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Shown here at a function are G. V. Noskin, B. Ye

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Shown here at a function are G. V. Noskin, B. Ye. 

Chertok, and V. P. Khorunov. Noskin was a key 

developer of control and navigation systems.


8.  These men were all chief designers at their respective enterprises, as opposed to Chertok 

and his associates (such as Rauschenbach, Yurasov, Kalashnikov, and others), who, despite their 

prominent contributions to spacecraft and launch vehicle control system design, were either 

deputy chief designers or lower-ranked designers at TsKBEM.


People in the Control Loop

Interplanetary travels were the main subject of science fiction, 

which stirred up people’s imaginations long before it became possible to real-

ize this dream. Now, when the realization of the future was in our hands, we 

were eager to move closer to it. In the early 1960s we lived and worked in a 

risk-loving atmosphere of constant racing. Races were going on simultaneously 

in four areas of endeavor:

securing absolute superiority in nuclear missile armaments;

achieving all “firsts” in piloted spaceflight;

sending automatic interplanetary space stations to the Moon, Venus, and 

Mars; and

creating space communications systems.

Beginning with the first satellites, we considered it the norm that reports 

about success in space, introduced by the characteristic chime of the Moscow 

call sign, were broadcast by what had become the very dear voice of Levitan: 

“This is Moscow speaking! All the radio stations of the Soviet Union are 



 For understandable reasons no mention was made over the airwaves 

of the fifth field of endeavor—military space systems.

Analyzing my work, the work of my comrades, and of the many people 

and organizations associated with us from a distance of a little more than three 

decades, I marvel at our collective faith in our strengths and our naïve ten-

dency to “embrace the unembraceable” within inconceivably short deadlines. 

Now even science-fiction buffs have come to terms with the harsh necessity of 

considering the life cycle for the creation of sophisticated space systems with 

a high degree of reliability. It takes 8 to 12 years from the beginning of their 

development until their practical implementation. We couldn’t tolerate that. If 

in 1959 some futurologist had predicted that we wouldn’t execute the first soft 

landing on the Moon until 1966 after using up 12 four-stage launch vehicles, 

that it would be 1967 before we would transmit fragmentary telemetry data 

to Earth from a spacecraft that had penetrated Venus’s atmosphere, and that 

we would deliver a pennant of the Soviet Union to Mars in 1971, we would 

have considered him to be an incompetent pessimist or a spiteful critic.

Errors at the beginning of our difficult path to the creation of complex 

technical systems also had their good side. They unified teams of people, made 

them have a more critical attitude toward their work the more experience they 

gained, and made them seek out more reliable designs and organizational 


9.  Yuriy Borisovich Levitan (1914–1983) was undoubtedly the most famous Soviet radio 

announcer; he first gained fame during World War II when millions of Soviet citizens first heard 

major events of the war, including the fall of Berlin, through his announcements.


Rockets and People: The Moon Race

forms of interaction. The organizational structure that we worked out and 

our placement of specialists in departments and laboratories proved success-

ful. Certainly luck was on our side in terms of having talented and untiring, 

hard-working people.

The present-day structure of operations for the creation of a complex of 

systems at NPO Energiya and other organizations that have put our experience 

to use is evidence of this. The departments have grown, split, and combined 

into new complexes. But the leading specialists, who determined the fate of 

each field of endeavor, stayed with their own work. Natural biological attri-

tion has occurred over the course of 30 years, and a small number of people 

have left for other fields, but a surprisingly consistent framework of control 

specialists, which took shape in the 1960s, until very recently defined the state 

of the art in our country for spacecraft control.

After several events, including our union with Grabin’s TsNII-58 in 1959, 

the transfer of Rauschenbach’s team from NII-1 to OKB-1 in 1960, and several 

reshufflings of people in the space field, Korolev appointed me his “second first” 

deputy, placing me in charge of all design and research departments located at 

the second production site. He named German Semyonov, who had returned 

from Dnepropetrovsk, to be manager of the factory portion of the second pro-

duction site. Deputy chief engineer Isaak Khazanov received the assignment to 

start up construction of an instrumentation facility at our second territory and, 

as the new buildings were put into operation, to wind down production at the 

factory of the first territory. Thus, by 1965 I had officially combined not only the 

departments of the instrumentation-control complex, but also the planning and 

design departments of all the space-related projects at OKB-1. This reorganization 

substantially expanded my authority, duties, and responsibility.

