Sergei Pavlovich Korolev

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Sergei Pavlovich Korolev, 1933
Signature of Sergei Korolev

Sergei Korolev ( Russian Сергей Павлович Королёв ? / I , scientific. Transliteration Sergej Pavlovič Korolëv , Ukrainian Сергій Павлович Корольов Serhiy Pavlovych Korolyov * December 30, 1906 . Jul / 12. January 1907 greg. In Zhytomyr , volhynian governorate , Russian Empire , today Ukraine ; † January 14, 1966 in Moscow , USSR ) was a Soviet missile designerAudio file / audio sample   and space pioneer who played an important role in the history of space travel .

Under Korolev's direction, the OKB-1 experimental design office developed rockets and spaceships . His ideas and his leadership style had a major impact on Soviet space travel . Some developments that were implemented or initiated under his direction, such as the Soyuz rocket and the Soyuz spaceship, are still used today in an improved form.


The early years

Sergei Korolev at the age of 6, 1912

Korolev's parents, the Russian teacher Marija Nikolajewna Balanina (née Moskalenko) and Pawel Jakowlewitsch Korolev, separated three years after his birth. On his mother's side, Korolev came from a wealthy merchant family with Greek and Cossack roots . On his father's side, Korolev was of Belarusian origin . Sergei Korolev identified himself as a Ukrainian , but occasionally called himself Russian to show loyalty to Russian culture.

Korolev grew up with his grandparents in Neschin . When he was ten years old, the family moved to Odessa . There he completed an apprenticeship as a bricklayer and roofer. Korolev showed an early interest in aviation and from June 1923 worked alongside his job in the local glider club OAWUK, where he designed his first glider K-5 at the age of 17 .

Korolev in the cockpit of the sailor Koktebel , 1929

In 1925 Korolev began studying at the Kiev Polytechnic Institute . In addition, he continued to fly gliders and constructed gliders. When the Kiev faculty was closed, he moved to the Moscow Technical University (MWTU) in 1926 and completed his studies there. Before that, he completed an internship at the Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute (ZAGI), where he came into contact with the construction of powered aircraft. In 1927 he took part for the first time in the "All Union glider competition" in the Crimea , an event comparable to the German Rhön competitions . In 1929 Koroljow developed and built the Koktebel glider together with S. N. Lyuschin . In the same year, under the guidance of Andrei Tupolev, Korolev's diploma thesis was his first SK-4 powered aircraft . On February 9, 1930 Korolev received his diploma as an aircraft engineer . As an aircraft designer, Korolev also developed the Red Star glider in 1930 . It was the first motorless aircraft with which a loop could be flown in the Soviet Union . The pilot was W. A. ​​Stepantschonok.

In the 1930s, Korolev began building missiles as part of the MosGIRD . There he received essential impulses for his later work from Friedrich Zander . Together with Zander, whom he regarded as a mentor, he was involved, among other things, in the design and construction of the first Soviet hybrid missiles GIRD-09 and GIRD-X . In 1933 he moved to the Rocket Research Institute (RNII) and in 1934 became head of the rocket missile department. In the same year his scientific treatise The rocket flight in the stratosphere appeared .

Imprisonment during the Great Terror

Korolyov in custody, 1940

While working on the RP-318-I rocket-propelled glider, Korolev was arrested by the NKVD's political secret police in the course of the Great Terror on June 27, 1938 . After two days of torture and threats against his family, he signed a confession identifying himself as a member of a counterrevolutionary Trotskyist conspiracy and a participant in acts of sabotage to impede development. He had been denounced under duress by Valentin Gluschko , who had been arrested three months earlier and who himself was in custody until 1944. Although innocent, Korolyov was sentenced to ten years of forced labor in the Gulag and five years of loss of civil rights on September 27, 1938 without a formal trial . After staying in several prisons and longer transport it reached on April 21, 1939, the notorious labor camp Maldjak ( 63 ° 0 '  N , 148 ° 14'  O ) on the Kolyma , where he nearly starved and so hard to scurvy ill that his lower jaw was badly damaged and lost many teeth.

Thanks to his mother's interventions, with the assistance of well-known pilots Mikhail Gromov and Valentina Grisodubova , the Supreme Court of the USSR overturned the previous judgment on June 13, 1939. It was not until November 1939 that Korolev was recalled from Maldjak and from March 1940 was imprisoned in a Moscow prison to retrial. On July 10, 1940, the NKVD reduced his sentence for Trotskyist activity to eight years of forced labor in the Gulag. After renewed interventions by his mother and Gromov with the NKVD People's Commissar Lavrenti Beria , he was sent on September 13, 1940 to the special design office of the aircraft manufacturer Andrei Tupolev , who had already supervised Korolev's thesis and was also imprisoned. The special camp ZKB-29 for scientists and engineers was subordinate to the NKVD and was a Sharashka , which was described by Alexander Solzhenitsyn in the novel The First Circle of Hell from his own experience. In Omsk, the ZKB-29 developed the Tupolev Tu-2 dive bomber , which was first used in the military in September 1942.

