Sergei Korolev

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Sergei Korolev
Born Sergey Pavlovich Korolev
Сергей Павлович Королёв
Сергій Павлович Корольов

12 January [O.S. 30 December 1906] 1907
Zhytomyr, Volhynian Governorate, Russian Empire
Died Script error: The function "death_date_and_age" does not exist.
Moscow, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
Cause of death Cancer, Tumor
Nationality Soviet
Ethnicity Russian/Ukrainian[dubious ][1]
Occupation Soviet rocket engineer and designer
Colonel (Red Army)
Spouse(s) Xenia Vincentini
Nina Ivanovna Kotenkova[2]
Children Natasha

Sergei Pavlovich Korolev (Russian: Серге́й Па́влович Королёв; IPA: [sʲɪrˈgʲej ˈpavləvʲɪtɕ kərɐˈlʲɵf],[3] Ukrainian: Сергі́й Па́влович Корольoв,[4] Serhiy Pavlovych Korolyov), also transliterated as Sergey Pavlovich Korolyov; 12 January [O.S. 30 December 1906] 1907 – 14 January 1966) 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.[5][6]

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 Kolyma labour camp. Following his release, he became a recognized rocket designer and a key figure in the development of the Soviet Intercontinental ballistic missile 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 that include launching Yuri Alexeevich Gagarin into orbit on 12 April 1961, the first human in space. 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 "The Chief Designer", because the Soviet leadership feared that the United States would send agents to assassinate him.[7] Only many years later was he publicly acknowledged as the lead man behind Soviet success in space.

Early life

Sergei Korolev as a boy in 1912.

Korolev was born in Zhytomyr, modern Ukraine (then the capital of Volhynian Governorate, Russian Empire). His father, Pavel Yakovlevich Korolev, was Russian from Mogilev[8] and his mother, Maria Nikolaevna Koroleva (Moskalenko/Bulanina), was Ukrainian born in a wealthy Nezhin merchant family.[9] His father had originally moved to Zhytomyr to be a teacher of the Russian language.[10] 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 Nezhin, under the care of his maternal grandparents Nikolai Yakovlevich Moskalenko who was a trader of the Second Guild and Maria Matveevna Moskalenko (Fursa), a daughter of a local cossack. Korolev's mother also had a sister Anna and two brothers Yuri and Vasily. Maria Koroleva had wanted the higher education, and so she was frequently away attending Women's higher education courses in Kiev. As a child, Korolev was stubborn, persistent, and argumentative. Sergei grew up a lonely child with few friends, this was largely due to the fact of his smaller stature and favoritism with teachers. The subject of jealousy from his peers, Korolev proved to be quite the student excelling in maths and other subjects. He also began to read at an early age. As stated in an interview, the torment of other kids bullying and teasing him later fueled him as he continued with his work as he proved a good student,[11] especially in mathematics. In 1915 his mother got divorced and in 1916 married Grigory Mikhailovich Balanin, an electrical engineer with a German education, attending the Kiev Polytechnic university because of the non-recognition of German engineering diplomas in Russia. 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 Bolsheviks assumed 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.


Sergei Korolev in the 1920s.

Korolev continued his schooling at the Odessa Building Trades School (Stroyprofshkola No. 1) (now Ukraine) where he received vocational training in carpentry and in various academics. His primary interest was in aeronautical engineering, perhaps due to the influence of an air show he had enjoyed back in 1913. Korolev began designing a glider plane during his free time while he studied for his graduation exams at the vocational school. 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. Korolev had hoped to go to Moscow and attend the Zhukovsky Academy. His qualifications did not meet the academy's standards.[11] 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. He met and became attracted to a classmate, Xenia Vincentini, who would later become his first wife.[11]

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.

Early career

Korolev sitting in the cockpit of glider "Koktebel."
Sergey Korolyov in comdiv uniform (1938).