Despite the structural configurations, the creatively robust staffs of 

Konstantin Bushuyev, Mikhail Tikhonravov, Pavel Tsybin, and Konstantin 

Feoktistov remained in direct creative subordination to Korolev. The follow-

ing chief planners worked under their supervision: Yevgeniy Ryazanov, Gleb 

Maksimov, Yuriy Denisov, Yuriy Frumkin, Vyacheslav Dudnikov, Andrey 

Reshetin, and other specialists brimming with enthusiasm.


From the very beginning I asked Korolev to relieve me of responsibility 

for planning work over all space projects so that I could concentrate on a com-

pletely new area of endeavor—the development of spacecraft control systems. 

He agreed in principle, under the condition that, being his first deputy after 

 10.  These were the people directly responsible for conceptual design, as opposed to engi-

neering or production tasks.


People in the Control Loop

Mishin, I had to “watch over and keep track of” everything that Bushuyev, 

Tikhonravov, and Tsybin were doing. “Considering the fact that they let their 

imaginations get away with them a lot, the planners’ assignments need to go 

through you on their way to Boldyrev’s design department.” And that was 

that. I quickly made arrangements with Bushuyev and the other managers who 

oversaw the planners and hit it off very well because their work to a great extent 

was determined by the ideas and successful work of the control specialists.

By Korolev’s way of thinking, Mishin was supposed to concentrate his 

energy and experience on the development of the new R-9 and the global 

GR-1 missiles, on rocket engines, and on the development of a future strategy, 

including the future N-1 heavy launch vehicle for a lunar expedition. During all 

the reorganizations that Korolev undertook beginning in 1947, Mishin always 

remained his “first” first deputy not only concerning engineering matters, but 

also administrative ones.

The very multifaceted work for the creation of new spacecraft control 

systems got under way at the same time as my subdivisions were retaining 

developments of steering systems and internal tank systems and supervising 

the development of control systems for missiles and launch vehicles. I shall 

list only the main areas of our work:

motion control (orientation, navigation, rocket, and spacecraft dynamics);

systemic integration of on-board equipment control using the ground-to-

spacecraft system, electric equipment, special stand-alone systems, radio 

engineering systems, and antenna-feeder units; and

design work, electromechanical and electro-hydraulic systems, and instru-

ment testing.

It would take too much time and space to list everything that the control 

and instrumentation teams were involved with. Especially since any one of 

our projects was linked with supplier organizations, and telling about them 

deserves a special treatise.

Below I shall dwell only on those projects of ours that were appreciated 

in scientific circles, made an epochal contribution to the development of 

cosmonautics, were realized or begun during the second decade of the Space 

Age, and also those that were the most interesting from the standpoint of the 

science of human behavior in the control loop.

The first two Soviet satellites, as is generally known, flew into space with-

out any motion or attitude control in orbit. The laws of celestial mechanics 

controlled them. As we used to say, they answered only to our ballistics experts.

Unlike its predecessors, the third satellite, launched on 15 May 1958, 

now had the first command radio link that we had ever put into practice. 

I developed the design specifications for the command radio link (KRL) 

together with our radio engineers Shustov, Shcherbakov, and Krayushkin, 


Rockets and People: The Moon Race

and with our first “space” electrical engineers, the developers of the control 

logic, Karpov, Shevelev, and Sosnovik.


 On 22 August 1956, I received 

Korolev’s signature of approval on the design specifications. The decision 

about the first very simple satellite had not yet been made, and we believed 

that secret Object D—the future third satellite—was going to be the first 



 Controlling the activation and modes of the science equipment 

via command radio link at that time seemed to us to be a qualitative leap 

compared with the radio control systems of ballistic missiles. Director and 

Scientific Chief at NII-648 Nikolay Belov was in charge of developing the 

on-board and ground equipment of the first space command radio link. It 

took a year and a half to create the first command radio link. It supported 

the transmission on board of 20 immediate-execution one-time commands. 

This command radio link served as the basis for the development of more 

advanced versions for the piloted programs.

