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J Appl Physiol 91: 1501–1511, 2001.

h stor cal perspect ve

Historical aspects of the early Soviet/Russian manned space program

JOHN B. WEST Department of Medicine, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, California 92093-0623

West, John B. Historical aspects of the early Soviet/ Russian manned space program. J Appl Physiol 91: 1501–1511, 2001.— Human spaceflight was one of the great physiological and engineering triumphs of the 20th century. Although the history of the United States manned space program is well known, the Soviet program was shrouded in secrecy until recently. Konstantin Edvardovich Tsiolkovsky (1857–1935) was an extraordinary Russian visionary who made remarkable predictions about space travel in the late 19th century. Sergei Pavlovich Korolev (1907–1966) was the

brilliant “Chief Designer” who was responsible for many of the Soviet firsts, including the first artificial satellite and the first human being in space. The dramatic flight of Sputnik 1 was followed within a month by the launch of the dog Laika, the first living creature in space. Remarkably, the engineer- ing work for this payload was all done in less than 4 wk. Korolev’s greatest triumph was the flight of Yuri Alekseye- vich Gagarin (1934–1968) on April 12, 1961. Another ex- traordinary feat was the first extravehicular activity by Ale- ksei Arkhipovich Leonov (1934–) using a flexible airlock that emphasized the entrepreneurial attitude of the Soviet engi- neers. By the mid-1960s, the Soviet program was overtaken by the United States program and attempts to launch a manned mission to the Moon failed. However, the early Soviet manned space program has a preeminent place in the history of space physiology.

sources, a recent scholarly book (5) and three excel- lent television documentaries (11–13) contain inter- views with many of the principal people, and a rea- sonably authoritative account has emerged.

TSIOLKOVSKY,

N

E

RLY

RUSSI

N

SP

CE

VISION

RY

Konstantin Edvardovich Tsiolkovsky (1857–1935) was a remarkable visionary who can be considered the father of human space travel not only by Russia but the rest of the world as well. Tsiolkovsky (Fig. 1, left) was a young, almost deaf, mathematics teacher in a small Russian provincial town when he sketched a spacecraft design as early as 1883 (Fig. 1, right). He published his first article on space travel in 1895 (7). There is a splendid memorial to the Russian space program in Moscow showing the upward-sweeping trajectory of a spacecraft after liftoff, and a statue of Tsiolkovsky has a prominent place. He derived the basic equations of rocket dynamics that relate the speed of rocket flight, jet exhaust velocity, propellant mass, and the mass of the rocket vehicle. He also recognized the importance

of the allow

“orbital velocity” of a spacecraft to orbit

7,900 m/s,

which would

the Earth,

and also the

“escape velocity” of

11,200 m/s, which is the speed

microgravity; weightlessness; cosmonaut; artificial satellite; orbital flight; extravehicular activity

required for

a spacecraft to

attraction of

the Earth. He

escape the gravitational also realized that space-

flight

would

require

liquid

propellants

because

of

their

HUMAN SPACEFLIGHT WAS ONE of the great physiological and engineering triumphs of the 20th century. The history of the early United States manned space program is well known, beginning with the subor- bital flight of Alan Shepard on May 5, 1961, and climaxing with Neil Armstrong’s “giant leap for man- kind” on the Moon on July 20, 1969. By contrast, the Soviet/Russian manned space program has been shrouded in secrecy until recently. However, much new information has now become available, and the story has many remarkable features. Although much of the information necessarily comes from secondary

greater

efficiency

compared

with

solid

propellants.

However,

as

was the

case

with many early

rocket

pioneers,

he

received

little

acknowledgement

in his

lifetime.

Tsiolkovsky’s extraordinary vision and imagination are illustrated in his description of the liftoff of an imaginary spacecraft (Ref. 7, p. 99). Recall that this was written at the end of the 19th century and begin- ning of the 20th century, when the Wright brothers were experimenting with the first aircraft.

The signal is given; the explosion, attended by a deafening noise, starts setting off. The rocket shakes

Address for reprint requests and other correspondence: J. B. West, UCSD Dept. of Medicine 0623A, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, CA

The costs of publication of this article were defrayed in part by the payment of page charges. The article must therefore be hereby marked ‘‘advertisement’’ in accordance with 18 U.S.C. Section 1734

92093-0623 (E-mail: jwest@ucsd.edu).

solely to indicate this fact.

http://www.jap.org

8750-7587/01 $5.00 Copyright © 2001 the American Physiological Society

1501

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