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Sun City

After the first unsuccessful “appointment” with the Soyuz-10 spacecraft 

launched on 19 April 1971, the DOS continued to fly in unpiloted mode. 

The program of science experiments that were supposed to be conducted 

suffered due to the fact that the cover of the infrared telescope had not been 

jettisoned. This greatly reduced the value of the science program. TASS 

reports said nothing about the failure of the cover to open or the incom-

plete docking process. At press conferences the crew made no mention of 

the docking node’s breakdown. Everything supposedly had gone according 

to the program—period.

We needed to rehabilitate the piloted orbital station flight program as 

soon as possible. For that reason, work was under way 24 hours a day to 

prepare Soyuz-11.

Shabarov performed the duties of technical chief at the firing range. 

According to his reports, preparations were going according to schedule and 

liftoff could take place on 6 June. Mishin had also put Shabarov in charge of 

technical management of the preparation of Block D at Site No. 31. This time 

the fourth stage of Chelomey’s UR-500K launch vehicle—our Block D—was 

being tasked with sending interplanetary stations Mars-2 and Mars-3 to Mars. 

The launches of these stations were tied hard and fast to the astronomical 

deadlines of 19 and 28 May. These new spacecraft differed substantially from 

our Mars-1, which we launched during the days of the Cuban Missile Crisis 

in 1962. Each of them had an orbital compartment and a descent module. 

Babakin’s team had done an enormous amount of work to ensure the reliability 

of these interplanetary stations. We were also in a rush because the launch of 

N-1 No. 6L was scheduled for June.

On 24 May on Miusskaya Square, the State Commission convened in 

the hall of the ministerial collegium, where I thought my report about the 

results of all the work conducted on docking dynamics would finally be the last 

one. A group comprising Okhotsimskiy, Legostayev, Voropayev, and Lebedev 

had done an excellent job preparing the materials. Right off the bat, Dmitriy 

339


Rockets and People: The Moon Race

Okhotsimskiy had discovered our weak spot.

1

 Voropayev’s department was 



responsible for the rocket flight dynamics, Legostayev’s department for space-

craft control dynamics, and Vilnitskiy’s department for loads on the docking 

assembly after docking. But the dynamics of the process from the moment of 

contact until retraction were ownerless.

Vilnitskiy’s report about the measures taken to protect the docking assembly 

structure against the dynamic environment, which he illustrated with good 

posters, convinced the collegium that the theoreticians were the culprits rather 

than the designers. The members of the collegium weren’t about to penetrate 

into the depths of dynamics, and discussion ended at this ministerial level.

On 25 May, a month after Ustinov and Serbin visited shop No. 439, we 

reported at the Kremlin to the VPK about the launch readiness of the Soyuz-11 

spacecraft for docking with the DOS. Mishin made the traditional general 

report about the work performed and readiness for launch. Using posters, I 

gave a very brief report (as the VPK staffers had requested of me beforehand, 

having arranged it with [VPK Chairman] Smirnov) about what had caused 

the docking node on Soyuz-10 to fail and the actions we had taken. To my 

astonishment, not one of the VPK members asked a single question.

After my speech, Keldysh deemed it necessary to say that, at the request 

of Minister Afanasyev, specialists of his institute had participated in a study 

of the dynamics of the docking process and in the development of measures 

guaranteeing its reliability.

2

Next, the primary and backup crews were introduced. The primary crew 



was made up of Aleksey Leonov, Valeriy Kubasov, and Petr Kolodin. Georgiy 

Dobrovolskiy, Vladislav Volkov, and Viktor Patsayev formed the backup crew. 

[State Commission chairman] Kerimov reported that the launch was scheduled 

for 6 June 1971 and, considering its particularly critical nature, asked the 

chief designers to be there “in person.” This call to action, which had become 

standard by now, did not elicit any emotions. “Tomorrow morning the State 

Commission will fly out,” concluded Kerimov.