Motion control of future spacecraft was to be the next step. It turned 

out that for the specialists developing the automatic motion control systems 

for rockets, the creation of spacecraft motion control systems required over-

coming a psychological barrier. This barrier was successfully overcome when 

Boris Rauschenbach arrived on the staff at OKB-1. Beginning with Luna-3

all of our spacecraft had systems making it possible to correct near-Earth and 

interplanetary trajectories. The essence of the correction process consisted 

in the fact that the parameters of the actual orbit or flight trajectory were 

measured beforehand using ground-based Command and Measurement 

Complex facilities. Next, the deviation of the trajectory from the design 

value was determined, and depending on the magnitude of the error, the 

required correcting pulse was calculated. At a specific point in the trajectory, 

at a specific time, the engine of the on-board orbital correction system fired 

and set up a new orbit.

In order to execute this operation, the spacecraft had to know how to 

orient itself in space, turning at any angles assigned by the settings transmitted 

via command radio link from Earth; maintain the given orientation while the 

 11. KRL—Komandnaya radioliniya.

 12.  When the first satellite project was approved in January 1956, the Object D scientific 

observatory was slated to be the first Soviet satellite. By late 1956, it was clear that development 

of Object D would be delayed. As such, Korolev, Tikhonravov, and others proposed a smaller 

and simpler satellite, PS-1, to be launched on an R-7 as the first satellite. It was this satellite 

that eventually became the first Sputnik on October 1957. See Asif A. Siddiqi, The Red Rockets’ 

Glare: Spaceflight and the Soviet Imagination, 1857–1957 (New York: Cambridge University 

Press, 2010), Chapters 8 and 9.


People in the Control Loop

correcting engine was operating; and control the engine system itself, ensuring 

the required magnitude of the correcting pulse.

Attitude control was one of the most crucial motion control modes. 

During this process the spacecraft had to hold the necessary angular posi-

tion relative to known reference points by turning about its center of mass. 

Spacecraft attitude-control systems were crucial during the execution of the 

braking burn that was necessary for return to Earth. In the event of an error, 

the spacecraft might not return to Earth at all if the burn executed by the 

engine raised the orbit rather than lowering it. Attitude control in space was 

necessary not just for orbital correction, but also for scientific observations, 

photography, and setting up the pencil-beam antennas and solar arrays in 

the required direction.

Since 1960, Rauschenbach’s team, which was originally called 

Department 27, had been responsible for solving spacecraft attitude and 

stabilization control problems. The abundance of programs in this field 

required a sharp increase in the size of Department 27 and then its divi-

sion into three departments: Viktor Legostayev’s theoretical department of 

motion dynamics; Yevgeniy Bashkin’s circuit and equipment development 

department; and Dmitriy Knyazev’s orientation effectors—correcting micro-

engines—department. The powerful radio electronics department of Anatoliy 

Shustov (who had successfully developed sequencers—the predecessors of 

the modern on-board computers); Semyon Chizhikov’s design department, 

which issued the working drawings for any instruments to be manufactured 

at the factory; and the developments of supplier organizations assisted these 

three departments.

Working from our design specifications, Vladimir Khrustalev, the chief 

designer of optical electronics instruments at the Geofizika Design Bureau, 

developed sensors for orientation on Earth, the Sun, and stars. Chief rocket 

gyroscope specialist Viktor Kuznetsov also developed gyroscopic instruments 

according to our design specifications. At VNIIEM under Andronik Iosifyan, 

Sheremetyevskiy created a heavy-duty flywheel to control the orientation of 

the Molniya satellite. The Electron Microscope Factory in Suma manufactured 

sensors for the ionic attitude-control system that we had invented.

Each space project required its own attitude-control systems developed 

specially for a given specific spacecraft. Something they all had in common was 

the requirement to ensure triaxial orientation at the appropriate time; in other 

words, to have the capability to locate the spacecraft in space either having fixed 

its three mutually perpendicular imaginary axes rigidly in relation to stars or 

Earth’s surface and a velocity vector or maneuvering them according to a specific 

program or commands. Legostayev entrusted the conceptual development of 

triaxial orientation of a satellite on Earth to one of the first graduates of the 


Rockets and People: The Moon Race

Moscow Physics and Technology Institute (MFTI), Yevgeniy Tokar.



had begun working on such a system back at NII-1 with Rauschenbach under 

Keldysh’s guidance. In 1957 he issued a report titled “On an active stabilization 

system for an artificial Earth satellite.”


