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Long-Duration Space Stations

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Long-Duration Space Stations 

Instead of the Moon

The highest-ranking bosses weren’t just simply tormented by thoughts 

that we absolutely had to come up with something to compensate for our N-1 

failures; these thoughts literally just “hung in the air.” For us, the employees 

of Korolev’s firm, there was one more factor that motivated us to conduct an 

intensive search for new priority achievements. In 1967, OKB-52, which had 

been renamed TsKBM, started to develop its own version of an orbital sta-

tion. Vladimir Chelomey understood that the only way to “win away” lunar 

conquest projects from Korolev’s firm and the Americans would be to create 

a new launch vehicle that was more reliable and could carry a greater payload 

than the N-1 and was every bit as good as the Saturn V. The most optimistic 

calculations showed that it would take at least six or seven years to solve this 

problem. And it would require so much more effort!

Five years later, in a private conversation with Bushuyev and me, Chelomey 

confessed that he had not been assertive in implementing the design of the 

UR-700—the launch vehicle for the lunar expedition—because this work could 

have swallowed up all the other projects, and anyway the Americans already 

had the upper hand. The UR-500, a.k.a. the already-flying Proton, was capable 

of inserting a spacecraft with a mass of 20 tons into Earth orbit. An orbital 

station with that mass could thus be inserted in a single launch, and that was 

a lot better than launching two Soyuzes at 6.5 tons each.

Chelomey’s new orbital station design was called Almaz. In 1968, mock-

ups of the Almaz orbital station had appeared in Reutov, and in Fili on the 

territory of my old Factory No. 22, now the M. V. Khrunichev Factory (ZIKh 

for short), the manufacture of station hulls was under way at full speed.



Myasishchev’s great design team—the former OKB-23, which had become a 


1.  The factory was named after Mikhail Vasilyevich Khrunichev (1901–1961), one of the 

most powerful defense industry administrators in the Soviet Union in the 1950s. Reutov was 

the location of Chelomey’s “head” OKB-52.


Rockets and People: The Moon Race

branch of Chelomey’s OKB-52—the development of large orbital space station 

hulls was not a very difficult task. In any event, the designers together with 

the process engineers and workers of ZIKh came to grips with it quicker than 

the designers at our TsKBEM and ZEM could have.


 In this sense, Fili had a 

clear advantage over Podlipki. The experience, traditions, and manufacturing 

process of aircraft builders played their roles.

Officially, the Almaz was developed per Ministry of Defense specifications. 

It consisted of an Orbital Piloted Station (OPS), a Return Vehicle (VA) for 

the crew’s descent from orbit to Earth, and a large-capacity Transport-Supply 

Vehicle (TKS).


It was assumed that the Almaz OPS would be a more state-of-the-art space 

reconnaissance vehicle than the Zenit automatic unpiloted photoreconnaissance 

satellites. The Almaz’s large camera only used up film to photograph ground-

based objects at the cosmonauts’ discretion. They could examine Earth in the 

visible or infrared spectrum through powerful “space binoculars,” and if they 

saw something suspicious, they gave the command for a series of snapshots. The 

films were developed on board under the crew’s control. Fragments of images 

deserving the attention of military intelligence were transmitted to the ground 

over a television channel. These and any other sections of the planet could also 

be scanned using side-scan radar. Reconnaissance conditions required that the 

OPS be continuously oriented to Earth while the camera could be turned and 

aimed at various objects. These conditions required that the station’s control 

system provide a high degree of precision in maintaining three-axis orientation 

for an extended period, rotation about the longitudinal axis at specified angles, 

and orientation of the solar arrays on the Sun. At the same time, [limiting] 

working fluid consumption enabled the spacecraft to actively operate for at 

least three to four months.

Following our example, Chelomey organized his own team responsible 

for developing the entire control system complex. The absolute philosophical 

priority of Chelomey’s control specialists was the installation of the electro-

mechanical stabilization system developed at VNIIEM, which used a spherical 

rotor and ring flywheel with great kinetic momentum. The spherical rotor 


2. ZEM—Zavod eksperimentalnogo mashinostroyeniya (Factory of Experimental Machine 

Building)—was the main production facility for TsKBEM. It was formerly known as Factory 

No. 88.


