Boris Chertok, nonagenarian, and Sputnik, quinquagenarian

It’s pretty amazing to have outlived the Soviet Union and been able to recall how science is actually conducted (gosh, it’s a human activity!)

Boris Chertok, Oct 2006 photo click photo to view Voice of America article

the first artificial satellite in space was a spur-of-the-moment gamble driven by the dream of one scientist, whose team scrounged a rocket, slapped together a satellite and persuaded a dubious Kremlin to open the Space Age.

And that winking light that crowds around the globe gathered to watch in the night sky? Not Sputnik at all, as it turns out, but just the second stage of its booster rocket, according to Boris Chertok, one of the founders of the Soviet space program.

Chertok couldn’t whisper a word about the project through much of his lifetime. His name, and that of Sergei Korolyov, the chief scientist, were a state secret. Today, at age 95 and talking to a small group of reporters in Moscow, Chertok can finally speak about his pivotal role in the history of space exploration.

“Each of these first rockets was like a beloved woman for us,” he said. “We were in love with every rocket; we desperately wanted it to blast off successfully. We would give our hearts and souls to see it flying.” …

The satellite, weighing just 184 pounds, was built in less than three months. Soviet designers built a pressurized sphere of polished aluminum alloy with two radio transmitters and four antennas. An earlier satellite project envisaged a cone shape, but Korolyov preferred the sphere.

“The Earth is a sphere, and its first satellite also must have a spherical shape,” Chertok, a longtime deputy of Korolyov, recalled him saying. […]

I hope the story stays up on the news site. It is an interesting read.


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5 Responses to “Boris Chertok, nonagenarian, and Sputnik, quinquagenarian”


  1. 1 Bluebeetle(one) 2007 October 5 at 1:45 am

    Hi,

    It’s quite both funny & strange to read them after 50 years…

    In 1957, the Cold War was the situation.

    All these people were state secret as you said.
    I can’t stand imagine for a a short while those people in films like the Torn Curtain.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torn_Curtain

    Watching such films is a great moment, living in this atmosphere should obviously be too much for many of us (me included).

    cu,
    Bluebeetle(one).

  2. 2 vuee 2007 October 5 at 9:12 am

    Thank you for the Wikipedia and movie reference. I think Sputnik was a bigger shock to most Americans than the Soviet hydrogen bomb. What was the impact in France?

    NPR.org had a piece about how movies reflected the era.
    Sputnik Left its Mark on the Silver Screen

    A set of further reading links from Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub is available.
    http://timpanogos.wordpress.com/2007/10/04/sputniks-50th/

  3. 3 vuee 2007 October 5 at 9:27 am

    from another correspondent, JC

    Einstein, the Sputnik, and a General with a Bulldozer.

    I can’t believe it’s 50 yrs since a rare gap in a dynasty of generals made possible a few years under civilian rule in Argentina. We were then reconstructing the science college of the Buenos Aires University. It had been destroyed during the rule of a general. During the reconstruction I was a student assistant to the Physics Research Laboratory. With my boss, we climbed and hung from balconies and roofs installing an antenna to capture the Sputnik signal. Using my boss’ own WWII surplus short wave receiver and with wire that we paid ourselves, we built and installed a dipole antenna and listened to the signal.

    The college was located in a historical building. Early in the post-colonial republic period the building had housed the first legislature. Later it housed the university and engineering college. The civilian rule and the Sputnik, both contributed to the expansion of support for the sciences and eventually the building was fully dedicated to a modern sciences college re-built with international assistance with a growing number of brigh students eager to contribute to the advancement of the sciences.

    Nobel prize winners like Einstein and Yukawa had spoken to lecture rooms fully packed with faculty and students in that historical colonial style building. But sometimes it was packed with thugs, policemen, or military. And, like we just saw in Burma, we then were captured and made “non-persons”. Einstein was also made a non-person, periodically, after each coup of a recurrent series. In fact, Einstein died while he was a non-person.

    The colonial style patio surrounded by balconies offered a configuration singularly convenient for unannounced assemblies of faculty and students when the circumstances required it. The death of Einstein warranted such an assembly. Once we were aware that the powers that be ignored the sad news, it was I, then a non-person, who had the honor to request from an assembly a minute of silence for the non-person Einstein.

    Ten years later, during the rule of another general, Einstein become again, a non-person, and faculty and students were given, once more, the “Burma treatment”. Years later, another general, with a bulldozer, transformed the building in a parking lot.

    Eventually the science college got a new building in the outskirts of Buenos Aires. And now a list honoring the faculty and students that were “dissappeared” by other generals has been inscribed on one of its walls.

  4. 4 vuee 2007 October 5 at 9:31 am

    Lydia T. Black is another who opposed the suppression of science
    https://theelderlies.wordpress.com/2007/03/14/lydia-t-black-1925-to-2007/

  5. 5 vuee 2007 October 5 at 2:07 pm

    10. Mobilizing Minds: Teaching Math and Science in the Age of Sputnik http://americanhistory.si.edu/exhibitions/exhibition.cfm?key=38&exkey=1051 In October 1957, the Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik, the first artificial satellite to successfully orbit the earth. With its distinctive “beep”, it was a very real manifestation of the Soviet Union’s growing influence in the realms of science and technology. In the United States, it spurred educators and others to create new and compelling ways to get young people interested and passionate about these fields. This fun and engaging online exhibit created by the National Museum of American History offers an overview of some of these new and emerging educational tools, which included textbooks, diagrams, hands-on activities, and even such seemingly common-place items as slide rules. These items (and much more) are contained within sections like “The Cold War and Sputnik”, “Excitement”, and “Curricula-Novelty and Diffusion”. [KMG]

    >From The Scout Report, Copyright Internet Scout Project 1994-2007.
    http://scout.wisc.edu/


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