Tokar was the first to propose a system that became classic for all Vostoks

Voskhods, and Zenits and existed until the dawn of the epoch of “platformless” 

systems. To orient one of the axes of a satellite on a local terrestrial vertical (i.e., 

pointed toward the center of Earth), he proposed using an instrument sensi-

tive to the infrared radiation of the planet’s surface. Rauschenbach had come 

out with the idea of scanning the boundary between the disk of Earth visible 

from the spacecraft and outer space. Yevgeniy Bashkin and Stanislav Savchenko 

played significant roles in developing the layout and theoretical underpinnings 

of the instrument. Vladimir Khrustalev and Boris Medvedev at TsKB Geofizika 

created the first actual infrared vertical (IKV) sensor. Currently, not a single 

near-Earth satellite can get along without an infrared vertical sensor—a local 

vertical plotter. Since those long-ago days, TsKB Geofizika has brought the 

reliability, accuracy, and mass of the infrared vertical sensor to scales that we 

had not even dreamed of during those first years.

In addition to orienting two axes along the angles of pitch and roll, which 

the infrared vertical sensor provided, the satellite’s free rotation about the 

vertical axis pointed at Earth had to be stopped, i.e., we had to learn how to 

orient it relative to its heading plane, or, as the rocketeers put it, in terms of 

the yaw angle.

To this end Tokar proposed a gyroscopic orienting instrument, later called 

a gyro-orbitant. It was used on virtually all domestic automatic and piloted 

spacecraft that required orbital orientation. The theory behind the gyro-

orbitant was the basis for Tokar’s candidate of sciences dissertation, which he 

defended in 1959. We were not able to manufacture the gyro-orbitant using 

our own resources. This required high-precision specialized production facili-

ties. Naturally, we turned to Viktor Kuznetsov, who held a monopoly in the 

field of rocket gyroscopes at the time. His first reaction was quite negative. 

Kuznetsov didn’t want to manufacture an instrument in his shop if the idea for 

it had come from somewhere on the outside. Moreover, Kuznetsov questioned 

 13. MFTI—Moskovskiy fiziko-tekhnicheskiy institut.

 14. This document cited by Chertok has been reproduced in the following source: 

V. S. Avduyevskiy and T. M. Eneyev, eds., M.V. Keldysh: izbrannyye trudy: raketnaya tekhnika 

i kosmonavtika [M. V. Keldysh: Selected Works: Rocket Technology and Cosmonautics] (Moscow: 

Nauka, 1988), 198–234.


People in the Control Loop

the very idea of the gyro-orbitant, which was, as he told me, “the principle of 

a marine gyrocompass, corrupted for use in space.”

But in those days Kuznetsov couldn’t brush us off; otherwise, he might 

have to explain himself to Korolev, and the latter, for all anyone knew, might 

say: “Well, Vitya, if you refuse to help me, I’ll look for others.” “Vitya” 

asked Aleksandr Ishlinskiy to conduct a detailed review of the theory at the 

Mathematics Institute in Kiev, where he had been appointed the director back 

in 1948.


 Oskar Raykhman, one of his leading specialists, carried out an 

independent experimental review of the principle at Kuznetsov’s request. Not 

being a great theoretician, but rather a good organizer and gyroscope specialist, 

Raykhman quickly built a test stand, on which he confirmed the instrument’s 

functionality. Ishlinskiy’s and Raykhman’s great service was the fact that they 

convinced Kuznetsov independently of one another. He believed them and 

gave the “green light” for the manufacture of the first series. Kuznetsov’s instru-

ments, with the designations KI-008, KI-009, etc., were on the first spacecraft: 

Vostoks, Zenits, subsequent reconnaissance spacecraft, and Chelomey’s Almazes.

On Salyut orbital stations we made an attempt to replace the gyro-orbitant 

with so-called “ionic orientation” using heading and pitch. One of the reasons 

for this replacement was the duration of the original “setting” period of the 

gyro-orbitant after insertion on orbit. Triaxial orientation of a satellite using 

an infrared vertical sensor and gyro-orbitant took almost an entire orbit. 