3. OPS—Orbitalnaya pilotiruyemaya stantsiya; VA—Vozvrashchayemyy apparat; TKS—

Transportnyy korabl snabzheniya. For a detailed history of the Almaz, see Asif A. Siddiqi, “The 

Almaz Space Station Complex: A History, 1964–1992,” Journal of the British Interplanetary 

Society 54 (2001): 389–416 and 55 (2002): 35–67.


Long-Duration Space Stations Instead of the Moon

suspended in an electromagnetic field was an original development in which 

Sheremetyevskiy took great pride.

Many years later, speaking at an election gathering of my Academy depart-

ment in support of Sheremetyevskiy’s candidacy, I praised this development: 

“Nikolay Nikolayevich managed to create an electromagnetic field in near-Earth 

orbit that could support a 20-metric-ton station.” During a break in the meet-

ing Pospelov rebuked me, “What nonsense! It’s a sphere scarcely larger than 

a soccer ball that hovers in the electromagnetic field, not an orbital station.”


I objected: “According to the theory of relativity, an observer located on the 

surface of a sphere is justified in asserting that his own field keeps the metallic 

‘sky’ surrounding him, i.e. the station, from falling. Remember the debates of 

our student days in philosophy seminars on the theory of relativity.”

Nikolay Sheremetyevskiy was later elected corresponding member of the 

USSR Academy of Sciences, and the Almaz played no small role in this event.


Another innovation that was exotic for those times was the use of Argon-16 

on-board digital computers to control the surveillance equipment. I mention 

these because the developer—the Scientific Research Center of Electronic 

Computer Technology (NITsEVT)—soon refined these Argons for a new 

Soyuz modification, and 15 years later they were installed on the Mir station, 

where (in a very updated version, of course) they crossed over from the 20th 

century into the 21st!


The development and manufacture of all the components of the sophisti-

cated control complex for the Almaz and its special-purpose photo-television 

and radio equipment required significantly more time than Chelomey had 

assumed. Over the course of 1969, ZIKh manufactured the station’s hull, but 

meanwhile there was nothing to fill it with. Thanks to good relations with 

colleagues involved with control systems at subcontracting organizations, I 


4.  Germogen Sergeyevich Pospelov (1914–), a specialist in automatic control, was elected 

a full member of the Academy of Sciences in 1984.


5.  Sheremetyevskiy became a Corresponding Member of the Academy in March 1979.


6. The NITsEVT was established in March 1968 to develop computer technology for 

various applications. The institute was established by combining two older institutions, the 

Institute of Precision Mechanics and Computer Technology (ITMiVT) and the Scientific-

Research Institute of Calculating Machines (NIISchetmash). An earlier Soviet design bureau, 

SKB-245, had been the primary developer of Soviet computers during the Cold War, and it 

was eventually attached to NITsEVT to support the new center’s work. NITsEVT developed 

the first Soviet digital computer for space applications, the Argon-11S, used on the 7K-L1 

circumlunar spaceships. Later, the institute developed the Argon-12A and Argon-12S for the 

Almaz space station complex. The first piloted Soyuz spacecraft with a digital computer was 

Soyuz T-2, which launched in 1980 and used the Argon-16. The Mir space station used a variety 

of different computers, including the Argon-16, the Salyut-4, and the Salyut-5 computers.


Rockets and People: The Moon Race

had a more comprehensive idea of the prospects for the Almaz as an orbital 

station than other managers and specialists at TsKBEM.

Back in Korolev’s day at OKB-1, the idea of a Multipurpose Space Base/

Station (MKBS) had come up.


 After becoming chief designer, Mishin assigned 

planner and ballistics specialist Vitaliy Bezverbyy to manage this project. The 

MKBS was supposed to serve as a spaceport, where other spacecraft, primarily 

reconnaissance vehicles, would dock to hand over their photographic materials, 

reload them, refuel, and perform maintenance and repairs. A well-trained crew 

on the MKBS was supposed to perform this servicing. The presence of a base 

station of this sort in near-Earth orbit would make it possible to prolong the 

service life of spacecraft, which even in the present day, once they exhausted 

their resources or in the event of a failure, we are currently forced to descend 

to Earth or scuttle in the ocean.

It was intended that the Multipurpose Space Base/Station would be outfit-

ted with various types of missile-defense and space-defense weapons, includ-

ing particle-beam weapons. In this regard, Academician Gersh Budker from 

Novosibirsk gave us a lecture on the possibility of developing accelerators for 

particle-beam weapons using uncharged particles.