Having graduated, Korolev began work at an aircraft design bureau designated OPO-4, or 4th Experimental Section. It was headed by a Frenchman named [[{{{1}}}]][] who emigrated to USSR in the 1920s[12] 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 licence. The next year, on 6 August, he married 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. It was one day, while he was flying around, that he looked up and wondered about what was beyond the point of where he could take his plane and how he could get there. Many believe this was the start of his interest in space.[11] 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[13]) . 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.


Sergei Korolev shortly after his arrest

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 Gulag work 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).[citation needed]

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. In the work camp, conditions were extremely rough – inadequate food, shelter, clothing, work assignments, and thousands of prisoners dying each month.[11] 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.[14] He rarely talked about his experience in the Gulag.

Other members of the RNII had also been arrested. Kleymenov and Langemak were executed,[15] 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 the "sharashka" of Kazan OKB-16 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 camp, 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.[16] 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 [sic][17] auxiliary rocket motor tested in an unsuccessful fast-climb Lavochkin La-7R.

Ballistic missiles

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[18] 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.[18]

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.[19]

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; 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.[18]

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. 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 true intercontinental 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.

File:Korolev Kurchatov Keldysh.jpg
"The Chief Designer" Sergei Korolev (left) and "the Chief Theoretician" Mstislav Keldysh (right). In the centre: Igor Kurchatov, 1956

In 1952 Korolev joined the Soviet Communist Party, a tactical necessity if he was to request money from the government for his future projects. On 19 April 1957 he was fully "rehabilitated", as the government acknowledged that his sentence was unjust.

Space program

In spite of the Soviet progress on ICBM technology, Korolev was preoccupied with the use of rockets for space travel. In 1953 he first proposed the use of the R-7 design for launching a satellite into orbit. He pushed his ideas with the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, including a concept for sending a dog into space. He also had to overcome resistance in the military and among party members.

In 1957, during the International Geophysical Year, the concept of launching a satellite began to appear in the American press. The US government was not well disposed toward the idea of spending millions of dollars on this concept, and so it was effectively frozen for a period. Korolev's group followed the Western press, and they thought it was possible to beat the US to the punch. He was finally able to win over support because of competition with the United States by suggesting that the USSR should try to be the first country to launch a satellite.

The actual development of Sputnik was performed in less than a month. This was a very simple design, consisting of little more than a polished metal sphere, a transmitter, thermal measuring instruments, and batteries. Korolev personally managed the assembly, and the work was very hectic. Finally on 4 October 1957, launched on a rocket that had only successfully launched once, the satellite was placed in orbit.

The effect of this launch was electric, and produced many political ramifications for the future. Nikita Khrushchev was pleased with this success, and decided that it should be followed up by a new achievement in time for the 40th anniversary of the October Revolution. This was less than a month away, on 3 November. The result was Sputnik 2.

This new spacecraft would have six times the mass of the Sputnik 1, and would include as a payload the dog Laika. The entire vehicle was designed from scratch within four weeks, with no time for testing or quality checks. It was successfully launched on 3 November and the dog was placed in orbit. There was no mechanism designed in this vehicle to bring the dog back to earth and so she died after roughly 6 hours in space succumbing to heat exhaustion.

This string of successes ran out with the launch of Sputnik 3. This instrument-laden spacecraft was sent into orbit on 15 May the following year. The tape recorder that was to store the data failed after launch. As a result, the discovery and mapping of the Van Allen radiation belts were left to the United States' Explorer 3 and Pioneer 3 satellites. Sputnik 3 left little doubt with the American government about the Soviets' pending ICBM capability.