Orientation using the ionic system using pitch and heading took around 10 

minutes. However, the use of such a tempting orientation system (in terms of 

time) without first thoroughly testing it resulted in the loss of DOS No. 3. I 

will tell about this tragedy below.

Tokar worked with Gordeyev and Farmakovskiy, marine gyroscope special-

ists from the Elektropribor Factory in Leningrad, to develop and implement 

the idea of a more accurate block of gyro instruments that would provide 

orientation based on heading and filter the fluctuation of the optical infrared 

vertical sensor. In the design bureau of this factory they conducted an extremely 

conscientious study of the layout and developed the design of a two-rotor orbital 

gyroscopic complex for the new Zenit-4 reconnaissance satellite. This complex 

 15.  Aleksandr Yulevich Ishlinskiy (1913–2003) was a very prominent Soviet scientist who 

specialized in the science behind gyroscopes and inertial navigation systems. He authored a 

number of major works on the theory of elasticity, plasticity, the theory of vibrations, and 

gyroscopes. From 1948 to 1955, he served as director of the Mathematics Institute of the 

Ukrainian Academy of Sciences and from 1964 was the director of the Institute of Problems of 

Mechanics of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. He was one of the top scientists involved in the 

Soviet space program and served on many State Commissions in the 1960s.


Rockets and People: The Moon Race

included a gyroscopic vertical sensor corrected using signals from the infrared 

vertical sensor and the gyro-orbitant proper. Due to the Leningraders’ attention 

to detail, the system’s accuracy was 10 times greater than that of the Zenit-2! 

To conserve the working fluid, for the first time a system of electric motors 

and flywheels developed at VNIIEM was provided. On the whole, Zenit-4’s 

system of attitude-control instruments manufactured by all the suppliers was 

a noticeable qualitative leap in the technology of control in space.

Larisa Komarova was one of the leading specialists of the new system for 

Zenit-4. She brilliantly defended her candidate’s dissertation on this subject. 

Unfortunately, the Zenit-4 control system did not fly into space in this configu-

ration. More and more launches of the already mastered Zenit-2 were needed. 

However, much later, Chelomey (OKB-52) implemented the ideas developed 

during those turbulent years on the Almaz, and Kozlov implemented them on 

new photoreconnaissance spacecraft.

For missiles, aircraft, and ships, the gyroscope companies developed increas-

ingly complex instruments, which were poised on the brink of what was 

possible, manufacturing-wise. The rocket control specialists on Pilyugin’s, 

Kuznetsov’s, and Arefyev’s teams sought to create a high-precision inertial 

control system, the foundation of which was the precision gyroscopic platform. 

This field of endeavor also dominated the Americans’ efforts.

The aspiration to have attitude control in space so that a spacecraft could 

execute any turns and maneuvers was limited by the design of the gyroscopes’ 

gimbal mount. As soon as the angle permitted by the design of the gyro-

orbitant or gyro platform was exceeded, the gyroscopes “hit the stop” and a 

glitch occurred—loss of attitude control. The gyroscopic systems of missiles 

had no fear of this phenomenon because the possible angles determined by 

the program of the powered flight segment were deliberately less than those 

permitted by the gyro systems.

Somewhere within Legostayev’s theoretical department the idea cropped 

up to do away with the classic gimbal mount because the very task of con-

trolling the orientation of an artificial satellite, due to the requirements for 

unlimited angular evolutions (programmed turns, change of attitude-control 

modes, docking maneuvers), suggested the need to do away with mechanical 

restraint. Spacecraft systems should have no maneuverability-arresting devices! 

That’s how the problem was formulated.

Theoretically, platformless systems, or, as they are now referred to, strapdown 

inertial navigation systems (BINS), had been well known for a long time.



 16. BINS—Beskardannaya inertsialnaya navigatsionnaya sistema.


People in the Control Loop

were even dissertations available on that score. But the most prominent rocket 

control specialists, Kuznetsov and Pilyugin, believed that this was an amusement 

for the theoreticians, sort of the latest version of perpetual motion. Nevertheless 

the theoreticians confirmed that, in principle, one could create a platformless 

attitude-control and navigation system if one mastered the numerical integra-

tion of systems of kinematical equations and conversions of coordinate systems. 