May in Moscow was unusually rainy and cold. At the airfield, as we were 

walking to our airplane, an icy north wind cut through us. Our group—

Kerimov, Severin, Darevskiy, Yurevich, and Pravetskiy—gladly warmed up 

with the hot tea that Khvastunov arranged for them soon after takeoff. Over 

 

1.  Dmitriy Yevgenyevich Okhotsimskiy (1921–2005) was one of the leading Soviet applied 



mathematicians involved in the Soviet space program. He was employed as a scientist at the 

Institute of Applied Mathematics of the Academy of Sciences.

 

2.  The institute in question was the Institute of Applied Mathematics of the Academy of 



Sciences.

340


Sun City

tea, Khvastunov—a Hero of the Soviet Union, combat pilot, and the current 

chief of our flight squadron—astonished doctor of medical sciences Pravetskiy.

I was conversing with avid downhill skier Gay Severin about his latest 

accomplishments. He complained about acute pains in his legs and about 

space technology, which were both interfering with his ski jumps and falls.

“I can give you some advice regarding your legs,” Khvastunov broke into 

our conversation. “After the war I flew a lot as an instructor, and suddenly 

my legs ‘gave out.’ I couldn’t walk at all. They dragged me to hospital after 

hospital—nothing helped. It was terrible: they were going to write me off into 

retirement. But my dear old mother cured me. She put me to bed at her house 

in the village and covered my legs with raw potatoes. Three days later I stood 

up. And, as you can see, I’m flying.”

“And you had no relapses?” asked Pravetskiy.

“None. As if nothing had ever been wrong.”

After a little more than three hours’ flight from cold Moscow, we found 

ourselves in hot Tyuratam at Dalniy airfield, formerly Lastochka. Later, for 

some reason, they renamed it Krayniy.

3

Shabarov, who met us, dumbfounded me: “It’s 36 degrees [96°F] here now, 



but for you it’s going to be even hotter. There’s a serious glitch in the docking 

system in the latest tests.”

After arriving at Site No. 2, I dashed into the hotel to toss off my warm 

jacket. And without grabbing some lunch, I set off on foot under the scorch-

ing Sun to the MIK. I was itching to find out what the docking and internal 

transfer system had in store for us now.

Oh, this path from the hotel to the MIK! I have been walking it since 

the spring of 1957. It used to be a dusty dirt trail from the special train, then 

from the barracks to the MIK standing all by itself on the steppe. Now, shady 

poplar trees along the asphalt protect the pedestrian from the scorching sun. 

After the checkpoint, where a soldier scrutinized my pass, I was in the “garden.” 

A group of control specialists and engine experts, who were heatedly arguing 

with one another, greeted me from a cozy gazebo.

In the testing hall our specialists and military testers were crowded around 

the manual control console for the docking mechanism, arguing. They explained 

to me that the previous day, during the performance of a test operation to 

extend the probe three times, they decided to make sure that in the retrac-

tion process, no erroneous cosmonaut actions would lead to the firing of the 

DPO nozzles, which caused the breakdown of the node on Soyuz-10. For this, 

 

3.  The Russian word dalniy means “far,” while krayniy means “farthest.”



341

Rockets and People: The Moon Race

Bashkin demanded that new commands be written into the test instructions. 

During the tests, in their haste, something got messed up, and the passage of 

the “undock” command lit up on the console at the wrong time.

Boris Vakulin, Boris Chizhikov, and Yevgeniy Panin—the developers of 

the docking electrical and mechanical systems—discovered this defect the 

day before at 4 a.m. It had been two days now that they’d gone without sleep 

looking for what caused the mysterious signal behavior. First off, I asked them 

to head over to the hotel and get some sleep. And in the morning after they 

had rested, they should be back here to search for the cause of the glitch in the 

individual programs. I explained the situation to Kerimov over the telephone 

and asked him to postpone the State Commission meeting from that evening 

to 27 May, no earlier than 1700 hours. He grumbled but agreed.

The next morning they ran five individual programs. And immediately 

everything became clear to everyone. In the circuit of the test console they 

discovered an “extra” relay, supposedly protecting the overload coupling against 

possible operator error. The circuit in which this relay was located did not 

participate in operations at the KIS or at the engineering facility. It was only 

needed during the testing process of the docking assembly when it was being 

assembled and handed over at the factory in shop No. 444. This relay failed, 

and the circuit, which wasn’t necessary for tests at the engineering facility, 

turned out to be hooked up and displayed false commands.

