Space Exploration > Interviews|
Historical Reminiscences of Cosmonaut Georgi Mikhailovich Grechko, Part 2
By Dennis Newkirk and Jim Plaxco
This article originally appeared in the June-July 1993 issue of Spacewatch.
What follows is part two of an interview with cosmonaut Dr. Georgi Mikhailovich Grechko made on April 7, 1993 by Dennis Newkirk(DN), author of the Almanac of Soviet Manned Space Flight, and James Plaxco(JP). Dr. Grechko was gracious enough to skip lunch to answer our questions in between his CSSS sponsored appearances in the Chicago area recently. Part one of this interview, along with biographical information, appeared in the May 1993 issue of Spacewatch. Dr. Grechko describes his English as being of the broken variety, or the international language of scientists. This international flavor is retained in the following interview.
JP - What was the atmosphere like working in the Korolev bureau before Sputnik.
Grechko - I was happy working in the bureau because I knew when I graduated there was no satellite and I could not choose any bureau working on satellites, so I choose the one working on the biggest rockets. Because in some years I knew that a space booster would be built. When I entered the bureau, my first duty was the SS-6 ICBM, and thank God it was never used for what it was designed. First of all, I calculated trajectories from Tyuratam to Kamchatka and understand deviation from target points. It was my duty to calculate the trajectory from the Cosmodrome, but it was not Cosmodrome at that time, it was "polygon" - the place to test rockets not to go to space. For me this was my happiest time, when I was a young engineer and I worked at the "polygon" to test the R-7 and test it for booster for the first satellites.
My most happy years were not my years in space but when I was in Korolev KB and at the "polygon". Why? because Korolev extended the spirit of pioneers. He supported all new ideas immediately, he didn't play dirty political games with rockets and satellites. He was very honest and direct. He did not try to hide or deceive, he was always straight forward and open. It was after some years it was very hard to ask a Chief Designer for an audience, but to ask Korolev even as a young engineer, I could ask Korolev and he invited me some days to see him. His power was in his team. He could choose his team, sometimes crazy and unpleasant people, but he did this with only one goal — to go ahead and ahead with the design satellites, spacecraft and rockets. The spirit of pioneers and clean atmosphere of design bureau without rumors and playing and hiding something behind his back. We could make many things out of metal without many, many papers. Now if you make little devices you must make a vast quantity of papers before you can go ahead. Sputnik 2 was made in a month. I bet nobody now can make a new satellite in one month. We had experienced design bureau, but I bet no one bureau will make a satellite in one month, but we did it, because after the launching of the first satellite, and I know about it from his own mouth that he was invited to Khruschev at the Kremlin. Khruschev said "please do something launch something new for the anniversary of the revolution," but it was after Oct. 4 and the anniversary was Nov. 7. Less than one month and we launched a new satellite with a dog. This was for me the most important, very active, not very much documentation or signatures, signatures, signatures, signatures to avoid punishment if something went wrong. Nobody said "there existed an opinion", we would say our own opinions and Korolev would decide which was right and approve. I was happy in this clear pioneering spirit of that time.
JP - After your time as an engineer you became a cosmonaut with the lunar training group. What was it like, that seems like it would be quite a different life to make that change.
Grechko - I liked science fiction, and I had experience to be in the occupation by German troops in the Ukraine for 2 years in Chernigov without my parents, and my toys were rifles, guns and grenades. It was the toys of boys in war time. And many of my friends were dead by these toys, or wounded. I had only one. Once I had an explosion of one cartridge in my arm. You can see this [displays slight scar on inside of thumb into the palm]. But I was lucky, I was alive. And my character was I liked to drive motorcycles, fly gliders, small one engine airplanes, parachuting, down hill skiing, scuba diving, snorkeling, I was made for space [Grechko drove in a vintage auto race in the US a few years ago with a team driving a 1973 Astin Martin and placed 3rd]. I liked to be on first frontier. When we began design of spacecraft for 3 cosmonauts, Korolev said that one of the 3 should be flight engineers, and from whom would he choose flight engineers, of course from us young engineers in space technology. He knew us, and he invited us to be flight engineers because only we had experience in space engineering. I gather 2-300 of us were invited by Korolev for medical tests, but in those times medical tests were very hard, sometimes cruel, and only 13 of us got okay from physicians for flight engineer.
JP - What were your responsibilities as the flight engineer?
Grechko - I was to explore all devices in the spacecraft and station. It was my primary task. Because when Gagarin flew, his spacecraft was fully automatic, really he was the subject to test not the object. Gagarin was chosen as a very healthy man and good looking man and good in communication, but not like specialist, not like engineer, or doctor or academician. The next move in space was for specialist, and Korolev said one should be the same [as Gagarin] but the next should be engineer and next should be a scientist.
JP - The Commander would be the one to control the spacecraft?
Grechko - Really, all that he can do, the Flight Engineer can do, but a pilot can't do everything a flight engineer can do. Its really two departments, Ministry of Defense and Ministry of General Machine Building and they share their duty and their cosmonauts and it was fighting between them as to whose cosmonauts should fly. The Ministry of Defense and their people would say "you guys you are engineers, you duty is to design spacecraft and we are pilots, we should fly, not you" but Korolev was of course right because space is for specialists and professionals.
DN - I want to ask you about the Academy of Sciences in the 1960's and how much power it had to approve projects like N1/L3, and about President Keldysh.
