Copyright ©1993 by Dennis Newkirk and Jim Plaxco
DN denotes interviewer Dennis Newkirk
JP denotes interviewer James Plaxco
all other text is Dr. Grechko's.
DN - I want to ask you about the Academy of Sciences in the 1960's and how much power it had to approve of projects like N1/L3, and about Academy President Keldysh.
He was the figure number one or two compared to Korolev. He was very powerful man. He did very much for use. He had his own institute of applied mathematics and we were very close with his institute. I calculated trajectories in Korolev's bureau and in his institute they calculated too and we compared and his influence was very good. It was their idea to launch rockets to the moon not from the Earth but from orbit. I had many colleges and friends in this institute. I was one of the last to speak to Keldysh, he was very interested in this and I spoke with him and he made many notes. I told him that the idea of keeping all instruments on the same station platform was not good, but he died. He had heart surgery by a famous American surgeon.
DN - Was it his personal authority that had influence on projects, and not Academy of Sciences authority?
His institute checked our ideas, and made methods of how to calculate our trajectories. They made mathematical investigations and I used their methods to calculate trajectories. It was not like Einstine, working all by himself, it was his institute and his people, now many of them are famous, it is a very good institute.
DN - When Korolev was trying to get funding for N1 or moon projects who did he have to convince in the government?
In cooperation with the Minister of General Machine Building and Minister of Defense, they make proposals to Politbureau and Khruschev. Sometimes to Prime Minister, but he was not very powerful, most powerful was Politbureau and Central Committee of CPSU. They have department for defense and in department they have small department for space.
DN - What about the Council of Chief Designers?
The Politbureau and Central Committee, they never made any decision, even for 1 ruble, they never make bad decision themselves. They ask designers, academicians, and all. When maybe a hundred who can be blamed if they are wrong, sign the document, will Politbureau and Central Committee approve something. It was their politics and they never voiced their opinions. It was very funny that a man from the Central Committee, say a chief of a department or the Minister of Defense (there were wise chiefs and small chiefs), nobody ever heard one of them say, "I have my opinion on this question", they instead say "There exists an opinion" but who's opinion you never know. It was very good to be in the Central Committee because you could say do this and that and never be blamed because nobody knew who's solution it was.
DN - You have written that Korolev would sometimes at the Cosmodrome pick up his engineers at the fence around the launch pad and take them beyond the gates in his car to watch the launch?
Korolev knew how to make a good team of right minded individuals and how to keep them working together. He would install in them a feeling of romanticism about rocketry and a desire to work hard. Sometimes he would have someone wake him up before dawn to go out at watch the rocket being moved to the launch pad in the morning dawn, he was a romantic and had strong feelings about rocketry.
DN - What ended the N1/L3 project?
The lunar program was ended because the lander was technologically inferior to the Apollo and the risk and expected/probable loss of life was too high to continue the project in the light of the highly successful Apollo landings. The N-1 was capable of being made reliable but without a reliable lander there could be no mission. This is why it was cancelled.
DN - After Korolev's death was Mishin ordered to continue in his place?
In the first years we were moved by inertia, by Korolev's inertia, and then we failed.
JP - What was the atmosphere like working in the bureau before Sputnik.