The overnight “cerebral eclipse” resulted in the discovery of the failure, 

which had nothing at all to do with an on-board system. Repeated checks 

confirmed that the on-board portion of the SSVP was in perfect order.

When everything had been ascertained, signed over, signed off on, and 

reported to the chairman of the State Commission, I walked out of the stuffy 

MIK with a light heart, sat down in the cozy gazebo, and lit up a cigarette 

with great pleasure. Pravetskiy and Severin dropped by the gazebo for a “puff.” 

They had their own problems with the cosmonauts’ spacesuits and life-support 

equipment.

“From your blissful expression I gather that you’ve caught the bobik that 

disrupted the State Commission for us,” said the always upbeat Severin, 

squinting cheerfully.

4

I told them what the situation was.



 

4.  Beginning with the first and only ground-firing test in 1947 from Kapustin Yar, testers 

often used the words bob or bobik to describe a technical glitch requiring hours to identify and 

eliminate.

342


Sun City

“In medicine this is called a ‘paired incident’, ” said Pravetskiy. “If a patient 

is brought in with an inexplicable diagnosis, don’t hurry. Wait. A second patient 

will certainly appear, and he will help form the diagnosis of the first.”

As a result of such a seemingly stupid mistake in the testing procedure, 

we lost a day. But losses of time and rattling of nerves did not end there. An 

installer from our factory brigade, who was referred to as an “old hand,” was 

standing next to the open hatch of the instrumentation compartment during 

a leak test on the [Soyuz] spacecraft’s thermal control system.

“Suddenly,” he said, “I heard a ‘pshh’ and saw a ‘cloudlet’ that smelled 

like a hot iron.”

He called over a testing officer, and he supposedly also saw the “cloudlet.”

If “pshh” and a “cloudlet” were signs of a loss of pressure integrity in the 

thermal control system (STR), then this meant a no-go for the launch.

5

 They 


started retesting. They raised and then released the pressure in the system 

several times. Then they called for a delay of 12 hours. There were no signs of 

leaks and no more “pshh.” On the night of 28 May, the haggard STR testers 

guaranteed pressure integrity and approval for handing over the vehicle for 

the irreversible fueling operations.

But right then and there the issue arose: how were they to write out “pshh” 

and “cloudlet” in the logbook? What was this? And what if the STR didn’t 

come into play here at all? Perhaps it was some other instrument that went 

“pshh,” and the cloudlet was smoke from it? What if the nature of the “pshh” 

was electrical rather than pneumatic?

Lead designer Yuriy Semyonov called for lead tester Boris Zelenshchikov 

to write a full explanation in the logbook of what had actually happened and 

what they spent time on. Zelenshchikov asked for a timeout to consult with 

lead military tester Vladimir Yaropolov. After a 30-minute private discussion, 

both testers announced: “If you demand guarantees from us disavowing the 

‘pshh’ and ‘cloudlet’, we ask permission to repeat integrated test No. 1 in its 

entirety, which will take 12 hours.”

If the integrated tests were repeated to this extent, then rollout to the launch 

site would be postponed from 3 June to 4 or 5 June and it would be impossible 

to launch on 6 June. Postponing the launch date would be a disaster! What’s 

more, we had just reported at the Kremlin that we were ready for launch on 6 

June! Yet Semyonov, Feoktistov, and I convened a small review team at which 

we all voted in favor of repeating the integrated tests.

 

5. STR—Sistema termoregulirovaniya.



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Rockets and People: The Moon Race

Now we needed to quickly seek out Shabarov, who had driven out to 

Chelomey’s Site No. 81, where that day, 28 May, the launch of Babakin’s 

interplanetary automatic station Mars-3 was supposed to take place. Then we 

needed to find Kerimov. He was supposed to make the decision in the State 

Commission to postpone the launch.

