the "Trotskyist organization" and was sentenced to 10 years. In 1940, the engineer Tupolev hired Korolev to work in his "sharashka" — an engineering bureau, where prisoners worked. Soon after the war in 1946, the Research Institute of missile rocket weapons was established and Sergei Korolev became one of its chief engineers. Only 10 years remained before the first flights to space.

From the private collection of N.S. Korolevа

OR-1 Engine model, 1963

This rocket engine was developed between 1929 and 1932 by Friedrich Arturovich Zander, the inventor, the student and colleague of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky. He was also the supporter of Tsiolkovsky’s theory of interplanetary flights and rocket engines. OR-1 was created on the basis of a blowtorch, which had to be retrofitted with a special nozzle. The engine ran on a mixture of compressed air with gasoline and developed a thrust of up to 145 gf. Later Zander built a much more sophisticated OR-2, which already at that time used liquid oxygen and had project thrust of 50 kgf. Both engines remained experimental, but Zander’s work formed a basis for building the Project 10 engine, designed for the first Soviet GIRD-X missile. Its launch took place on November 25, 1933. Unfortunately, Zander did not live up to this: he died of typhus almost a year before that.

From the collection of the Tsiolkovsky State Museum of the History of Cosmonautics, Kaluga

Interplanetary ship of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky. Model, 1963

This spaceship model was created on the basis of numerous descriptions and sketches published in the works of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky between 1896 and 1923. The spaceship is divided into two main parts: the engine with fuel tanks and the residential zone. Each of these, in turn, are further divided into two compartments. At the very top, there are reserves of food and water, the manual control, the space suits and the gateway for the spacewalks. In the next compartment, there are anti-g baths filled with a liquid of a specific density which had to neutralize harmful effects of acceleration. In the two lower compartments are located, respectively, fuel pumps, tanks for fuels and oxidizing agents, as well as a combustion chamber, which was called the blast pipe in the original papers.

From the collection of the Polytechnic Museum

Interplanetary ship of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky and GIRD-X missile

GIRD-X missile. Model. Scale 1:1

The first famous Soviet missile with a liquid propellant engine was created in the Group Study of Reactive Motion (GIRD), led by Sergei Korolev in the early 1930s. It was powered by the Project 10 engine, built on the designs by Friedrich Zander. The Project 10 engine burned ethanol and liquid oxygen and developed a thrust of up to 70 kgf. In fact, it was a development in the series of OR engines, started in 1930. The first launch of the GIRD-X was held on November 25, 1933. It started off well: the rocket rose vertically to the altitude of over 70 meters. However, the launch ended unsuccessfully — due to the failure of the engine mount the rocket went off its course and fell down not far from its starting point.

From the collection of the Polytechnic Museum

Liquid rocket engine ORM-65 (experimental rocket engine). Model, section. Scale 1:1. USSR, Moscow region, Khimki. 1964

The ORM-65 engine was developed in 1936 at the Jet Propulsion Research Institute (RNII-3) led by Valentin Glushko. In a series of 102 engines, the ORM-65 was the most successful version. It was equipped with a pyrotechnic ignition system, and it functioned on a mixture of nitric acid and kerosene. Its maximum thrust amounted to 175 kgf. The engine was designed for use in the RP-318 rocket-powered aircraft, as well as in the ballistic missile 212. After the bench tests (1936−1938) and the flight tests (1939), the ORM-65 was established as one of the most successful Soviet engines of its time, despite the fact that in the final version of RP-318 it was replaced by his modified successor RDA-1−150.

From the collection of the Polytechnic Museum