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People in the Control Loop

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People in the Control Loop

Originally I set out to write this chapter out of a desire to inform the reade

about the role and place of the human being in the control of actual rocket-spac

systems. Back in the “hazy youth” of my engineering career, I was interested i

the man vs. machine issue. I wasn’t able to come up with any new theories i

this field. For the most part, the printed works and numerous dissertations o

this subject, with which I became acquainted, could not serve as a guide fo

specialists who bore personal responsibility for the reliability of a specific system

Human involvement in the control process is one of the factors determin

ing the reliability and effectiveness of spaceflights. This problem was solve

radically for launch vehicles. Human involvement in the flight control of 

ballistic missile or launch vehicle ends on the ground with the keying in o

commands that set up ignition.

During all flight segments from the actuation of the “lift-off contact” unti

engine shutdown on the last stage, there is no human involvement in fligh

control of the rocket from the ground or from on board the spacecraft bein

inserted by this rocket. The only exception is the radio transmission from th

ground to the spacecraft of commands to shut down engines and to actuat

the emergency rescue system, if observers on the ground consider this to b


The full set of equations describing the behavior of the launch vehicle

taking into account the liquid it is carrying, its structural flexibility, and variou

other qualities, is referred to as the mathematical model. Differential equation

also describe the behavior of the rocket’s flight control system. The developer

of this system have the opportunity to update the mathematical description b

simulation using the actual spacecraft, and finally, they conclusively verify th

reliability of the design calculations through flight testing. The flight testin

of ballistic missiles usually takes several dozen launches.

Such a testing method is economically wasteful for a spacecraft. It is to

expensive and one-of-a-kind and must fulfill its mission on the very first launch




The motion control and navigation system of any contemporary spacecraft 

consists of two complexes interconnected by radio links: a ground control 


Rockets and People: The Moon Race

complex and an on-board control complex. Depending on the distribution of 

tasks between the ground and on-board complexes, and also on the structure 

and reliability of the on-board complex control equipment, three control 

methods can be used:

autonomous and automatic, using programs previously loaded into the 

on-board equipment. On contemporary spacecraft, these programs are 

loaded into the memory of the on-board digital computer in the form of 


commands and programs transmitted on board the spacecraft from ground 

complex control posts; and

manual control performed by the crew.

Unpiloted spacecraft combine the first two methods. Piloted spacecraft 

use all three. In this case, the control system creators can give priority to any 

of the three versions during various flight phases. The selection of an optimal 

combination is one of the tasks that control system creators solve. Beginning 

with the flight of Gagarin and continuing until recent times, we have had heated 

arguments about the priority and degree of responsibility of the crew in the 

motion control of a spacecraft. The flight programs for Vostoks and Voskhods 

did not call for the inclusion of a cosmonaut in the control loop. They were 

permitted to take control only for a trial or in a desperate emergency situation. 

The use of manual control saved the lives of the Voskhod-2 crew.


To avoid turning my memoirs into a boring scientific treatise, I am trying 

to show the dialectic and dynamics of the development of all three methods in 

specific examples of emergency and off-nominal situations from the history of 

piloted programs in which I was directly involved. Here, I am limiting myself 

to the most interesting examples from the history of motion control, orienta-

tion, stabilization, and navigation.

Working on these memoirs, I realized the validity of asserting that cata-

strophic, emergency, and off-nominal situations are some of the strongest 

incentives for speeding up progress in space technology. Pilyugin first expressed 

a similar seditious (in the opinion of any high-ranking manager) thought in 

Kapustin Yar at a meeting of the State Commission on the flight testing of the 

experimental R-2 rocket in 1949. The very first launch proved to be a failure. 

Based on the results of the analysis of this failure, decisions were made for a 

fundamental modification of the rocket’s control system and structure.



1.  See Chertok, Rockets and People, Vol. III, Chapter 9.


2.  See Chertok, Rockets and People, Vol. II, pp. 183–186.


People in the Control Loop

“A single failed launch teaches us more about a system and about how to 

operate it than 10 trouble-free launches,” Pilyugin declared.

This declaration outraged the State Commission’s Ministry of Defense 

representative Colonel Aleksandr Mrykin: “So you’re actually proposing that 

we launch rockets ‘beyond the hills’ just to satisfy your professional curiosity?”

Several years later some aphorisms composed by American rocket technol-

ogy specialists reached us, and among them was “Murphy’s law”: “If it seems to 

you that everything is going well, it means that you’ve overlooked something.”