We decided to drive with Semyonov and Patrushev to Site No. 81. The 

Mars launch was scheduled for 2028 hours. We still had time; they had only 

just announced T minus 2 hours there. We needed to race 50 kilometers. In 

order to go through the checkpoint, we were supposed to get a gas mask. That 

was the fundamental difference between Chelomey’s and Korolev’s launch sites.

6

In the office of the “Martian” State Commission, old acquaintances—



Glushko’s deputy, Viktor Radutnyy; Pilyugin’s deputy for flight tests, Georgiy 

Kirilyuk; Yuriy Trufanov from the ministry; firing range Chief Aleksandr 

Kurushin; and State Commission Chairman Aleksandr Maksimov (behind his 

back everyone called him “San Sanych”)—were busy with amicable prelaunch 

conversations.

7

 Sergey Kryukov, our former chief planner, was now Babakin’s 



first deputy. (He didn’t work well with Mishin, but Babakin and Kryukov were 

very happy with one another).

8

We called Shabarov into another office and began to try to persuade him. 



He agreed to rerun the integrated tests, but we still needed to track down 

Kerimov. Kurushin wouldn’t let us go, and before the launch he invited our 

entire crew for a “soldier’s pilaf” on the occasion of his birthday.

9

 I don’t know 



whether it was really soldier’s pilaf, but that particular evening we considered 

it magnificent.

We admired the launch of the UR-500K from the observation post. The 

red disk of the Sun was just touching the horizon and dramatically illuminated 

the rocket as it lifted off with a roar. Separation of the stages took place like a 

color animation display against the background of the darkened sky. Without 

waiting for the report about the flight’s progress toward Mars, we dashed off 

to the airfield in pursuit of Kerimov. Both cosmonaut crews were arriving 

 

6.  The gas masks were needed because the Proton used toxic storable propellants, while 



Korolev’s rockets used nontoxic cryogenic propellants.

 

7.  “San Sanych” is an informal shortening of the first name and patronymic “Aleksandr 



Aleksandrovich.”

 

8.  Sergey Sergeyevich Kryukov (1918–2005), one of Korolev’s most senior deputies, was 



demoted in 1966 by Korolev’s successor, Vasiliy Mishin. In March 1970, disgruntled with the 

nature of work at TsKBEM, Kryukov left and joined the design bureau at the Lavochkin Factory 

as a deputy to Georgiy Babakin. After Babakin died in August 1971, Kryukov succeeded him 

as chief designer.

 

9.  Kurushin had turned 49 on 14 March 1971.



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Sun City

there, and we guessed that Kerimov would have to meet them. As we raced 

through the dark town, our headlights blinding people strolling after the heat 

of the day, we arrived at the airfield checkpoint (KPP) and found out that the 

cosmonauts had already driven out to their quarters at Site No. 17.

10

We turned around and, slamming on the brakes at the intersections, rushed 



to find Kerimov at the cosmonauts’ base. The cosmonauts had just arrived and 

were happily talking amongst themselves while unloading their baggage with 

the trainers and physicians. After we had greeted one another they invited us 

to dinner, but we had to turn them down. Having telephoned around to all 

the attendants on duty, we determined that Kerimov had left to find us at Site 

No. 2. In the service building next to the MIK there was a communications 

room where flight progress reports poured in. We tore over to Site No. 2 in 

complete darkness, completing a trip of 170 kilometers. On the way, at the 

KPP of the “third ascent,” we ducked into the line of vehicles and, taking 

advantage of the delay, got out of the car.

11

 Of all things, what a coincidence! 



A spark flared up in the dark sky, and moving rapidly against the background 

of stars toward the east, it extinguished before it reached the horizon.

After looking at the time, I guessed: “We just saw the second firing of 

Block D. By the time we get back, in Yevpatoriya they’ll determine how much 

of an error Block D gave Mars-3.”

The communications room was crammed full of “Martians” who had 

come here for communications. The first reports about that beginning of the 

seven-month flight to Mars had already arrived here from the Yevpatoriya and 

Moscow ballistics centers. According to the preliminary data, the deviation 

error was 1,250,000 kilometers, instead of the calculated figure of no more 

than 250,000 kilometers.