The system of angles contained in the equations describing the movement of a 

solid body, in principle, can simulate a gimbal mount for gyroscopes. If there is 

a good computer receiving information, it can replace the sophisticated design 

of gyro platforms.

The practical solution of such a problem exceeds the abilities of a pure 

mathematician. This situation requires an engineer’s view on the classical theory 

of the angular motion of a solid body. In this case it was necessary to find a 

practicable method for replacing complicated mechanics with complicated 

mathematics that have no “arresting devices” or metal weighing many dozens 

of kilograms. How could this be done?

The history of science and technology shows that serious discoveries are 

made by individuals or very small teams of two or three people. And when 

the discovery has been made, then its implementation requires courageous 

managers who will take a risk, pull a large staff onto this project, and find the 

necessary resources. A proposal from two young MFTI graduates who came 

to OKB-1 along with Rauschenbach should be considered the beginning of 

the epoch of domestic platformless systems. In 1963, 27-year-old Vladimir 

Branets and 30-year-old Igor Shmyglevskiy turned to the works of [Irish] 

mathematician Sir William Rowan Hamilton, who was the first to come up 

with the theory of quaternions in 1843, striving to find a convenient device 

for studying spatial geometry.

In 1973, 130 years after Hamilton’s discovery, already battle-tested at the 

rocket firing range, Branets and Shmyglevskiy published the work Application 

of Quaternions in Solid Body Orientation Problems.


 The Nauka publishing 

house released the book two years after receiving the manuscript, which was 

the result of many years of research. The work is considered to be classic and 

has even been translated into Chinese. A grave illness prematurely took the 

life of Shmyglevskiy, and he was unable to admire his own work rendered in 

Chinese characters. Chinese scientists presented such a souvenir to Branets 

when he went to Beijing on official business.

 17.  V. N. Branets and I. P. Shmyglevskiy, Primeneniye kvaternionov v zadachakh orientatsii 

tverdogo tela (Moscow: Nauka, 1973).


Rockets and People: The Moon Race

The methods of numerical integration of kinematical equations using 

quaternions that Branets and Shmyglevskiy proposed for use in attitude-

control tasks of any flying vehicle, which mathematicians call a “solid body,” 

also solved problems of optimal control, i.e., maneuvers and attitude control 

with minimal power losses, and of stability of the process. However, even a 

gimballess system with the most brilliant mathematics must “begin at the 

beginning.” The “beginning” was the optical and even ionic sensors, which 

had already been mastered and were flying. If these sensors were supplemented 

with very simple angular velocity meters for each of the three orientation axes, 

then the control system would have the requisite set of baseline information.

I already mentioned that producing a coherent formulation of the problem 

for subcontracting chief designers required not only one’s wishes, but also one’s 

own specialists, who knew the actual capabilities of the subcontractor. After a 

subcontractor accepted an order for development, these specialists performed 

engineering supervision, protecting our interests and resolving the discrepancies 

that inevitably arose between what we demanded and what we actually got. 

These specialists were called curators, thereby emphasizing how they differed 

from pure developers. This division always seemed unjust to me. A specialist 

standing between two chiefs is, if he is a creative individual, capable of making 

contributions to the process of creating a new system that neither the customer 

nor the contractor came up with on their own.

We had such creative curators: for optical instruments—Stanislav 

Savchenko, whom I have already mentioned; for rendezvous radio systems—

Boris Nevzorov and Nina Sapozhnikova; and for gyroscopic instruments—Yuriy 

Bazhanov. Together with Lev Zvorykin, Bashkin’s deputy, Bazhanov took me 

out to an aviation design bureau that was able to manufacture lightweight, 

simple, and reliable angular rate sensors (DUS) per our requirements.


 My old 

acquaintance from prewar times—former Aviapribor Factory Chief Designer 

Yevgeniy Antipov—turned out to be the chief of the needed organization. The 

meeting gave us the opportunity to reminisce about our work during the hazy 

youth of the aviation industry. As fate had it, we had not seen each other a 

single time since 1934. After 30 years we very quickly came to terms with all 

the issues, and before long Antipov had signed off on the VPK’s draft decision, 

making him responsible for developing angular rate sensors according to the 

specification requirements of Korolev’s OKB-1.