The Moon

Korolev now turned his attention to reaching the Moon. A modified version of the R-7 launch vehicle would be used, with a new upper stage. The engine for this final stage was the first designed to be fired in outer space. The first three lunar probes launched in 1958 all failed in part because of an inadequate budget to test and develop the hardware properly, and also political pressure forcing the launches to be rushed before they were ready to fly. Korolev for his part thought that political infighting in Moscow was responsible for the lack of sufficient funding for the program, although the US space program at this early phase also had a scarcely enviable launch record. Once, when pressured to beat the US to a working lunar probe, Korolev allegedly exclaimed "Do you think that only American rockets explode!?"[11] The Luna 1 mission in 1959 was intended to impact the surface, but missed by about 6,000 kilometres (3,700 mi). Nevertheless, this probe became the first to reach escape velocity and the first to go near the Moon. A subsequent attempt (Luna E-1A No.1) failed at launch, and then Luna 2 successfully impacted the surface on September 14, 1959, giving the Soviets another first. This was followed just one month later by an even greater success with Luna 3. It was launched only two years after Sputnik 1, and was the first spacecraft to photograph the far side of the Moon, which occurred on October 7.

Korolev's group was also working on ambitious programs for missions to Mars and Venus, putting a man in orbit, launching communication, spy and weather satellites, and making a soft-landing on the Moon. A radio communication center needed to be built in the Crimea, near Simferopol and near Evpatoria to control the spacecraft. Many of these projects were not realized in his lifetime, particularly the planetary probes, none of which performed a completely successful mission until after his death.

Human spaceflight

Korolev's planning for the piloted mission had begun back in 1958, when design studies were made on the future Vostok spacecraft. It was to hold a single passenger in a space suit, and be fully automated. The capsule had an escape mechanism for problems prior to launch, and a soft-landing and ejection system during the recovery.

On 15 May 1960 an unmanned prototype performed 64 orbits of the Earth, but the reentry maneuver failed. Four tests were then sent into orbit carrying dogs, of which the last two were fully successful. After gaining approval from the government, a modified version of the R-7 was used to launch Yuri Alexeevich Gagarin into orbit on 12 April 1961, the first human in space and Earth orbit. He returned to Earth via a parachute after ejecting at an altitude of 7 kilometres (23,000 ft).

This was followed up by additional Vostok flights, culminating with 81 orbits completed with Vostok 5 and the launch of the first woman cosmonaut in space, Valentina Tereshkova, on Vostok 6.

The Soviet military was unhappy about being required to support the planetary and manned programs, which were of no value for national defense, so Korolev assuaged them by offering proposals for communications satellites and a converted Vostok that could be used for photographic reconnaissance.

Following Vostok, Korolev planned to move forward with Soyuz craft that would be able to dock with other craft in orbit and exchange crews. He was directed by Khrushchev to cheaply produce more 'firsts' for the piloted program, including a multi-manned flight. Korolev was reported to have resisted the idea as the Vostok was a one-man spacecraft and the three-man Soyuz was several years away from being able to fly. Khrushchev was not interested in technical excuses and let it be known that if Korolev could not do it, he would give the work to his rival, Vladimir Chelomei.

Cosmonaut Alexey Leonov describes the authority Korolev commanded at this time.[7]

Long before we met him, one man dominated much of our conversation in the early days of our training; Sergei Pavlovich Korolev, the mastermind behind the Soviet space program. He was only ever referred to by the initials of his first two names, SP, or by the mysterious title of "Chief Designer", or simply "Chief". For those on the space program there was no authority higher. Korolev had the reputation of being a man of the highest integrity, but also of being extremely demanding. Everyone around him was on tenterhooks, afraid of making a wrong move and invoking his wrath. He was treated like a god.

Leonov recalls the first meeting between Korolev and the cosmonauts.[20]

I was looking out of the window when he arrived, stepping out of a black Zis 110 limousine. He was taller than average; I could not see his face, but he had a short neck and large head. He wore the collar of his dark-blue overcoat turned up and the brim of his hat pulled down.

"Sit down, my little eagles," he said as he strode into the room where we were waiting. He glanced down a list of our names and called on us in alphabetical order to introduce ourselves briefly and talk about our flying careers.

To complete this task his group designed the Voskhod, an incremental improvement on the Vostok. One of the difficulties in the design of the Voskhod was the need to land it via parachute. The three-person crew could not bail out and land by parachute, since the altitude would not be survivable. So the craft would need much larger parachutes in order to land safely. Some tests with the craft resulted in failures, causing the death of test animals. This gave Korolev pause, but the problem was solved through the use of new parachute material.