In October 1998, the Presidium of the Academy of Navigation and 

Motion Control awarded me the N. N. Ostryakov honorary prize “[f]or out-

standing scientific achievements in the development and study of gyroscopes 

and autonomous navigation systems.”


 President of the Academy Vladimir 

Peshekhonov warned me that after he handed me the prizewinner’s certificate 

at the general assembly of the academy, I would have to make a scientific report. 

In my report, among the incentives contributing to the progress of motion 

control systems, I mentioned “Pilyugin’s law,” which he expressed for the first 

time in 1949. None of the very competent scientists who were members of 

the Academy voiced any challenges in this regard. “Pilyugin’s law,” which he 

formulated long before the Space Age, is also valid for space systems.

In publications on the history of Soviet and Russian cosmonautics there 

is very little mention of the numerous off-nominal situations, which were 

caused not by hardware failures, but by the actions of people participating in 

the control loop on the ground or by crew actions on board the spacecraft. 

Analysis of the specific circumstances in such instances, as a rule, was the destiny 

of special commissions; their conclusions and recommendations resulted in 

changes not only in technology, but also in the organization of flight control 

operations. Time and again I had the occasion to be the chairman or a member 

of accident investigation commissions and also to act as defendant before other 

commissions or high-ranking managers.

I’ll recap the history of the development of spacecraft control sys-

tems. Ballistic missiles and launch vehicles underwent developmental testing 

together with their control systems. Once debugged, these systems remained 

almost unchanged in series production. This was one of the conditions for 


3.  The International Public Association of the Academy of Navigation and Motion Control 

was established in February 1995.


Rockets and People: The Moon Race

achieving a high degree of reliability in a rocket complex. Missiles put into 

military service were updated following new flight tests of modified missiles.

Unlike missiles, each spacecraft of the first decades of the Space Age was 

unique in and of itself. Even among present-day spacecraft it is difficult to 

find two completely identical ones. Each spaceflight brings new experience, 

which entails the introduction of changes to the design, circuitry, and control 

methods. Identical launch vehicles insert spacecraft into space that vary widely 

in terms of the purposes of their missions and, consequently, in terms of their 

structure. Each of them requires the production of equipment, a power supply, 

a motion control system, telemetry, an on-board control complex, and spe-

cial test equipment developed specifically for those missions—and, with the 

appearance of on-board computers, its very own software.

In the late 1950s, the scales of operations on spacecraft hardware and 

control systems turned into a problem that required radical and swift solu-

tions. It didn’t take long for me to convince Korolev that we needed to set up 

our own facility for the development of control systems and production of 

spacecraft instrumentation. Furthermore, as soon as Korolev recognized the 

need to create such an organization within his own OKB-1, he sometimes very 

roundly criticized me for being slow to organize developments of spacecraft 

control systems.

Over a short period of time, specialized departments and laboratories were 

formed. Shops were created at the factory to implement their design develop-

ments and were combined for specialized instrumentation production. We 

were not able to develop and implement all of our ideas at our own facility 

at OKB-1. Gyroscopic and optical instruments, radio engineering systems, 

current sources, electric motors, relays, remote switches, and electronics parts 

were made according to our specifications at dozens of specialized design 

bureaus and factories.

Having first of all created our own research, design, and production facil-

ity supporting the development of spacecraft control systems, we became the 

initiators for the creation in the Soviet Union of a unified infrastructure of 

design bureaus and factories working in the field of cosmonautics. In 1966, 

the year of Korolev’s death, there were already more than 50 independent 

enterprises and laboratories in NIIs and at institutes of higher learning that 

were loaded down with our assignments.

We took on the developments that were most crucial and those that no 

amount of effort could assign to subcontractors. In late 1966, the total list of 

instruments that we had developed and that were in space or were involved in 

ground testing consisted of close to 1,000 types of units.

Essential decisions by the Commission on Military-Industrial Issues under 

the USSR Council of Ministers supported our active efforts for the development 


People in the Control Loop

of spacecraft control technology.


 In those days the so-called civil service by no 

means hindered the solution of our problems, but assisted with them. Civil ser-

vants working in the Kremlin and in the Central Committee Party apparat on Old 

Square assisted us in overcoming interdepartmental and inter-republic barriers.

