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Hermann Oberth was a German-speaking mathematics teacher whose 1923 book/pamphlet Die Rakete zu den Planetenraumen (The Rocket into Interplanetary Space) caught the attention of the world. In it, he proposed that modern fuels, such as gasoline and liquid oxygen, could be used to power missiles, and, using such fuels, rockets powerful enough to carry humans into space could be developed.

 

 

 


Konstantin Tsiolkovsky was a Russian math teacher with a strong interest in astronomy. His attempts to create an airship led him to build Russia’s first wind tunnel. In 1895, he began designing a spaceship. Tsiolkovky found that he could get the highest level of performance using fuels such as liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen. These fuels were not used in a rocket until the 1960s, and the world's first samples of liquid hydrogen had been made only a few years earlier. A good friend of Dmitri Mendeleyev, who discovered the periodic table of elements, Tsiolkovsky received much support when he published his findings in 1898; however, his work remained obscure until 1923 when Oberth’s pamphlet caught the attention of Moscow and the rest of the world.

Robert Goddard was an American physicist whose work in rocketry was funded by the Smithsonian Institution. In 1920, after the Smithsonian turned a footnote about a mission to the Moon into a front-page New York Times headline, Goddard withdrew from public and most academic circles. He launched the world’s first liquid-fueled rocket in 1926, and in 1930, with the help of his wife and a small group of mechanics, he built a rocket that reached a record 500 mph. At the time of his death in 1945 at the age of 62, Goddard held 83 rocket patents. As she prepared his papers for publication, Goddard’s widow, Esther, secured 130 more patents in the twelve years following his demise.


Wernher Von Braun received his Ph.D. in liquid rocketry from the University of Berlin after only 18 months of study. Even the title of his dissertation was classified because he had been carrying out military research, which resulted in the German Army’s first successful test rockets. In 1943, the Dora concentration camp was created to serve the production facilities for Von Braun’s V-2 missile. Even though he was aware of what was going on, he was not personally involved and was not prosecuted. Von Braun emigrated to the United States in 1945 and brought his V-2 missile with him. He was ready to launch the world’s first satellite for the United States in 1956, but was ordered not to. The Explorer 1 satellite that was launched less than a year and a half later was nearly identical to the satellite he had had ready. In the 1960s Von Braun’s Saturn V booster would launch the Apollo spacecrafts to the moon.

Sergei Korolev, born in the Ukraine, attended the Bauman Higher Technical School in Moscow. He took classes at night and worked in an aircraft factory during the day, and also learned how to fly, earning a pilot license. Korolev joined the Red Army, working under Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky, chief of armaments, who was said to have “the finest mind in the army” (Heppenheimer 9). When Stalin conducted his purges of the Red Army, the powerful Tukhachevsky was one of his first targets, and those associated with him also suffered. In 1938, Korolev was sentenced to ten years of slave labor in the mines of Kolyma in Siberia, which was equal to a death sentence. He ended up only spending a few months there. Korolev was called back to Moscow to be part of a sharaga led by his Bauman mentor, Andrei Tupolev. His work building the Tu-2 with Tupolev and other projects earned Korolev his freedom in 1944. Korolev first became world-famous as the engineer of the R-7 ICBM and PS satellite, also known as Sputnik. He also designed the Soviet Luna probes, and the manned Vokshod satellite, which carried the first three-man crew into orbit. Korolev’s N-1 rocket was built to carry cosmonauts to the Moon, but the program was cancelled in 1976, ten years after his death.


Mitrofan Nedelin is famous as the man responsible for the greatest disaster of the space age. In 1960, Nedelin was commander in chief of the Soviet Strategic Rocket Forces. On October 24, a probe to Mars was slated to be launched. After a string of failures, Nedelin was under pressure to come up with a success. With some of the highest government figures present, the main engine of the rocket failed to ignite. Instead of canceling the launch and carefully draining the rocket of its fuel, Nedelin ordered his team of engineers to immediately inspect the rocket. Nedelin joined them on the launch pad and was killed along with over 300 engineers, launch crew, and spectators when the rocket’s second stage ignited, causing a massive explosion that engulfed over 100 yards of land in flames and filled the air with toxic nitric acid.

Yuri Gagarin made history on April 12, 1961 when he became the first person in space. His 76-minute flight in orbit caused panic in the United States as the Soviet Union seemed to pull farther ahead in the space race. Gagarin was killed in 1968 when his jet fighter went out of control and crashed.

 

 

 

Laika became the first dog in space when she was launched into space on November 1957 aboard Sputnik 2. She supposedly died a day later when her craft’s thermal control system failed, but it has been speculated that she actually survived a full week and was euthanized by a poison put in the last rations of her food.