For this revolutionary leap in control systems technology, the most dif-

ficult question for those times remained to be answered: where would we get 

 18. DUS—Datchik uglovykh skorostey.


People in the Control Loop

a good on-board computer? The history of the creation of on-board comput-

ers is fascinating and instructive. But its telling requires a special place and a 

separate chapter. In recent years on-board computers have blended into the 

structure of spacecraft control systems so organically that a young specialist 

beginning to work in our field simply cannot imagine how we could have 

flown without them.

When creating the Soyuz spacecraft, of all the motion-control problems, 

descent from orbit to Earth of the axially symmetric Descent Module with 

poor aerodynamics and low design overload required special treatment. A 

slight shifting of its center of mass in relation to its axis of symmetry cre-

ated the lift of such a spacecraft. It was necessary to develop a very reliable 

structure, algorithms, and range and stabilization control instruments for the 

Descent Module, minimizing the area of the possible landing zone for a rapid 

search and crew evacuation. The descent control system should calm down 

the Descent Module so as to guarantee the initial conditions for a reliable 

introduction of the parachute system, which is controlled by an autonomous 

landing system. To ensure the reliability of the descent and landing control 

systems, they selected the simplest algorithms and used redundancy, and 

sometimes triple redundancy, of instruments and assemblies, the failure of 

which could have catastrophic consequences. For the first time, it was neces-

sary to create not just new control technology, but also a new developmental 

organization, in which the baton of responsibility for motion control was 

passed from department to department, from the staff responsible for con-

trol of orbital flight to the descent control specialists, and from them to the 

landing system developers. In addition to their standard tasks, descent and 

landing control systems had to perform functions as part of the emergency 

rescue system during the insertion phase.

We created the three systems—descent control, landing control, and 

emergency rescue—in the form of automatic units, calling for no human 

intervention. Over a period of 30 years, in hundreds of launches, not a single 

one of these systems let us down. Both we and the Americans had catastrophes 

and off-nominal situations occur during the descent and landing phases for 

reasons attributable to other systems.

The history of the development of spacecraft control systems is 

part of the history of cosmonautics. Not wanting to thrust on the reader my 

own conception about the degree of responsibility of a human involved in the 

control loop, I shall move on to a description of actual events. I remind the 

reader that after the death of Vladimir Komarov on the first piloted 7K-OK 

spacecraft called Soyuz, there was a prolonged break in the flights of these 

vehicles so that the parachute portion of the landing system could undergo 


Rockets and People: The Moon Race

substantial modification. For the flight testing of the modified vehicles and, at 

the same time, to test out the rendezvous and docking systems, we embarked 

upon launches of unpiloted 7K-OK vehicles under the name Kosmos.

Kosmos-186 and Kosmos-188 approached one another, docked, separated, 

and returned to Earth during the period from 27 October through 2 November 

1967. Kosmos-212 and Kosmos-213 executed a program of automatic rendez-

vous, docking, and safe landing from 14 through 20 April 1968. As the saying 

goes, “God helps those who help themselves,” and to be absolutely sure, on 

28 August 1968 a single 7K-OK vehicle, or Kosmos-238, was launched and 

safely returned to Earth.

To this day it is difficult to explain why the unpiloted 7K-OK vehicles 

were classified as anonymous, secret Kosmos vehicles. With a human being 

on board, the same vehicle was called a Soyuz. I dared to pose this question 

to the KGB officer assigned to us back then.


 He smiled and answered, “Our 

organization has nothing to do with this game of hide-and-seek. What to 

announce in TASS reports and how is the concern of political bureaucrats. 

They are convinced that the best way to keep state secrets is this inane, overly 

cautious approach and confusion in the open press. Such methods don’t increase 

the standing of our nation.”

Five successful flights of the 7K-OK, despite the fact that they were called 

Kosmoses, convinced not just us, the creators, but also all the skeptics from 

the Air Force, TsUKOS, and the VPK that it was time to switch to piloted 

launches. A governmental commission headed by the chief of LII of the Ministry 

of the Aviation Industry, Viktor Utkin, summarized the results of the work 

performed after the tragic death of Komarov and gave the clearance for piloted 

flights of 7K-OK vehicles.