During the first decade of the rocket age (1947–1957) we created the basis 

for the infrastructure of a powerful rocket industry. During the second decade 

(1957–1967) the formation of the rocket infrastructure was completed and the 

construction of the space infrastructure began in parallel. This process went 

far beyond the limits of the capabilities of our OKB-1. The new Ministry of 

General Machine Building (MOM), Minister Sergey Afanasyev, and his deputies 

showed initiative, perseverance, and boldness uncharacteristic for government 

officials in the integrated organization of the rocket-space instrumentation 

industry. At MOM, specialized main directorates for gyroscopic technology, 

radio systems, and system-wide technology were created.


 Finding themselves 

at the epicenter of these processes, the staffs that were combined under my 

management at Korolev’s OKB-1 became our country’s first and foremost 

creators of control systems for spacecraft for a wide variety of missions. The 

capacities of our own production facilities were quickly depleted, but we found 

good assistants in our nation. With the assistance of the Central Committee 

apparat and the VPK, we recruited factories to collaborate with us. They became 

our main production base, which worked using the documentation of OKB-1 

control departments, and continue this work to this day.

One of the first was the Plastik Factory in Moscow, whose primary output 

consisted of electric fuses. Nevertheless, it quickly mastered the production of 

on-board sequencers and electronic amplifier converters for attitude-control 

systems. The Ufa Instrumentation Factory, which until that time had produced 

autopilots, set up special shops where they manufactured switching instru-

ments for on-board complex control and integrated electric power systems. 

The Azov Optical-Mechanical Factory set up the series production of ground 

testing stations, known under the index 11N6110. More than 200 of these sta-

tions served until the 1990s as the basic means for testing spacecraft at factory 

monitoring and testing stations and at cosmodrome engineering facilities and 

launch sites. This same factory took on the burden of manufacturing complex 

electromechanical spacecraft docking assemblies.


4.  This was the formal name of the Military-Industrial Commission (VPK).


5.  At the time of its formation in 1965, MOM was established with the following main 

directorates: First (military rockets), Second (engines and naval rockets), Third (spacecraft and 

launch vehicles), Fourth (ground systems and launch pads), Fifth (radio systems and on-board 

instruments), and Sixth (gyroscopes and control systems).


Rockets and People: The Moon Race

Korolev, Khazanov, and I flew to Kiev in 1963 to incorporate the instru-

ment builders of Ukraine into our space sphere. For several days we haunted 

the doorways of the Ukrainian authorities. We went to Ukrainian Communist 

Party Central Committee Secretary Shelest.


 He avoided resolving the issue 

after giving us a lecture on the very difficult situation in the ferrous metal-

lurgy industry. Korolev muscled his way in to see Ukrainian Communist Party 

Central Committee First Secretary Podgornyy. After an hour-long conversation, 

during which Korolev, according to his story, improvised as never before on 

the subject of prospects, we “received” the Kievpribor Factory. This factory 

served as the main supplier of on-board complex instruments for Soyuz and 

Progress spacecraft.

The instrument production facility of our ZEM, together with all the other 

factories loaded down with our projects, became a powerful production base 

without which our successes in space would have been impossible. Many of 

our developments (we realized this many years later) turned out to be firsts. 

The Iron Curtain prevented us from associating with American specialists. In 

Europe, even if there had been such a possibility, we couldn’t have borrowed 

anything. Everything that was required to control spacecraft we and our com-

ponent suppliers thought up, developed, and manufactured at new production 

facilities on our own. We really were genuine trailblazers. Four decades later, 

much in the history of control systems from the 1960s and 1970s can seem 

naïve. Once again calling to mind this period, filled with the joys of triumphs 

and tragic failures, I can say with a clear conscience that we have something 

to be proud of. It’s only worth being sorry that in our time we couldn’t tell the 

world what we had really done and what efforts this took. The timid attempts 

of open publications or speeches at international forums ran up against a thick 

wall with the inscription “don’t let anything through!” After gaining world-

wide fame, as they traveled around the world and gave numerous interviews 

and speeches, the cosmonauts did not mention the name of Chief Designer 

S. P. Korolev and the other actual creators of the rocket-space systems that had 

carried the heroes into space.

In this regard, in his own circle of confidants, Korolev said with bitterness, 

“The biggest secret in our space program is the names of the chief designers.”

When it nevertheless did come to publications, Korolev was called 

“Prof. Sergeyev” and Mishin “Prof. Vasilyev.” In one of my first articles, “Man or 


6.  Petr Yefimovich Shelest (1908–1996) was a member of the Politburo (from 1964 to 

1973) and First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Ukrainian Communist Party from 

1963 to 1972. In that capacity, he was the highest serving Party official in Ukraine.


People in the Control Loop

Machine,” my identity was concealed under the pseudonym “Prof. Yevseyev.”