Although with the successful development of the Tu-2 there were legitimate hopes for the release of the imprisoned engineers, Korolev applied in October 1942 for a job in an aircraft engine plant in Kazan , where Gluschko headed the OKB-16 special design office for rocket propulsion under Sharashka conditions. Korolev participated in the development of the multi-purpose aircraft Petlyakov Pe-2 in order to improve the launch behavior and the climbing performance with a switchable rocket engine . The first successful attempt of the prototype Pe-2RD took place on October 1, 1943. On August 10, 1944, Koroljow and Gluschko were released early from prison on parole and continued their work on the rocket developments as engineers of the OKB-16. Korolev's official rehabilitation did not take place until April 18, 1957, six months after Glushko's rehabilitation.

Korolev's six-year imprisonment in the Gulag was erased from Communist accounts of the history of technology. After his death in the 1970s, his biographer described every week of Korolev's life meticulously, but disguised the entire imprisonment: "Due to various circumstances, the designer was unable to take part in the flight tests of his wing rocket."

Chief designer

Sergei P. Korolev on a Soviet postage stamp, 1969
Monument to Sergei Korolev in Zhitomir , 1972

After the Second World War he was promoted to chief designer of the initially only military-oriented Soviet missile program within the NII (Scientific Research Institute). Korolev's identity was kept secret during his lifetime and he was only anonymously referred to in public as the “chief designer”. Korolyov's goal was to develop a civilian missile program. In 1945, now with the rank of Colonel in the Red Army , he was ordered to the Soviet headquarters in Berlin with other engineers and technicians . He was commissioned to study the German missile program and to find employees of the missile engineer Wernher von Braun who remained in Germany . From autumn 1945 he lived in Bleicherode, Thuringia .

He returned to the Soviet Union in 1946 with plans for German designs and German rocket designers. Among others, the assistant Wernher von Brauns, Helmut Gröttrup , and the aerodynamicist Werner Albring worked under the direction of Koroljows in Kaliningrad (in Moscow Oblast ) and on the island of Gorodomlja (today the Solnetschny settlement ) in Lake Seliger ( Russian озеро Селиге́р / osero Seliger) ) ( Kalinin Oblast ) on the development of missile technology. The first design resulting from this collaboration was the R-1 rocket from 1948, a copy of the German A4 based on materials available in the Soviet Union. In contrast to the Americans, who brought German scientists to the USA with their Operation Overcast and who, as early as 1946 , ensured that scientists were naturalized and kept in the USA with Operation Paperclip , the Soviet Union only skimmed off their knowledge used it in the crucial steps for space travel.

Korolev's greatest successes included the construction of the R-7 - the world's first ICBM - and the launch of the Sputnik 1 in 1957, but above all the first human space flight , Yuri Gagarin , in 1961.

Death and fame

Monument to Korolev in the city named after him Korolev

In December 1960, Korolyov suffered a heart attack, which was followed by more. In addition to his cardiac arrhythmias, there were internal bleeding and intestinal problems. On January 5, 1966, Sergei Korolev was admitted to a Moscow hospital. The doctors wanted to remove painful hemorrhoids in a routine operation on January 14, 1966, but in the meantime they discovered a large tumor in the colon and put him under general anesthesia. The intubation of the trachea, which was necessary due to poor circulatory system, failed due to the scurvy-related jaw anomaly as a late consequence of the Gulag imprisonment, which caused his death.

The Soviet government honored him with the burial of his urn in the Kremlin wall . In 1996 the city of Kaliningrad in Moscow Oblast, where he headed the experimental design office OKB-1 as chief designer from 1950 , was renamed after him. The city of Koroljow (Russian Королёв) houses today's control center of Russian space travel and the space company RKK Energija as the successor to OKB-1.

With Korolev's death, the Soviet space and lunar program suffered a major loss. Work on the N1 moon rocket was continued by his colleague Vasily Pavlovich Mishin , but stopped in 1974 after several false starts.

The identity of the chief designer remained a state secret in the Soviet Union during his lifetime. While his opponent Wernher von Braun presented himself to the public in the press and television in the USA , Korolev was not known even in his own country. When the Nobel Committee after the successful launch of Sputnik 1 in Nikita Khrushchev asked for the name of the chief designer, he answered that it was the work of the entire Soviet people, and this would therefore deserves the award. This secret was only revealed on the occasion of the state funeral in Moscow.

The asteroid discovered in 1969 (1855) Korolev , the lunar crater Korolev and the Martian crater Korolev are named after Korolev . He was awarded the Ziolkowski Medal for his services to space travel . Since 1967, the Russian Academy of Sciences (until 1991 Academy of Sciences of the USSR) has awarded the Korolyov Gold Medal for outstanding achievements in the field of space rocket technology.