Grechko - He was the figure number one or two compared to Korolev. He was very powerful man. He did very much for us. He had his own Institute of Applied Mathematics and we were very close with his institute. I calculated trajectories in Korolev's bureau and in his institute they calculated too and we compared. His influence was very good. It was their idea to launch rockets to the moon not from the Earth but from orbit. I had many colleges and friends in this institute. I was one of the last to speak to Keldysh, he was very interested in this and I spoke with him and he made many notes. I told him that the idea of keeping all instruments on the same station platform was not good, but he died. He had previously undergone heart surgery by a famous American surgeon.
DN - Was it his personal authority that had influence on projects, and not Academy of Sciences authority?
Grechko - His institute checked our ideas, and made methods of how to calculate our trajectories. They made mathematical investigations and I used their methods to calculate trajectories. It was not like Einstein, working all by himself, it was his institute and his people, now many of them are famous, it is a very good institute.
DN - When Korolev was trying to get funding for N1 or moon projects, who did he have to convince in the government?
Grechko - In cooperation with the Minister of General Machine Building and Minister of Defense, they make proposals to Politburo and Khruschev. Sometimes to Prime Minister, but he was not very powerful, most powerful was Politburo and Central Committee of CPSU. They have Department for Defense and in the department they have small department for space.
DN - What about the Council of Chief Designers?
Grechko - The Politburo and Central Committee, they never made any decision, even for one ruble, they never make bad decision themselves. They ask designers, academicians, and all. When maybe a hundred who can be blamed if they are wrong sign the document, will Politburo and Central Committee approve something. It was their politics and they never voiced their opinions. It was very funny that a man from the Central Committee, say a chief of a department or the Minister of Defense (there were wise chiefs and small chiefs), nobody ever heard one of them say, "I have my opinion on this question," they instead say "There exists an opinion" but who's opinion you never know. It was very good to be in the Central Committee because you could say do this and that and never be blamed because nobody knew who's solution it was. Soviet industry was much more dirty players in business deals than your business. With one hand behind the back they would deceive and mislead, not at all like western business.
DN - The Korolev bureau seems to have split into pieces?
Grechko - Not really, we founded branches and first they were branches, then they became their own bureaus.
DN - Like Koslov, Photon, and Kosberg perhaps?
Grechko - Kosberg was not our branch, because Kosberg was a designer of engines and we asked him to make for us engines for some of our stages. I gather Kosberg was not founded by us.
DN - Was it founded by Glushko?
Grechko - No, it was a rival to Glushko. There was the big quarrel between Glushko and Korolev about the fuel [for N-1], we would use Kerosene, Glushko wanted hypergolics, and because they didn't have any agreement, Glushko rejected to make engines for Korolev, and then Korolev asked Kosberg and Kuznetsov. But they were newcomers to big engines and it was very bad because engines from Glushko would have been much better in my opinion.
DN - What ended the N1/L3 project?
Grechko - The lunar program was ended because the lander was technologically inferior to the Apollo and the risk and expected or probable loss of life was too high to continue the project in the light of the highly successful Apollo landings. The N-1 was capable of being made reliable but without a reliable lander there could be no mission. This is why it was canceled.
DN - Did you ever work for Babakin KB?
Grechko - No, when we made Luna 9 and 16, and maybe another, I invented very new software to calculate the velocity of impact and reduce the velocity for landing. Then lunar landing program was transferred to Lavichkin and I gave them my software and they used it first when they made vertical landings, but then they made non-vertical landings they improved my software and their gratitude was very strange because when I had my masters degree I asked them to comment on my software and he mailed me their opinion that their software was much better than mine, but they used mine, improved it for some years. Of course their software was at this time better but they used mine and modernized it and I gave it to them without copyright or money and I spent many times adjusting my software to their computer.
DN - How does the Salyut KB and the Energia NPO Space Station Design Office work together?
Grechko - The shell of the Almaz was used, and the control devices from Soyuz, were joined to make the Salyut. The Salyut hull was made by a branch of Chelomie KB, and the life support and control devices from the Soyuz were made by the Kaliningrad KB . I really don't know what is Salyut KB, maybe Salyut KB was this branch of Chelomei. I remember when we were at the Chelomei division it was divided into pieces and we had to change our passes when we went from one to another. Maybe one part of Chelomie was for rockets and another was for spacecraft, but maybe not.
DN - Do you know about the Spiral project which began in 1962 and flew in 1976?
Grechko - It was very good project, but it was one more mistake of our government. They said Americans didn't have a space shuttle and we shouldn't have too and it was destroyed. And then after you made your space shuttle, immediately they demanded a space shuttle. It was very crazy of our government.
DN - Can you tell me about Feoktistov's VTOL shuttle design?
Grechko - About 15 years ago, Feoktistov proposed a vertical take off and landing shuttle, but when he brought up the matter with Semenov his idea was not received well and he left Energia NPO after that. Feoktistov was brilliant but very temperamental when he knew he was right.
DN - You have written that sometimes at the Cosmodrome, Korolev would pick up his engineers at the safety fence around the launch pad and take them beyond the gates, in his car, to watch the launch with him?
Grechko - Yes, Korolev knew how to make a good team of right minded individuals and how to keep them working together. He would install in them a feeling of romanticism about rocketry and a desire to work hard. Sometimes he would have someone wake him up before dawn to go out and watch the rocket being moved to the launch pad in the morning dawn. He was a romantic and had strong feelings about rocketry. It is my opinion that we should not become only consumers and loose our pioneering spirit.