The resulting Voskhod was a stripped-down vehicle from which any excess weight had been removed. Another modification was the addition of a backup retrofire engine, since the more powerful Voskhod rocket used to launch the craft would send it to a higher orbit than the Vostok, thus eliminating the possibility of a natural decay of the orbit and reentry in case of primary retrorocket failure. This spacecraft made one unmanned test flight, then on 12 October 1964 a crew of three cosmonauts, Komarov, Yegorov and Feoktistov, was launched into space and made sixteen orbits. This craft was designed to perform a soft landing, thus eliminating a need for the ejection system. The crew was also sent into orbit without space suits or a launch abort system, also risky moves.

With the Americans planning a space walk with their Gemini program, the Soviets decided to trump them again by performing a space walk on the second Voskhod launch. After rapidly adding an airlock, the Voskhod 2 was launched on 18 March 1965, and Alexei Leonov performed the world's first space walk. The flight very nearly ended in disaster and plans for further Voskhod missions were shelved. In the meantime the change of Soviet leadership with the fall of Khrushchev meant that Korolev was back in favor and given charge of beating the US to landing a man on the Moon.

For the Moon race, Korolev's staff started to design the immense N1 rocket in 1961,[21] using the unreliable NK-15 liquid fuel rocket engine.[22] He also was working on the design for the Soyuz spacecraft that was intended to carry crews to LEO and to the Moon. As well, Korolev was designing the Luna series of vehicles that would soft-land on the Moon and make robotic missions to Mars and Venus. Unexpectedly, he died in January 1966, before he could see his various plans brought to fruition.


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. Korolev became convinced that Khrushchev was only interested in the space program for its propaganda value and feared that he would cancel it entirely if the Soviets started losing their leadership to the United States, so he continued to push himself even harder.

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 experiencing hearing loss, possibly from repeated exposure to loud 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. Another version states that the operation was going well and no one was predicting any complications. Suddenly during the operation, Korolev started to bleed. Doctors tried to provide intubation for him to allow him to breathe freely, but his jaws, injured during his time in a gulag, had not healed properly and impeded the installation of the breathing tube. Korolev died without regaining consciousness. According to Harford, Korolev's family confirmed the cancer story. His weak heart contributed to his death during surgery.[23]

Under a policy initiated by Stalin and continued by his successors, the identity of Korolev was not 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 as Vladimir 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, and to cope with extreme political pressure.

Korolev's successor in the Soviet space program was Vasily Mishin, a quite competent engineer who had served as his 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.

Personal life

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."[24]

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.

His career also contributed to instability in his personal life. About 1946, the marriage of Korolev and Vincentini began to break up. Vincentini was heavily occupied with her own career, and about this time Korolev had an affair with a younger woman named Nina Ivanovna Kotenkova, who was an English interpreter in the Podlipki office.[11] Vincentini, who still loved Korolev and was angry over the infidelity, divorced him in 1948. Korolev and Kotenkova were married in 1949, but he is known to have had affairs even after this second marriage.

As a leader, Korolev’s passion for his work in the long term was something that made him a great one. He was committed to training younger engineers to move into his space and missile projects, even with his own work being consuming. Korolev knew that students would be the future of space exploration, which is why he made such an effort to communicate with them.[11]

Awards and honors

Among his awards, Korolev was twice bestowed the Hero of Socialist Labor in 1956 and 1961. He was also a Lenin Prize winner in 1971,[25] 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.[26] In addition he was made an Honorary Citizen of Korolyov and received the Medal "In Commemoration of the 800th Anniversary of Moscow".

