By Georgy GRECHKO*, Dr. Sc. (Phys. & Math.), pilot-astronaut of the USSR
In 1955, I began working as an engineer at the Experimental Design Office-1 with Sergey Korolev, and a year and a half later I was told to calculate a trajectory of guiding the first national satellite of the Earth into orbit. Namely, it was required to develop programs of pitching (angular movement of aircraft with regard to transverse) and characteristic speed so that a rocket would reach the first cosmic velocity with zero tilt over the local horizon. By that time the Americans had already madetwo attempts to launch such vehicles but they failed. However, we understood that there would be the third one soon, therefore, we had to hurry.
Designers, "girls" as we called them, calculated this program under my direction using electromechanical machines (arithmometers but with electromotors). Of course, they were forty-fifty years old, however, at that time it was customary to address them so. Their first shift worked from 9 a.m. till 5 p.m.; then there was the second shift which worked from 6 p.m. till midnight. Then everybody left, and I could have a rest. But, as the next shift of designers came to work at 9 a.m., in order not to go far, I put on my coat and slept on my desk. This cycle was repeated every morning.
Once an interesting thing happened to us. It is very difficult to select proper programs, so that the rocket would go out at a given point with zero tilt to the horizon: in the calculations it flew over it either with "plus", or "minus"; we had to use the method of successive approximations. The machines we used could not calculate trigonometric functions, therefore, we had to calculate them arithmetically. Suddenly, it was found out that we took the required functions from Khrenov's table, where trigonometric functions were specified with eight characters after a comma. At first, the designers went berserk: How come? We have always calculated according to Bradys but now we have to use eight characters... In general, the issue was discussed at the trade union meeting, where the "girls" were told that they had always calculated the trajectories of combat missiles, which did not require the angle close to zero and, therefore, trigonometric functions did not "jump" so strongly in those calculations.
* An abridged version of the article by G. Grechko from the book The First Cosmic (M., 2007).
We carried out last calculations using the first Big Electronic Calculator (BEC) which at that time had just appeared in the Soviet Union and was installed at the Physical Institute named after P. Lebedev, USSR Academy of Sciences, Lenin prospekt. The calculator was installed in a huge room. It operated on lamps. In order not to overheat them, windows were open even in winter and the ventilator always operated, while we had to put on winter coats. When a beginner came to the room, he first tried to switch off the ventilator, over which there was a plate: "Ventilator is a friend of work, let it always operate."
Half of the BEC time (approximately a whole day) belonged to atomic scientists, while almost all night belonged to us, rocket engineers. And when we finished to calculate, municipal transport did not function any longer and as, naturally, we did not have cars, we had to sleep there. It was cold and, to warm up, we invented different methods, we even slept in the corridor: there were carpets in the corridor, which we used to wrap ourselves up and doze so till morning.
I remember the morning when calculations were, in the long run, over - I obtained a final trajectory of guiding the first satellite into orbit. I took the tape on which it had been recorded, left the institute and waited until the grocer's opposite was opened. They sold sausages there, while in Podlipki (now it's Korolev) they were unavailable. I bought what I wanted, put all into the string-bag together with the tape and went home by electric train.
I got home without adventures and, fortunately, this time I did not miss my station, as it often happened. In our Institute our "secret agents" immediately took this tape away from me, put all necessary stamps, though it was clear that on my way to our town near Moscow I could have lost this tape and made as many copies as I wanted. But they did not want to go where calculations were carried out. Such was a secrecy system.
This trajectory was included in calculations; on its basis a pitching program was created, according to which the rocket was turned to change from vertical flight to horizontal with regard to the local horizon and the program of characteristic speed. When all had been done, we went to Baikonur a few weeks before launching, which was scheduled for October 6, 1957.
At the testing range the rocket was already tested in the assembled form, while I had before launching to check the readiness for the start and fueling of the system. Moreover, I had to be at start till the moment when the drainage was closed in oxygen tank: if it is closed immediately, the tank simply explodes due to pressure, so we had to let off steam and permanently add liquid oxygen, so that the required level was maintained till the very start.
By that time the satellite was ready. A few words about it. As a matter of fact, our first satellite, i.e. the one which had to be the first, weighed 1.5 tons and carried a lot of scientific hardware. But it was not adjusted for the start on October 6 and, therefore, its start was postponed (later on, it was the third to be launched). The simplest satellite PS-1 was the first we launched. It had only batteries and a radio transmitter - the sphere of more than 83 kg.
Of course, we, young romantics, learning this, disputed with Korolev: How come? We are launching a primitive transmitter instead of a serious scientific device. Let's at least install detectors of pressure, temperature on it ... Korolev explained to us that at that time we could not afford it (by the way, though they say that he was very stern, he spoke very politely with us): "While we prepare a satellite to match these detectors, the Americans will carry out the third launching. What if it's successful?"