 There were enthusiasts 

who immediately began studying this problem. Besides these exotic (for those 

times) ideas, it was intended that all sorts of reconnaissance photographic and 

radio systems be installed on the MKBS. The plan was to use the N-1 launch 

vehicle to insert the base/station into space. Thus, until there was an N-1, 

there could be no MKBS. On the other hand, the Almaz did not require a 

new launch vehicle. The UR-500 had already gotten through its period of 

“childhood diseases.”

While we at TsKBEM were experiencing a period of disarray and vacilla-

tion, the combined forces of Reutov and Fili were able to create a real orbital 

station for the Ministry of Defense. I told Bushuyev, Okhapkin, and Tregub 

about my thoughts on the possibility of our joining forces with Chelomey. 

But they just laughed at me and said that Chelomey and Mishin would never 

agree with each other. Tsybin took my idea more seriously: “If our ‘godfather’ 

[Stalin] were alive, he would settle all these differences himself in about 20 

minutes or he’d hand it over to Lavrentiy Pavlovich to sort it out. Comrade 

Beriya, in such cases, didn’t meddle in differences between chief designers. If 

Stalin instructed him to sort it out, he’d call in both parties and say: ‘If two 


7. MKBS—Mnogotselevaya kosmicheskaya baza-stantsiya.


8.  Gersh Itskovich Budker (1918–1977) was a well-known Soviet nuclear physicist who 

served as the founding director of the Institute of Nuclear Physics at Akademgorodok. He 

became an Academician of the Academy of Sciences in 1964.


Long-Duration Space Stations Instead of the Moon

communists can’t come to an agreement with one another, it means one of 

them is the enemy. I don’t have time to figure out which one of you is the 

enemy. I’ll give you 20 minutes. You decide for yourselves’.”


“I assure you,” continued Tsybin, “that after such action, Chelomey and I 

would work like the best of friends. However, one must take into consideration 

that certain powers of today will not see our friendly association with Chelomey 

favorably. We could become too powerful and independent a corporation, 

and the Central Committee and ministry need humble and obedient staffs.”

One day in August 1969, after a heated discussion of the program 

for the flight of three Soyuzes, Rauschenbach, Legostayev, and Bashkin stayed 

behind in my office. They asked me to listen to their proposal to develop an 

orbital station within a mind-bogglingly short period of time, enabling us 

to beat out the Almaz. The idea entailed taking any Semyorka tank, filling it 

with Soyuz systems, adding on more powerful solar arrays and of course a 

new docking assembly with internal transfer, and the station would be ready! 

We just needed to come in at 18 tons in order to use the UR-500. We could 

build such a station in a year.

At first I tried to resist: “The thermal control and life-support systems of 

the Soyuz are completely unsuited for this tank.”

“No problem! We already discussed this with Oleg Surguchev and Ilya 

Lavrov. It wasn’t we who convinced them, but they who convinced us that it was 

completely feasible to produce the new systems within a year using tried-and-

true Soyuz pumps, assemblies, and fittings. Piping and cables are no problem.”

“That’s not all,” I resisted, “a new correction engine and attitude-control 

engine system will also be needed. Although….”

Right then and there I telephoned Isayev on the Kremlin line.

“Aleksey! How much time do you need to adapt your correction engine 

from the Soyuz to a new vehicle, after tripling the volume of the propellant 

tanks and increasing the time spent in space from two weeks to three to four 


“You know,” answered Isayev, “we already solved that problem for the 

Almaz. Maybe it will work for you too. Take a look.”


What a tip! Combine already existing tried-and-true systems of an operat-

ing Soyuz with the Almaz production stock—this thought quickly got a strong 


9.  Lavrentiy Pavlovich Beriya (1899–1953) was the feared manager of the Soviet security 

services. Between 1938 and 1945, he headed the NKVD, the predecessor to the KGB.

 10. Isayev’s design bureau developed the 11D442 (or KRD-442) main engines for the 

Transport-Supply Ship (TKS), part of the complete Almaz space station complex.


Rockets and People: The Moon Race

hold on our minds. “Theory itself becomes a material force when it has seized 

the masses,” as Karl Marx once wrote.


