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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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