I was happy working in the bureau because I knew when I graduated there was no satellite and I could not choose any bureau working on satellites, so I choose the one working on the biggest rockets. Because in some years I knew that a space booster would be built. When I entered the bureau, my first duty was the SS-6 ICBM, and thank God it was never used for what it was designed. First of all, I calculated trajectories from Tyuratam to Kamchatka and understand deviation from target points. It was my duty to calculate the trajectory from the Cosmodrome, but it was not Cosmodrome at that time, it was "polygon" - the place to test rockets not to go to space. For me this was my happiest time, when I was a young engineer and I worked at the polygon to test the R-7 and test it for booster for the first satellites. My most happy years were not my years in space but when I was in Korolev KB and at the polygon. Why? because Korolev extended the spirit of pioneers. He supported all new ideas immediately, he didn't play dirty political games with rockets and satellites. He was very honest and direct. He did not try to hide or deceive, he was always straight forward and open. It was after some years it was very hard to ask a Chief Designer for an audience, but to ask Korolev even as a young engineer, I could ask Korolev and he invited me some days to see him. His power was in his team. He could choose his team, sometimes crazy and unpleasant people, but he did this with only one goal to go ahead and ahead with the design satellites, spacecraft and rockets. The spirit of pioneers and clean atmosphere of design bureau without rumors and playing and hiding something behind his back. We could make many things out of metal without many, many papers. Now if you make devices you must make a vast quantity of papers before you can go ahead. Sputnik 2 was made in a month. I bet nobody now can make a new satellite in one month. We had experienced design bureau, but I bet on one bureau will make a satellite in one month, but we did it, because after the launching of the first satellite, and I know about it from his own mouth that he was invited to Khruschev at the Kremlin. Khruschev said 'please do something launch something new for the anniversary of the revolution', but it was after Oct. 4 and the anniversary was Nov. 7. Less than one month and we launched a new satellite with a dog. This was for me the most important, very active, not very much documentation or signatures, signatures, signatures, signatures to avoid punishment if something went wrong. Nobody said "there existed an opinion", we would say our own opinions and Korolev would decide which was right and approve. I was happy in this clear pioneering spirit of that time.
JP - After your time as an engineer you became a cosmonaut with the lunar raining group. What was it like, that seems like it would be quite a different ife to make that change.
I liked science fiction, and I had experience to be in the occupation by German troops in the Ukraine for 2 years in Chernigov without my parents, and my toys fire rifles, guns and grenades. It was the toys of boys in war time. And many of my friends were dead by these toys, or wounded, I had only one, once I had an explosion of one cartridge in my a arm you can see this [displays slight scar on inside of thumb into the palm]. But I was lucky, I was alive. And my character was I liked to drive motorcycles, fly gliders, small one engine airplanes, parachuting, down hill skiing, scuba diving, snorkeling, I was made for space. I liked to be on first frontier. When we began design of spacecraft for 3 cosmonauts, Korolev said that one of the 3 should be flight engineers, and from whom would he choose flight engineers, of course from us young engineers in space technology. He knew us, and he invited us to be flight engineers because only we had experience in space engineering. I gather 2- 300 of use were invited by Korolev for medical tests, but in those times medical tests were very hard, sometimes cruel, and only 13 of use got okay from physicians for flight engineer.
JP - What were your responsibilities for the flight engineer?
I was to explore all devices in the spacecraft and station. It was my primary task. Because when Gagarin flew, his spacecraft was fully automatic, really he was the subject to test not the object. Gagarin was chosen as a very healthy man and good looking man and good in communication, but not like specialist, not like engineer, or doctor or academician. The next move in space was for specialist, and Korolev said one should be the same [as Gagarin] but the next should be engineer and next should be a scientist.
JP - What was pilot responsible for?
He was commander.
JP - He would be the one to control the spacecraft?
Really, all that he can do, the flight engineer can do, but a pilot can't do everything a flight engineer can do. Its really two departments, Ministry of Defense and Ministry of General Machine Building and they share their duty and their cosmonauts and it was fighting between them as to whose cosmonauts should fly. The Ministry of Defense and their people would say 'you guys you are engineers, you duty is to design spacecraft and we are pilots, we should fly not you.' but Korolev was of course right because space is for specialist and professionals.
JP - What was your position for your first flight?
Flight Engineer. I had scientific tests, I spend all my time, sometimes in the morning I knew I had a very interesting scientific program and decided not to eat all the day, and in the morning I would get a chocolate from the food stores so as to not spend time eating, but in the end of the day I would find the chocolate still in my pocket. Because there are to many new prospects in space, so much is interesting that I don't like eating or sleeping. I like experiments and my duty was engineering, exploring all devices of the station, but my hobby was science, and I was most successful with scientific experiments on board Salyut 6 and the scientific program of our mission to Salyut 7 was made by me and my friends, I was one of the authors of the program. And it means I was engineer, became Flight Engineer and became scientist on board a space station, and them I founded my laboratory to study atmosphere from space, I was the head of thisl aboratory processing data we obtained from space.
DN - Before your Soyuz T-14 mission there was a spacecraft Kosmos 1669 docked to Salyut 7. Dzhanibekov has said it was a Star Module is this right?
I gather it was Almaz. Yes, it was like Almaz. It was used for reentry to send something interesting to Earth. Chelomei made Almaz with 1 or 2 capsules to return to Earth.