“It’s a long trip, you’ll be able to correct it,” I reassured Kryukov.

“To correct an error like that we’ll have to use up precious fuel,” fretted 

Kryukov.


12

We finally caught up with a disconcerted Kerimov in Patrushev’s office 

and began to explain the situation with the “pshh” and our proposal to rerun 

the integrated tests and postpone the Soyuz-11 launch for 24 hours.

 10. KPP—Komandnyy punkt polka.

 11.  The “third ascent” was one of several observation points at the firing range.

 12.  Mars-3, launched at 1926 hours 30 seconds Moscow Time on 28 May 1971, became the 

first spacecraft to perform a soft landing on the surface of Mars when it landed on 2 December 

1971. Unfortunately, transmissions from the lander ceased only seconds after it began transmit-

ting its first image.

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Rockets and People: The Moon Race

“I can’t decide a matter like this at my own discretion. In the morning 

we will convene the State Commission. This evening, I mean, yesterday,” said 

Kerimov, after glancing at the clock, “I reported to Smirnov that we are con-

firming the launch for 6 June. And you want me to go find him this morning, 

on a Saturday, at his home or at his dacha, apologize, and say that I was misled: 

launch on 6 June is impossible. After this, what kind of confidence can we 

have in the competence and reliability of our tests?”

There was a long pause. Our spirits hit rock bottom, lost in the contempla-

tion of our own inadequacy. And suddenly! Such miracles really do happen! 

During this tragic pause Boris Zelenshchikov burst into the office. Usually 

very calm, he explained with a slight stammer: “The ‘pshh’ happened again. 

We can reproduce it.”

We rushed downstairs into the testing room. Despite the fact that it was 

4 a.m., a large crowd of “well-wishers” huddled around the spacecraft vertical 

test stand. Sure enough! The “pshh” threatened to ruin the military testers’ 

Sunday, a day that their wives and children looked forward to perhaps even 

more than they themselves.

Oleg Surguchev, one of the chief developers of the STR, stuttering slightly, 

explained: “ ‘Pshh’ is the sound of the compensator actuating, if excess pressure 

gets into it. This shouldn’t happen. But our operator made a mistake. We can 

repeat this mistake and reproduce the ‘pshh.’ We guarantee that everything is 

just fine and there is no need for any retesting.”

Yaropolov commanded: “Integrated tests for the ‘pshh’ incident are can-

celed. Send the spacecraft for fueling. Those who want to can go get some 

sleep. We’ll review the testers’ actions at the briefing.”

[Chief of the firing range] Kurushin, who had approached us, invited 

Semyonov, Shabarov, and me to a symposium, which was being held for the 

first time at the firing range.

“At eleven o’clock in Building Zero. I really hope you’ll be there. You still 

have time to get a little sleep.”

It wasn’t until 5 a.m. that we finally managed to get to bed. But by 10 

a.m., after grabbing a quick breakfast, Shabarov, Feoktistov, Semyonov, and 

I drove out to the symposium “On the Prospects for the Development of 

Space Technology and Missions of the Firing Range.” TsUKOS Deputy Chief 

Aleksandr Maksimov delivered a good introductory report.

13

 13.  TsUKOS had been renamed GUKOS in 1970.



346

Sun City

I talked about the prospects for the modular construction of orbital sta-

tions with respect to the three dimensions of launch vehicles: 7K-S transport 

vehicles inserted on R-7s, DOSes on the UR-500K, and the MKBS on the N-1. 

Sergey Kryukov, who had broken away from talks with Yevpatoriya regarding 

Mars-3, gave a report on plans for the exploration of the Moon, Venus, and 

Mars using automatic stations. Yevgeniy Vorobyev, chief of the Third Main 

Directorate of the Ministry of Health and the State Commission member 

concerned with piloted launches, talked about the biological problems of the 

human body during long-duration flights.

Aleksandr Kurushin interrupted the discussion that was under way and 

invited everyone to lunch in honor of his promotion to the rank of lieutenant 

general. And that is where, between toasts, a real discussion about the fate of 

the firing range started.