I am not capable now of reconstructing in detail who first voiced this 

proposal, which radically affected the future of cosmonautics in our country. 

Moreover, now one can assert that the 21st century program for the creation 

of the International Space Station originates from the ideas discussed in the 

autumn of 1969 among a relatively small circle of people. Konstantin Feoktistov 

joined this circle and seized the initiative. A group of “conspirators” of sorts 

formed. I cannot reliably name the author of the most seditious and aggressive 

portion of the proposals developed. Such enlightenment descends all at once 

on a group of individuals the way that great ideas dawn simultaneously on 

inventors in different countries. Someone first merely mentioned it, and then 

all the “conspirators” enthusiastically snatched it up: why mess with tanks at 

all? In Fili, there were ready-made hulls for the Almaz orbital station lying 

around. We needed to use them filled with Soyuz systems adapted for great 

new purposes—this was so much easier!

Presenting a half-formed idea to somebody higher up the chain of com-

mand is dangerous. Especially since right away it would encounter the fierce 

resistance of Chelomey, from whom we had suddenly decided to take ready-

made Almaz hulls. The Almaz military customers would also be bound to 

object. Nor could we count on the approval of our own chief—Mishin. He 

would be against it because this proposal would harm work on the MKBS. 

Minister Afanasyev and his deputy Tyulin would not support us directly, 

either: they might be accused of thwarting the resolution on the development 

of the Almaz. It meant that we needed to “skip over” everyone and take this 

proposal straight to the Central Committee, to a person who was capable 

of understanding its advantages. The only one there that fit that description 

was Ustinov. And he, Ustinov, in particular really needed new proposals to 

present to the Politburo.

It was time for us to fly our separate ways for the launch of the three 

Soyuzes: some of us went to the launch site, others to Yevpatoriya. Not putting 

things off, Feoktistov organized the development of proposals in one of his 

design groups and flew off to the cosmodrome with Bushuyev. Rauschenbach, 

Bashkin, and I departed for Yevpatoriya having left instructions to render 

Feoktistov’s designers whatever assistance might be needed.

 11.  Here, Chertok is quoting from Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right 

(1843). The complete quote is “Material force can only be overthrown by material force, but 

theory itself becomes a material force when it has seized the masses.”


Long-Duration Space Stations Instead of the Moon

On 11 October 1969, Soyuz-6, carrying [Lieutenant-Colonel] Georgiy 

Shonin and Valeriy Kubasov, successfully went into orbit. On 12 October, 

Soyuz-7 lifted off into space with [Lieutenant-Colonel] Anatoliy Filipchenko, 

Vladislav Volkov, and [Lieutenant-Colonel] Viktor Gorbatko on board. On 

13 October, Soyuz-8 went into orbit carrying Colonel Vladimir Shatalov, the 

commander of the space fleet, and flight engineer Aleksey Yeliseyev.

We hoped that in Yevpatoriya, the group of “conspirators” would be able 

to refine its tactics for promoting the design of the new orbital station using 

the Soyuz and Almaz. But this was not to be.

According to the program, the docking of Soyuz-8 with Soyuz-7 was sup-

posed to take place on 14 October. After orbital corrections, Soyuz-7 began the 

rendezvous process from a distance of 250 kilometers. The vehicles approached 

to a range of 1 kilometer, but the Igla equipment simply could not establish 

intercommunications between the active and passive vehicles: the “capture” 

command did not go through. Consequently, the active Soyuz-8 did not have 

the relative motion parameters required for further rendezvous control. The 

crews reported that they could see each other, and Shatalov requested permis-

sion for manual rendezvous control. After consulting with us, Mishin gave 

his permission. But while we were arguing and weighing our options, the 

spacecraft drifted more than 3 kilometers apart. Shatalov, the active one, had 

no means to achieve reliable mutual orientation, and he didn’t risk consuming 

precious fuel supplies.