Even the date of launching was put off for the same reasons. Moreover, at the beginning of October an Assembly of International Astronautical Federation was held in Barcelona, which was, by the way, also attended by the Soviet delegation representing the USSR Academy of Sciences. In a booklet of scientific and technical information, which was issued regularly in our country, we read that on October 5, the Americans would make a report at this assembly called "Satellite Over the Planet". This made us prick up our ears: what if this report is made "in the wake" of the satellite launched by the Americans, while we plan to launch it only on the 6th?
We rushed to Korolev, showed this information to him. At first he said nothing, went out and only many years later I learnt that he had got in touch with the State Security Committee (KG B) and asked them whether they had any information about Americans going to make another attempt to launch their satellite on October 5? The following answer came from the KGB: No, we have
no information. But there was another paragraph: we have no information that they do not want to launch the satellite that day.
Korolev ordered to curtail preparations: to cancel some check-ups, which might be not very important and put off the launching till October 4. Of course, this was a serious risk but he had to run risks.
Thus, the launching day came. My group was at a start before half-hour readiness. We examined all required parameters and then went behind the theodolite tower from where we watched the take-off.
The rocket went out from the flame. It was a little funny to see it as it seemed "too short": its "own" warhead was very long, while the fairing for the first satellite was a very short cap. By the way, so far I had seen the warhead only on the drawing in the form of a schematic triangle. Only 50 years later I saw a real warhead - gigantic, almost up to the ceiling - in the museum in Sarov.
So, the R-7 rocket took off, then separation started, there were commands, telemetry was measured ... All of a sudden me heard shouts: "It's falling, it's falling!" We saw how at first it raised itself over the horizon and then began moving towards it.
At that time rockets, indeed, often fell as we were only developing them, so our hearts sank. But, actually, at that time the rocket "was falling" only with regard to us, i.e. with regard to the horizon of start. For zero tilt we had to guide it for hundreds of kilometers from starting point, and we had to see how it went down in order to "lie down" on the local horizon later on. I say: "Well, guys, everything is all right, it just has a different trajectory..." However, people who were not used to satellite launchings got frightened.
Later on telemetry gave information about the rocket and satellite. It showed: the R-7 operated as much as it had been calculated; its speed complied with the planned one. However, just in case we waited for the satellite to fly over us to receive its signals. This happened approximately in an hour. Only then it became clear that it was on the orbit and we began to break up. It was late at night by local time.
Korolev reported on the take off by the special communication line, then he came to us - it happened in the building, a kind of barrack. People crowded in the corridor, and he said: "Comrades, I am grateful to you. Now you can go and have a drink.
To understand how it sounded in that situation, one has to imagine Baikonur of 1957. As a matter of fact, there was no cosmodrome then. Gigantic structures - start, assembly-testing complex and others - were called a "polygon", which was located near railway station Tyuratam.
Today it takes several hours to prepare rockets for takeoff. At that time it took two weeks, while it took months between the time when separate blocks were brought to the testing range and the very start. All that time "dry law" remained in force there: neither wine, nor beer, nor vodka. Moreover, there was no place to buy them, as at that time Tyuratam was only a railway station and a small village situated near the station - dozens of houses but no shop. When the testing range was built it was serviced by a military unit: there were shops there but they did not sell alcohol. Of course, somehow people "found a way out": there was no wine at the testing range but there was always spirit. It was used to clean glass, contacts. However, telemetrists used it most of all as information was recorded on films and to get it quickly, developed films were dried with spirit. Well, afterwards it was quite fit for drinking.
In general, the situation was rather tense. In this situation Korolev says: "You can go and drink..." He was an artistic man, made a pause, and added "tea".
At that time I just started to work at the testing range, was very naive, so I said: "Oh! I have a bottle of wine". Smiling Korolev immediately frowned - it was prohibited to bring alcohol to the cosmodrome. He ordered: "Hand over the bottle to the commandant." I said: "The bottle - I will." He laughed and asked: "What are you? Engineer? You will be a senior engineer". And then, of course, celebrations started.
It must be pointed out that though we launched the satellite and even wrote a communication for radio, nevertheless, we did not break up until we heard it on the air read by well-known announcer of the All-Union Radio Yuri Levitan.
The communication was compiled in a reserved manner. Moreover, we wrote that now this event may remain unnoticed, however, years would pass and contemporaries would assess its present importance in future. But Levitan, when reading the text, made a mistake and instead of the word "contemporaries" said "compatriots". It turned out that this event would be interesting only to compatriots even many years later. As a result, the next day, October 5, the newspaper Pravda was issued as usual, and only somewhere in the corner there was published a small note about the satellite, which had been launched in the Soviet Union, and some figures had been given.
However, front pages of a great many world newspapers reacted to what had happened: colored drawings, viewpoints, comments.... Thus, we understood what we had done in fact from the foreign press. A day later Pravda joined them: it began publishing drawings, articles, interviews of scientists, then it started publication of schedules: when and where one can see this star - the First Satellite.
For participation in this work Korolev was awarded the Lenin Prize, my superior, as far as I remember, the "Sign of Honor" Order, and I was given the medal "For Labor Merit" - the smallest non-military medal. I still keep it and it is dear to me as I received it for the First Satellite.
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