“They call us military installation No. such-and-such,” said Kurushin, 

“and actually, we are the nation’s central cosmodrome, where we don’t just 

conduct launches, we also perform large-scale scientific work. State-of-the-art 

information processing methods and test procedures are being developed; very 

valuable experience is being focused on ensuring the reliability and safety of 

rocket-space technology.”

Aleksandr Maksimov, somewhat fired up by the preceding toasts, spoke 

out for the first time regarding the historical mistakes that were made during 

the design and construction of the firing range.

“In order to be referred to as a cosmodrome rather than a firing range, it 

needs to have a large centralized base. Now there are many scattered engineering 

facilities. The firing range was constructed based on old ideas about the inevi-

tability of a nuclear attack, and therefore, the sites are spread out 50 kilometers 

or more from one another. The entire main engineering and technical staff live 

with their families in a modern town, but every day they need to drive as much 

as 100 kilometers to work. This is a waste of precious time, and nothing justifies 

wastefulness now. Only the launch pads need to be spread out in the interests of 

safety. There should be a single base for the preparation of all the spacecraft and 

piloted vehicles. Zenit, Soyuz, DOS, Almaz, Venera, Mars, and Molniya, and 

perhaps the future MKBS, need to be tested and readied for launch at a single 

factory base. Such a factory should be located close to town. This will create 

conditions for recruiting and retaining a workforce. The town still needs to be 

improved so that people will want to live here. They created a genuine garden city 

in the middle of the desert in Uzbekistan called Navoi.

14

 Are they better than us?”



 14.  Navoi is a town in southwestern Uzbekistan founded in 1958.

347


Rockets and People: The Moon Race

No one contradicted Maksimov, and we raised our glasses to the construc-

tion in Kazakhstan of a “Space Navoi,” which they called Leninsk. Someone 

began to wax lyrical and in conclusion proposed a toast to “Sun City” [Gorod 



solntsa], about which the utopians of the past century had dreamed.

I proposed to my comrades from Site No. 2: “Kerimov has flown off to 

Kuybyshev to hand out awards to the Progress Factory and Kozlov. There’s 

no pressing business. No one will be looking for us, let’s spend the evening in 

town as if we were visiting it for the first time.”

“Actually, we’ve only ever seen it from automobiles. We’ve never had a 

chance to take a nice stroll,” said Pravetskiy.

Everyone accepted the proposal. Semyonov, Feoktistov, Pravetskiy, and 

I went out to the city of Leninsk—formerly Site No. 10. We didn’t have 

any particular plans, and we decided to start with a movie. The new Saturn 

Theater was a credit to any in Moscow. It had 1,100 comfortable seats with 

an excellent view, a large screen, and good acoustics. We were virtually the 

only grown men in the movie theater. Most of the movie-viewers were young 

women with children and teenagers. The French film La Grand Vadrouille [The 



Great Stroll], with famous stars of the French cinema Bourvil and Louis de 

Funès, was by no means a children’s film.

15

 All around us was noise, laughter, 



and even howling children.

A woman sitting near us explained that there was no one to leave children 

with at home. On their day off all the husbands go fishing, hunting, or to 

distant garden plots. These are young families, and there are no grandmoth-

ers and grandfathers in the town. We realized this one more time when we 

went out for a “great stroll” around the town. Among the public decked out 

in their Sunday best we encountered officers that we knew, who had changed 

into civilian clothes. Many were with their wives and pushing baby carriages.

“The only other place you might find such a concentration of beautiful, 

young, tanned women is at a southern resort,” noted Pravetskiy.

“Yesterday at the symposium Vorobyev said that Leninsk had moved into 

first place in the nation in terms of birth rate per thousand inhabitants. The 

local doctors complain that the superb hospital needs to be rebuilt as a birth-

ing center.”

The Palace of the Pioneers was located next to the movie theater in the 

midst of a young and vivid green space, while closer to the Syrdarya River 

was a large sports stadium. In this same green area they had built an enclosed 

 15.  La Grande Vadrouille (1966) was released in the English-speaking world under the title 



Don’t Look Now…We’re Being Shot At!