JP - Was the data you obtained on the atmosphere from space very valuable to your studies?
I made many experiments about the Earths surface, ocean surface, medical, biological, and I had many results, but the most successful were my studies of the atmosphere. Then after my first flight I understood and I thought about the efficiency of our space station and with Segdayev he understood that the efficiency of our station was very low and your NASA insists on the same low efficiency of your Freedom station and my thought was, what can I do to have designed to get more scientific results from a flight. First I tried to write that the idea of our station was wrong, the more modules our chiefs thought and they still think now, the more scientific modules the better but it's wrong the more scientific modules make the efficiency of the station lower. When I express it to Glushko and his deputy Semenov who is deputy, they punished me, they striped me in pieces, they ignored me for many years after this when I expressed this idea for the first time. I expressed this idea in 1978 for the first time, that a manned space station is a bad idea. They are getting awards for this kind of space station and even the first cosmonaut on board said that its a bad idea. But all new ideas have three steps, first 'its impossible', next step is 'maybe', and next is 'its obvious'.
JP - How do you define space station efficiency?
When I understood my new idea had no support, just like new idea of Feoktistov for single stage vertical take-off and landing project he had no support also. I asked myself what else I could do and I understood that we had good enough cosmonauts to make experiments, I was maybe number 1, 2, or 3, or maybe 3rd best or 5th best in scientific experiments but number 1 for me was Dzhanibekov not only because he flew 5 times in space but because he was very efficient and modest, very active in space. He was number one for me, maybe I was number 3 or 5, I don't know, but I understood that we had good enough cosmonauts but our data sometimes was not processed. I understood that now the main task was not to have data from space but to process data from space and I understood that for me it was one way to make our space station more efficient form a scientific point of view and founded a new laboratory to process all data that I had from space, but not astrophysics, biological, medical, geophysics, I choose my atmosphere data.
JP - What would your advice be to NASA about the space station Freedom program.
I told them 2 or 3 years ago my opinion about free flyers they rejected and didn't appreciate my idea because it was too new for them, because they are bureaucrats, because they had their money for Freedom and nobody would speak up. It was my duty to say to America that you have the wrong idea. 2 or 3 years ago when they discussed a redesign to make Freedom a little smaller or bigger and I told them it is not a thing for discussion, to make it bigger or smaller, you should think about new ideas and one example of a new idea is a free flyer, but maybe you will have a new much better idea that my idea of a free flyer but stop this monkey business to repeat our mistake with many scientific modules on the same platform, but they were blind.
JP - One of the arguments for having people on space stations for a long periodof time is that it helps us learn a lot about trips to Mars. How do you reactto that the assertion that Mir was a stepping stone to manned mission to Mars?
Mir was really a step to Mars because before flight a to Mars we should fly for bout one year about the Earth. Of course it is true.
DN - Perhaps it is best to make a station with scientific modules that can dock periodically for servicing by a crew?
When they began to make plans for Mir station it was crazy that after docking they throw away the engine module and I told them its crazy, 'you should use this modules like free flyers with engines and shouldn't discard the engines after docking' [talking about Kvant 1]. First of all you should use this module in fully automatic mode 24 hours a day for one or two months an only then you should dock the module and discard the engines. You know it is said in your country you can not be one who looks ahead in your own country. You have the same problem.
JP - How are things now in the Russian space program?
Space activity was the great advertisement of the USSR, but now the government is bankrupt. We have some money, but not enough. We will cancel the most expensive programs, we will use our unmanned satellites and Mir and we will lease the station to astronauts of other countries and we will use our boosters to launch foreign satellites and we will cooperate with other countries. You know you have a space shuttle, we have a shuttle and maybe soon a smaller shuttle, Germany has Sanger, France Hermes, Britian Hotol, it is crazy to have 6 shuttles. We should cooperate and use your shuttle, our boosters, and so on. The best from all countries. But of course you will have trouble from your space industry, they have a very good lobby in your congress, because when I was in the Headquarters of NASA in Washington [a few years ago] and I said your station was too big and the idea was too old they didn't appreciate my speech. After all, they were big bosses and had their money, but now when I was in NASA Ames [more recently] and I tell them the same thing they appreciate it.
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