Rockets and People, Vol. 1, and Rockets and People: Creating a Rocket Industry, Vol. 2

By Erickson, Andrew S. | Air & Space Power Journal, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

Rockets and People, Vol. 1, and Rockets and People: Creating a Rocket Industry, Vol. 2


Erickson, Andrew S., Air & Space Power Journal


Rockets and People, vol. 1, and Rockets and People: Creating a Rocket Industry, vol. 2, by Boris Chertok. NASA History Office (http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/pao/History/ index.html), 300 E Street SW, Washington, DC 20546, 2005, 402 pages, $42.00 (hardcover) (vol. 1); 2006, 669 pages, $25.00 (hardcover) (vol. 2). Available free online at http://history .nasa.gov/SP-4110/voll .pdf and http://history .nasa.gov/SP-4110/vol2.pdf.

In this initial two-volume set, Boris Chertok chronicles Soviet air and space development through approximately 1960, drawing on his six decades of experience as one of Moscow's foremost air and space engineers, engaged in nearly all major projects. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration plans to publish volumes three and four (concerning Moscow's space program in the early-to-mid 1960s and the moon shot in the late 1960s, respectively) in 2008-9. Translated from the original Russian (published in Moscow as Rakety i lyudi, 1994-99) and substantially revised, the series is edited by noted space historian Asif Siddiqi. In these volumes, Chertok offers unique historical insights and documentary references, many previously unavailable in the West, thus giving the reader penetrating views into an era in which "rocket-space technology became one of the determining factors in the politics of the leading nations" (vol. 1, p. 8).

In one interesting revelation, Chertok writes that China is not the only nation to have conducted a live test of a nuclear warhead atop a missile (as suggested in Thread of the Silkworm, Iris Chang's biography of Qian Xuesen, the father of China's missile program, p. 222). A decade earlier, on 2 February 1956, the Soviet Union fired a nuclear-armed R-5M missile 1,200 miles to create a nuclear explosion near the Aral Sea (vol. 2, p. 284). Chertok later recounts a proposal, fortunately abandoned, to "deliver an atomic bomb to the Moon and detonate it on its surface" (vol. 2, p. 440).

Volume one covers Chertok's early career, including his assistance in relocating Soviet aeronautical infrastructure to the Urals to avoid Nazi attacks and his assessment and extraction of Nazi rocket expertise in postwar Germany. He recounts early Soviet development of aviation, which Stalin regarded as a critical industry in the 1930s and renewed support for during World War II. Chertok acknowledges that despite this prioritization, many important Soviet military leaders did not fully appreciate the military significance of rockets and aircraft at the war's outset. Later they reversed their position and inhibited space developments, fearing that they interfered with the progress of weapons systems.

Volume two details Chertok's return to Moscow in 1946 to fulfill Stalin's charge to develop a missile program and his subsequent role in establishing Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Chertok also records the development and launch of such satellites as Sputnik (in 1957) and of lunar and interplanetary probes. In addition to these successes, he acknowledges such failures as the R-1 6 rocket explosion in 1960 that killed Marshal Mitrofan Nedelin, head of Soviet strategic missiles, and scores of top engineers. Throughout volume two, Chertok recounts relations with former boss and chief designer Sergey Korolev, long recognized as having led the Soviet space program until his untimely death in 1966. The author offers probing insights into the political system that facilitated Nazi Germany's cuttingedge missile advances, which in some ways actually helped Hitler lose World War II by diverting resources from the development of aircraft and atomic capability.

Some will undoubtedly disagree with Chertok's views concerning many critical issues of his time, particularly his somewhat Utopian characterization of technocratic policies as a panacea and of Soviet militarism as primarily a reaction to provocative American policies. In Chertok's assessment, Moscow "won the nuclear missile race, but lost the moon race" (vol. …

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