 There was much arguing about the program for 

the first flight. We insisted on a complete repetition of automatic rendezvous 

and docking, but with a cosmonaut on board. Under pressure from the cos-

monauts, Kamanin demanded maximum human involvement in rendezvous 

and docking control. They decided that from a distance of 150 to 200 meters 

the cosmonaut of the active vehicle would control the final approach process.

“To begin with, it’s not worth the risk,” said Keldysh at the next discussion. 

“Let the passive vehicle remain unpiloted and the active vehicle be piloted. This 

is already impressive. A vehicle carrying a cosmonaut approaches an unpiloted 

vehicle and docks with it.”

 19. KGB—Komitet gosudarstvennoy bezopasnosti (Committee for State Security).

 20.  The M. M. Gromov Flight-Research Institute (Letno-issledovatelskiy institut imeni M. M. 

Gromova, or LII), based in the Moscow suburb of Zhukovskiy, was the Soviet Union’s primary 

aviation testing facility.


People in the Control Loop

Everyone agreed.

“But now we have to call both vehicles Soyuzes,” said one of the critically 

thinking members of the State Commission.

Together with the ballistics experts and control specialists, the planners 

began to schedule the program hour by hour and minute by minute. Mishin, 

with the support of Kamanin and Karas, insisted on landing both vehicles 

during the first half of the day. In late October, the days in our latitudes were 

already short. According to the program, the passive vehicle was inserted 

first. A day was set aside to thoroughly check it out in flight and, if necessary, 

perform an orbital correction so that a day later it would fly over the firing 

range, from which the piloted active vehicle would lift off to meet it at the 

calculated rendezvous point. Radio lock-on would take place immediately 

after orbital insertion. During the first orbit the vehicles would approach one 

another and dock. It was agreed that far approach should take place in auto-

matic mode using the Igla radio system measuring relative motion parameters, 

and when the vehicle reached a distance of 200 meters, the cosmonaut of the 

active vehicle would switch off Igla from controlling the vehicle and perform 

berthing manually. The Igla on the unpiloted vehicle would remain activated 

and control it so that the funnel of the docking assembly cone was facing the 

probe of the active vehicle.

“If we show that we are capable of docking with our own vehicle right 

after liftoff, it means we are capable of going right up, if necessary, to an enemy 

satellite and destroying it.”

This argument was provided in favor of a liftoff with docking during the 

very first orbit, especially since the method had already been tried out in the 

two previous unpiloted dockings.

At one of the regular meetings on the flight program, which Bushuyev 

conducted, Zoya Degtyarenko, who represented the ballistics experts, pointed 

out that the most crucial berthing and docking segment was going to take place 

in the dark portion of the orbit.

“Why have you planned it like that?” Bushuyev fumed. “Set the launch 

time so that docking takes place in the sunlight portion.”

But then it would be necessary to abandon a guaranteed landing during 

the first half of the day, and we couldn’t let Rauschenbach and Bashkin scare 

us with “ionic holes.”

“No, these restrictions are absolutely necessary.”

“Why argue?” intervened Feoktistov. “Docking at night using lights is 

even more reliable than during the day when the Sun might fall in the field of 

vision of the optical sight.”

And so it was decided. The cosmonaut would have to learn to manually 

control the spacecraft using lights, which we would install on the passive vehicle. 


Rockets and People: The Moon Race

Rauschenbach tasked Bashkin, Skotnikov, and Savchenko to develop the proce-

dure for manual control using lights. The cosmonaut was supposed to observe 

the lights through a periscope sight (VSK) installed in the Descent Module.



Two “upper” lights were constantly illuminated; two “lower” ones blinked. 

Using manual control, the cosmonaut was supposed to fire the approach and 

attitude-control engines so that the lights located in the angles of an imaginary 

trapezoid lined up in a straight line.

It all seemed very simple. The State Commission tasked Sergey Darevskiy 

with quickly devising a simplified simulator so that the process of orientation 

using lights could be understood not only by the creators of the manual control 

procedure, but by the cosmonauts as well. Kamanin, guarding the interests of 

the cosmonauts who had familiarized themselves with the control procedure 

using lights, was satisfied.

During these very hectic days of program development, I was occupied 

filling out flight readiness certificates and certificates for each of the systems. I 

From the author’s archives.

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