  • "Let's find a compromise solution - let's do it as I say."
  • “The simpler a construction, the more ingenious it is. Anyone can build complicated. "
  • “Today we are witnessing the fulfillment of the dream that occupied some great people, including Ziolkowski . He had prophesied that humanity would not stay on earth forever. The Sputnik is the first confirmation of his predictions. The development of space has begun. ”(On the night of October 5, 1957 after the successful start of Sputnik 1 )


In the Soviet feature film Taming the Fire ( Укрощение Огня ) from 1972, which describes the early days of the Soviet space program, Korolev served as a template for the role of Andrei Bashkirzew.

The BBC published in 2005 to the four-part docudrama race to the moon (English title Space Race ).

The Russian spaceship Korolev is named after him in the Stargate series . In the series Spaceship Enterprise - The Next Century, there is a Korolev class.

Four-part Spiegel TV series Die Eroberung des Himmels - The Cold War for supremacy in space, published as Spiegel DVD No. 8 as a free addition to issue 39/2007.

The Russian film Die Zeit der Erste (Spacewalker) from 2017 tells the story of the cosmonauts Belyayev and Leonov and their space flight with the Voschod 2. Here the Russian actor Vladimir Ilyin took on the role of Korolev.


  • 1934: The rocket flight into the stratosphere (Russian Ракетный полет в стратосфере )
  • 1957: The practical significance of Konstantin Ziolkowski's proposals in the field of missiles (Russian title unknown)


Soviet first day cover on Korolev's 80th birthday, 1987
  • Alexander Romanov: Sergej Koroljow, chief designer of the spaceships. Documentary narrative . APN, Moscow 1976 (136 pp., Russian: Александр Романов, Королев . First edition: Молодая гвардия).
  • James Harford: Korolev: How One Man Masterminded the Soviet Drive to Beat America to the Moon . John Wiley & Sons, 1997, ISBN 0-471-14853-9 .
  • Natalja Koroljowa: SP Koroljow - father . Elbe-Dnjepr-Verlag, Klitschen 2009, ISBN 978-3-940541-19-2 .
  • Leonid Vladimirov: The Russian Space Bluff . The Dial Press, 1971, ISBN 0-85468-023-3 .
  • Vassily P. Mishin: Why Didn't We Fly to the Moon? In: JPRS Report, Science & Technology, USSR: Space . Foreign Broadcast Information Service, 1991, pp. 10 .
  • Andy Duncan: The Chief Designer . In: Asimov's Science Fiction . Dell Magazines, June 2001, pp. 94-129 .

Web links

Commons : Sergei Pavlovich Koroljow  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Gerhard Kowalski: 50th anniversary of the death of Sergei Koroljow: Russia's last space genius. In: Spiegel Online . January 14, 2016, accessed March 5, 2016 .
  2. Анкета 4. Для реєстраціі студентів Київського Політехнічного Інституту (registration form for students of the Kiev Polytechnic Institute). Pravda, 1924, accessed March 6, 2016 (Ukrainian).
  3. Sergei Korolev. (crossword café), accessed on March 6, 2016 (Russian).
  4. From glider pilot to rocket designer . In: Aerosport . December 1969, p. 486-494 and p. 526 .
  5. ^ Heinz Machatscheck: Sergej Pawlowitsch Koroljow (1907–1966) . In: Flieger Jahrbuch 1982 . Transpress, Berlin 1982, p. 162-166 .
  6. Asif Azam Siddiqi: Challenge to Apollo: The Soviet Union and the Space Race, 1945–1974 . NASA, Washington 2000, p. 11 .
  7. James Harford: Korolev: How One Man Masterminded the Soviet Drive to Beat America to the Moon . John Wiley & Sons, New York 1997, ISBN 0-471-14853-9 , pp. 49 .
  8. a b c d Natalja Koroljowa: SP Koroljow - father . tape 2 . Elbe-Dnjepr-Verlag, Klitzschen 2010, ISBN 978-3-940541-21-5 .
  9. John Higgs: Everything is relative and anything goes: A journey through the incredibly strange and rather insane 20th century. Insel Verlag, Berlin 2016, ISBN 978-3-458-17663-3
  10. Ulli Kulke: Space striker: Wernher von Braun and the race to the moon. Quadriga, Berlin 2012, ISBN 978-3-86995-026-6 , p. 114.
  11. Günter Paul: A rocket designer without whom Russian space travel would have looked different: Sergej Pawlowitsch Koroljow in a life picture that his daughter wrote. In: FAZ. September 13, 2010, accessed September 6, 2020 .
  12. Sergei Khrushchev: Nikita Khrushchev's son remembers the start of Sputnik. Neue Zürcher Zeitung, September 30, 2007, accessed on March 6, 2016 .
  13. SP Korolev gold medal. Russian Academy of Sciences, accessed April 28, 2018 (in Russian).
  14. Matthias founder: SOS in space. Mishaps, problems and disasters in manned spaceflight . Schwarzkopf & Schwarzkopf, Berlin 2000, ISBN 3-89602-339-X , p. 163 .
  15. Joachim Kutzner, Kurt Kobler: The Sputnik shock. April 4, 2004, accessed September 6, 2020 .
  16. Simone Schlindwein: The mysterious "Sputnik" father. In: Spiegel Online . September 26, 2007, accessed March 5, 2016 .