Sergei Khrushchev claimed that 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.[27]


A street in Moscow was named after Korolev in 1966 and is now called Ulitsa Akademika Korolyova (Academician Korolyov Street). The memorial home-museum of akademician S.P.Korolyov was established in 1975 in the house where Korolev lived from 1959 till 1966 (Moscow, 6th Ostankinsky Lane,2/28).[28] In 1976 he was inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame.[25]

The town of Kaliningrad (formerly Podlipki, Moscow region) is the home of RSC Energia, the largest space company in Russia. In 1996, Boris Yeltsin renamed the town to Korolyov. There is now an oversized statue of S.P. Korolev located in the town square. RSC Energia was also renamed to S.P. Korolev Rocket and Space Corporation Energia.

Astronomical features named after Korolev include the crater Korolev on the far side of the Moon, a crater on Mars, and the asteroid 1855 Korolyov.

Quite a large number of streets exist with his name in Russia as well as in Ukraine. In Zhytomyr on the other side of the street (vulytsia Dmytrivska) from the house where Sergei Korolev was born is the Museum of Cosmonautics.

Portrayals in fiction

The first portrayal of Korolev in Soviet cinema was made in the 1972 film Taming of the Fire, in which Korolev was played by renowned Russian actor Kirill Lavrov. He was played by Steve Nicolson in the 2005 BBC co-produced docu-drama Space Race. In 2011 the British writer Rona Munro produced the play Little Eagles on Korolev's life – its premiere was from 16 April to 7 May 2011, in an RSC production at the Hampstead Theatre,[29] with Korolev played by Darrel D'Silva and Yuri Gagarin by Dyfan Dwyfor.[30][31]

Korolev appeared briefly in a film-within-a-film in the The Right Stuff during the administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower, inside one of the President's conference rooms.

Korolev opens the 2007 graphic novel Laika by Nick Abadzis.

Korolev also plays major role in 2009 graphic novel T-Minus: The Race to The Moon by Zander Cannon, Jim Ottaviani and Kevin Cannon

The science fiction novel by Paolo Aresi titled Korolev was published in the Italian magazine series Urania in April 2011.

The story The Chief Designer by Andy Duncan is a fictionalized account of Korolev's career.

The Russian 304 class ship in Stargate was named after Korolev.

In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, a United Federation of Planets Starfleet Constitution-class ship and a class of Starfleet ships named after Korolev.

See also

Sergey Korolev on a Soviet Union 1969 Stamp (10 kopeks)