During those action-packed years, such circumstances amused us and even 

filled us with pride: look how valuable we were to the state!

Our obvious achievements and successes did not protect us from the 

“childhood diseases” of rapid growth. The primary causes of failures were our 

enthusiastic idealization of our subject matter, an overestimation of our own 

strengths, and a frantic race against time.

Our staff did not have a chief designer of control systems because at our 

OKB-1 there was only one Chief—Korolev. When Mishin replaced him, 

this detail of the situation remained unchanged. Rauschenbach, Yurasov, 

Kalashnikov, and I were completely satisfied with our title of “deputy chief 

designer.” Sometimes our subordinates grumbled or teased us: “In our sub-

contractors, a developer who is providing us with a somewhat insignificant 

system is called a ‘chief designer,’ while the person responsible for the entire big 

system, containing dozens of subsystems and hundreds of instruments from 

all sorts of ‘chiefs’ is still called a ‘deputy chief designer’.” The damage to one’s 

pride was compensated by the fascinating work, where each person had the 

rare opportunity to demonstrate all of his or her capabilities and be involved 

in realizing designs, which quite recently had seemed fantastic.

Each government decree about the development of a new type of missile or 

launch vehicle mentioned not just the general designer of the rocket complex, 

but also without fail the surnames of the chief designers of the engines, the 

ground-based launch equipment, and the control system. The decrees for the 

creation of the spacecraft of Chief Designer Korolev (and after him Mishin), 

General Designer Chelomey, and Chief Designers Kozlov and Reshetnev 

made no mention of the names of the chief designers of the spacecraft control 

systems. That’s the way it had been since Korolev’s time. The decrees for the 

N1-L3 and Buran were exceptions to this rule.

I am making an attempt to correct a historical injustice and am naming the 

names of my comrades at OKB-1, each of whom by rights could have been called 

“chief designer of such-and-such a system,” or at the very least “scientific chief.” 

At the top of this list is the patriarch of attitude-control and navigation systems, 

world-renowned scientist Boris Rauschenbach. Without naming their academic 

degrees and ranks, I shall list the others in alphabetical order: Leonid Alekseyev, 

Oleg Babkov, Yevgeniy Bashkin, Vladimir Branets, Ernest Gaushus, Yuriy 


7. Chertok is probably referring here to an essay published as B. Yevseyev, “Chelovek 

ili avtomat?” in Shagi k zvezdam [Footsteps to the Stars], ed. M. Vasilyev (Moscow: Molodaya 

gvardiya, 1972), pp. 281–287.


Rockets and People: The Moon Race

Karpov, Viktor Kalashnikov, 

Larisa Komarova, Mikhail 

Krayushkin, Viktor Kuzmin, 

Petr Kupriyanchik, Viktor 

Legostayev, Boris Nikitin, 

German Noskin, Boris 

Penek, Boris Savchenko, 

Igor Shmyglevskiy, Boris 

Skotnikov, Vladimir

Syromyatnikov, Yevgeniy 

Tokar, Lev Vilnitskiy, Oleg 

Voropayev, and Igor Yurasov. 

None of the individuals listed 

above ever complained about 

the small number of medals 

or other governmental awards 


and prizes. The scientists in our school of control enjoy celebrity and are deserv-

edly respected not only in our own country, but also among the specialists of 

many foreign firms, with whom it became possible to associate after the fall of 

the Iron Curtain. The size of my book and my own limited capabilities prevent 

me from speaking about the character and contribution of each person listed.

We triggered a snowballing process in the development of the space 

industry and science. Decades later we still held a monopoly in the field of 

piloted flight control. The supplier organizations that worked on our assign-

ments formed their own scientific schools, going far beyond the jurisdiction 

of the three control specialist chief designers: Pilyugin, Ryazanskiy, and 

Kuznetsov, who were members of the legendary sextet of the first Council of 

Chief Designers. The new organizations for space control, radio electronics, 

and electrical engineering soon had their own Academy of Sciences members, 

individuals with doctoral and candidate degrees, and professors: Aleksey 

Bogomolov, Gennadiy Guskov, Yuriy Bykov, Andronik Iosifyan, Nikolay 

Sheremetyevskiy, Nikolay Lidorenko, Armen Mnatsakanyan, Aleksey Kalinin, 

Vladimir Khrustalev, Sergey Krutovskikh, and Vyacheslav Arefyev.



than being abstract theoreticians, each one was the creator of systems that 

were really essential to cosmonautics.

From the author’s archives.

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