The situation in Yevpatoriya at the command post, in the workrooms, 

in hotels, and even in the dining halls was red hot, despite the cool autumn 

weather. Minister Afanasyev and Kerimov interrogated Mnatsakanyan with 

the faint hope that he would resurrect the failed Igla. Mishin consulted with 

Tregub, Agadzhanov, Rauschenbach, Feoktistov, the ballistics specialists, and 

me trying to prepare instructions. On 15 October, after a series of maneuvers, 

the spacecraft converged to within 17 kilometers of one another. Shatalov fired 

the docking and attitude-control engines four times, but without the ability to 

measure the rate of approach and line-of-sight rate he was unable to generate 

a burn of the necessary magnitude and direction. Naturally the crews were 

nervous. The on-duty medical officer reported that the heart rates of all the 

cosmonauts exceeded 100 beats per minute. At the command post, nobody 

took our pulse, but most likely it was just as high. It wasn’t the Igla’s failure 

that had us worked up so much as our powerlessness to perform rendezvous 

working together with the crews of the space vehicles.

Flight director Pavel Agadzhanov was under extreme stress. He com-

manded the entire network of ground- and sea-based tracking stations and 

was supposed to be able to task each of them to issue real-time commands 

at the strictly specified time determined by the coverage zones. But in order 


Rockets and People: The Moon Race

to do this, he first had to receive the decision of the technical management, 

which continued to shout and argue until the very beginning of the brief 

communication session. Usually, the shorter the time before communication 

with the crews, the more alternative proposals and recommendations appeared. 

Given the primitive data-processing and display technology that we had back 

then, and given the need to continuously report about all of our actions to 

the chairman of the State Commission, to the minister, and sometimes to 

Moscow as well, Vladimir Pravetskiy hypothesized that the adrenaline levels 

in the bloodstreams of the chiefs at the command post were higher than those 

of the spacecraft crewmembers.


For us, the developers of the control system, the failure to execute rendez-

vous and docking was a harsh and painful lesson. In two years’ time we had not 

figured out how to provide the spacecraft with basic instruments measuring 

mutual parameters in order to perform manual rendezvous. I could not pass up 

the opportunity to reproach Rauschenbach, Bashkin, and Zvorykin, who at one 

time had accused Beregovoy of performing an unsuccessful manual docking: 

“If Shatalov and Yeliseyev, well-trained cosmonauts with previous flight expe-

rience, could not manage to make it to the berthing phase with our constant 

prompting, it means that we are to blame, not the Igla. Electronics can fail, 

but we simply did not come up with a simplified system for manual control.”

On 16 October 1969, the Soyuz-6 crew returned to Earth safe and sound. 

On 18 October, the flight of the entire Soyuz space group ended. The eight 

days of flight of the three Soyuzes provided such a wealth of experience that 

right away we agreed to immediately modify the systems, something that we 

had not even dreamed of earlier. After that kind of stress there were more 

than enough proposals. As soon as he learned that the rendezvous program 

had failed because of the Igla, Minister Afanasyev arranged with Kerimov and 

Mishin to name me chairman of the commission to investigate the causes for 

the failure. I requested Yevgeniy Panchenko as one of my deputies. He served 

as department chief at the Main Directorate of Space Assets (GUKOS), and we 

had become friends in Kapustin Yar back in 1955 during the testing of R-2R.


 12.  Vladimir Nikolayevich Pravetskiy (1921–1980), a veteran biomedicine specialist from 

the early nuclear tests in the 1950s, had served in the 1960s as the chief of the Third Main 

Directorate of the Ministry of Health, i.e., the subdivision in that ministry responsible for 

aviation and space medicine.

 13.  GUKOS was the agency within the Soviet Strategic Rocket Forces responsible for space 

operations between 1970 and 1981. It is the predecessor of the current-day Space Forces of 

the Russian Federation. The R-2R was an experimental missile developed to test radio control 

systems for the R-7 ICBM. It was flight-tested in 1955. Yevgeniy Ivanovich Panchenko (1927–) 

rose up to be first deputy chief of the space forces in the late 1980s before retiring.


Long-Duration Space Stations Instead of the Moon

After his time at Kapustin Yar, Panchenko had quickly risen through the 

military ranks. His fundamental radio engineering training combined with 

his innate erudition encompassed an entire complex of sophisticated space-

craft control problems. As a military officer, Panchenko was officially sup-

posed to play the role of the exacting customer, 

who wasn’t obliged to delve into the systems 

developers’ problems. However, he was happy 

to immerse himself in the process of studying 

the systems, especially when investigating numer-

ous off-nominal situations. His suggestions were 

sometimes quite useful. Together we got to know 

the Igla rendezvous system during the process of 

its frequent failures.

From the author’s archives.

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