  1. In 1924, Korolev described himself as an Ukrainian in his application to Kiev Polytechnic Institute, but later consistently described himself as Russian. Kolonitsky, Boris. "Sergey Korolyov" (in Russian).CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> // Solodko, Pavlo. Сергій Корольов. Давайте сьогодні згадаємо і про хороше (in Ukrainian).CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Harford, p. 25, 94.
  3. "Korolëv" is the transliteration used by the Library of ;Congress and adopted by James Harford for his biography (Harford 1997, p. xvi).
    Korolev's last name is pronounced [kərʌˈlʲof][citation needed].
  4. Анкета 4. Для реєстраціі студентів Київського Політехнічного Інституту (ukr.), 1924:
  6. Sagdeyev, R. Z.; Shtern, M. I. "The Conquest of Outer Space in the USSR 1974". NASA. NASA Technical Reports Server. Retrieved 13 September 2011.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. 7.0 7.1 Scott and Leonov, p. 53. Harford, p. 135. "Chief Designer" is a translation of Glavny Konstruktor (Russian: Главный Конструктор).
  10. В Житомире сто лет назад появился на свет Сергей Королев. ФОТО / Культура / Журнал Житомира / Zhitomir City Journal. (12 January 2007). Retrieved on 2011-04-30.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 11.5 11.6 11.7 Harford, James. Korolev: How One Man Masterminded the Soviet Drive to Beat America to the Moon. New York: Wiley, 1999. Print.
  12. Siddiqi, Asif A. (26 February 2010). The red rockets' glare. Spaceflight and the Soviet imagination, 1857–1957. Cambridge University Press. p. 122. ISBN 0-521-89760-2. Retrieved 29 April 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Altman and Holzman (2007). "1, Overview and History of Hybrid Rocket Propulsion". In Martin J. Chiaverini and Kenneth K. Kuo (ed.). Progress in Astronautics and Aeronautics, vol. 218: Fundamentals of Hybrid Rocket Propulsion. Reston, VA: American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. p. 5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. French, Francis; Colin Burgess; Paul Haney. Into that Silent Sea: Trailblazers of the Space Era, 1961–1965. University of Nebraska Press. p. 110. ISBN 0-8032-1146-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Soviet armaments industry. Chur: Harwood Academic. 1993. ISBN 3-7186-5313-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Parrish, Michael (1996). The Lesser Terror. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 46. ISBN 0-275-95113-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. "Last of the Wartime Lavochkins", AIR International, Bromley, Kent, U.K., November 1976, Volume 11, Number 5, pages 245–246.
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 Черток Б.Е., Ракеты и люди (Boris Chertok, Rockets and People)
  19. Brzezinski, Matthew (2007). Red Moon Rising. New York: Times Books. ISBN 0-8050-8147-X.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. Scott and Leonov, p. 54.
  21. Lindroos, Marcus. The Soviet manned Lunar program MIT. Accessed: 4 October 2011.
  22. Wade, Mark (2015). "NK-15". Encyclopedia Astronautix. Retrieved 29 December 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. McKie, Robin, "Sergei Korolev: the rocket genius behind Yuri Gagarin", The Observer, 13 March 2011, retrieved 21 March 2011.
  24. Kerber, Lev. Tupolev's Sharaga — 1973 (in Russian).
  25. 25.0 25.1 International Space Hall of Fame :: New Mexico Museum of Space History  :: Inductee Profile
  26. Image of 1969, 10k stamp. Image of 1986, 10k stamp.
  27. Air and Space Magazine
  28. The memorial home-museum of akademician S.P.Korolev at the Wayback Machine (archived 13 March 2005)
  29. What's On Main Stage. Hampstead Theatre. Retrieved on 30 April 2011.
  30. Cast and creatives – Little Eagles. RSC. Retrieved on 30 April 2011.
  31. Billington, Michael (21 April 2011). "Little Eagles – review". The Guardian.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • Harford, James (1997). Korolev: How One Man Masterminded the Soviet Drive to Beat America to the Moon. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 0-471-14853-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Korolyov, S. P. (1934). Rocket Flight in the Stratosphere. Moscow: State Military Publishers (Гос. воен. изд.).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> (bibrec (Russian))
  • Korolyov, S. P. (1957). The Practical Significance of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky's Proposals in the Field of Rocketry. Moscow: USSR Academy of Sciences.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Mishin, Vassily P. (12 November 1991). "Why Didn't We Fly to the Moon?". Jprs-Usp-91-006: 10.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Scott, David; Alexei Leonov (2006). Two Sides of the Moon: Our Story of the Cold War Space Race. with Christine Toomey. St. Martin's Griffin. ISBN 0-312-30866-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Vladimirov, Leonid (1971). The Russian Space Bluff. David Floyd (trans.). The Dial Press. ISBN 0-85468-023-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Черток, Б.Е. (1999). Ракеты и люди. 2-е изд. 1999.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> (Boris Chertok, Rockets and People)
  • "Testing of rocket and space technology - the business of my life" Events and facts - A.I. Ostashev, Korolev, 2001.[1];
  • "Red Moon Rising: Sputnik and the Hidden Rivalries that Ignited the Space Age", - Matthew Brzezinski, Henry Holt and Company, 2008 г. ISBN 080508858X;
  • A.I. Ostashev, Sergey Pavlovich Korolyov - The Genius of the 20th Century — 2010 M. of Public Educational Institution of Higher Professional Training MGUL ISBN 978-5-8135-0510-2.
  • "Bank of the Universe" - edited by Boltenko A. C., Kiev, 2014., publishing house "Phoenix", ISBN 978-966-136-169-9

External links

(RGANTD is the Russian State Archive for Scientific and Technical Documentation.)