348


Sun City

swimming pool with 50-meter lanes. Enjoying the rare opportunity to stroll 

unhurried, we went down to the bank of the Syrdarya. I tried to show my 

comrades the spot where we had gone swimming during the hot summer of 

1957. Back then the Syrdarya was still deep and treacherous in places.

“Over there, where that kid is standing up to his waist, there was a deep 

hole with a whirlpool. I pulled a targeting system specialist from the Arsenal 

Factory in Kiev out of there.”

“What? He didn’t know how to swim?”

“The thing is, it wasn’t a he, but a she. The person I saved was then a 

senior representative of Arsenal. During preparation for the first launch she 

dared to show up at the launch pad in trousers and calmly puttered around 

with the ground targeting instruments. When Korolev saw such irregularities, 

he ordered Voskresenskiy: ‘Get that broad off the launch site!’ Voskresenskiy 

retorted unflappably: ‘This young woman is the official representative of Arsenal. 

Without her we might mess something up with the targeting. Not long ago, 

Chertok risked his life pulling her out of the deep whirlpool, and you are order-

ing me to run this specialist off of the launch pad. It’s an awkward situation.’ ”

“ ‘Oh, God, you guys still find time to go swimming with girls! Well, 

good for you!’ ”

“Voskresenskiy took advantage of the mood shift, and catching sight of 

me, shouted: ‘Chertok! You saved her in the Syrdarya, now save her here, 

introduce her to the Chief.’ Korolev had absolutely nothing against making 

the acquaintance of an attractive woman, and the incident was patched up.”

My story amused my companions. Now on the site of the historic event 

there was a dock, and next to it a landscaped beach spread out. Despite the 

fact that the Syrdarya River had grown considerably shallower since the days 

of heroic 1957, 150 private boats were assigned to the dock.

“And this is the Gagarin gazebo,” I showed my companions. “We had lunch 

here with the first corps of cosmonauts two days before Gagarin’s launch.”

Behind the Gagarin gazebo in the shady park we could see the hotels and 

cottages for the visiting marshals, generals, and “various and sundry State 

Commission chairmen.” In May 1957, we couldn’t have guessed that a socialist 

Sun City would sprout up in place of the dusty, truck-battered roads, mud huts, 

and barracks on the bare steppe. The population of one hundred thousand in 

the closed city, in which there were no power outages, and no heating outages 

in the winter chill, and no problems with the supply of any necessities, labored 

solely for the sake of the Soviet Union’s rocket-space technology. In the years 

that followed, the city continued to improve, develop, and grow prettier.

A terrible blow to my rosy remembrances of this town was something I 

saw 24 years later [in 1995] and then heard repeatedly from comrades who 

have visited it regularly in the past few years. The modern-day destroyers of 

349


Rockets and People: The Moon Race

the closed flourishing towns didn’t kill anyone or set anything on fire, like the 

Vandals who destroyed ancient Rome. The once flourishing town of Leninsk 

and the immense economy of the firing range at the end of the 20th century 

perished without the use of any weapons.

16

In order to destroy a modern town all it takes is to deprive it of electricity, 



fuel, and municipal authorities. Radical reforms condemned the community in 

which powerful production forces and cutting-edge science and culture were 

created simply because it was called “socialist.”

Twenty-four years later, on just such a sunny, bright day, I once again was 

strolling around “Sun City.” But now, rather than being involved in prepara-

tion for the latest launch and burdened by the work-related worries, I was a 

distinguished guest. The Il-18 loaded with Moscow guests arrived at the Krayniy 

Airport on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of NIIP-5—the rocket firing 

range known to the entire world as the Baykonur Cosmodrome.

From the airfield we were taken to the hotel at our former home, Site 

No. 2. There was a rather brief official celebration time at the soldiers’ club right 

there at Site No. 2. There were many warm meetings between veterans who 

had flown in from various towns and with those still living here, in the “near 

From the author’s archives.




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