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Konstantin Tsiolkovsky – Russian and Soviet scientist, visionary and pioneer of cosmonautics theory. Tsiolkovsky ideas laid in the foundation of Soviet space program and inspired many famous Soviet scientists like Sergey Korolev and Valentin Glushko. Interestingly Sergey Korolev had a chance to meet Tsiolkovsky in 1929 when a 23 year old young man who was interested in airplane modelling and design visited Tsiolkovsky in Kaluga. Tsiolkovsky was admired in Russian Empire and Soviet Union; he even received personal greetings from Stalin and was awarded an Order of Red Banner of Labor in 1932 (quite rare and highly honored award those times). Tsiolkovsky consulted first Soviet science fiction movie – Space Flight, released in 1936 after his death. In the astrophilately he is noted not only by commemoration on covers and stamps but also by special cancellations issued and applied by Tsiolkovsky museum.

Tsiolkovsky, Izogiz. 1962.jpg

Note various cinderellas on the Tsiolkovsky State Museum of History of Cosmonautics postcards. The cards are mostly  joint issues of Kaluga postal authorities and Tsiolkovsky museum. These cinderellas were designed by Valentin Afonin from Kaluga for the museum issues and officially distributed at Kaluga post office. Anyone who bought a postcard and requested special cancellation could get a self-sticking Cinderella free of charge (see below)

Sergey Korolev – the most notable, vivid and famous Soviet space scientist, “The Father” of Soviet space program. He pioneered the first Satellite, first living creature – Laika, first Man in space and first ballistic missile launch from a submarine.


From 1933 Korolev was working in the Jet Propulsion Research Institute and was responsible for development of rocket planes. He was arrested in 1938 and sentenced to 10 years in prison (his superior – Ivan Kleimenov, the designer of famous BM-13 “Katyusha” was executed). In 1939 while being transferred from the Kolyma to Moscow he had to board the steamer Indigirka but missed due to the lack of space. Indigirka had sunk with the loss of 700 men. Korolev spent 2 years developing dive bombers under Tupolev and then was transferred to OKB-16 where he was dealing with jet rocketry applications. He was released in 1944.


Korolev took very active part in post war assessment of German rocket technology. He was under the cover of Soviet artillery officer, but due to a small glitch in the uniform he personally was “noted” by British intelligence. His most notable creation was R-7 intercontinental ballistic missile that was accepted by the military in 1957. It served all Korolev Firsts in space plus a first ever military application – it took a high alert duty during Cuban missile crisis in 1962. Korolev was highly classified scientist making absolutely no public appearances, except one occasion – “space wedding” of Nikolaev and Tereshkova, that was widely publicized.

Korolev was born in the town of Zhitomir (now Ukraine) therefore there are some Ukrainian covers devoted to the Father of the Soviet Space Program.

GIRD and its legacy.

GIRD in Russian – Group of Study of Reactive Motion was a non-profit organization created in 1931 by enthusiastic scientists headed by Tikhonravov and Zander (Russian – Tsander). Friedrich Zander was born in Riga (Latvia) and became one of the pioneers of Russian and Soviet rocketry. He was a close follower of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky and inspired Korolev by his energy and dedication – almost all of his time he was working even sleeping at his workplace. His motto was – “Let’s get to Mars!” Zander designed the first soviet liquid-propellant rocket – GIRD-X that successfully lifted off on Nov 25, 1933.  Unfortunately Zander did not live to watch his creation – he died in March 1933.

In 1933 GIRD was united with Gas Dynamics Laboratory (GDL) and RNII – Reactive Research Institute, was formed under the supervision of Military Commissariat. The head of RNII became Kleimenov and Korolev – his Deputy. While Sergey Korolev designed and developed long-range rockets, Kleimenov took part in the research of rocket projectiles together with Georgy Langemak, their work came to light in the form of BM-13 rocket launcher, more famous under the nick-name “Katyusha”. Korolevs design of cruise missile “212” heavily relied on the first soviet liquid-propellant engine - ORD-65 developed by Valentin Glushko in 1936, who headed the liquid-propellant engine development of the RNII. Sadly in 1938 many of the RNII chief scientists were arrested and some were executed including Kleimenov, Langemak, Korolev and Glushko.

In 1944 the RNII (later known as NII-3) became a part of NII-1 that reported to the Ministry of Aviation.

This small section is devoted to Soviet stratospheric research flights using giant high altitude balloons named stratostats. Although there is more to write than to show, but anyway …

Inspired by Auguste Piccard's experiments of 1930–1932 Soviet military aviation and engineering enthusiasts have pushed towards record breaking glory. The first of the balloons – USSR-1 (CCCP-1) has been launched on September 30, 1933 with the crew of three and reached an altitude of 19 km landing safely. Several months later on January 30, 1934 an ill-fated record breaking flight of Osoaviakhim-1 took place. After being cancelled several times and finally lifted off in the most unfavorable conditions the balloon reached unthinkable 22km (2000 meters above planned maximum altitude). During the descent the stratostat lost its buoyancy and plunged into an uncontrolled fall, disintegrating in the lower atmosphere and killing the crew. Officially the cause was overheating while remaining on the peak altitude for a long time that resulted in losing a significant volume of lifting gas required for the safe descent.

In the same 1934, on September 5 newly designed USSR-2 was destroyed on the ground by the fire when balloon cover static electricity ignited the incoming gas pumped into the lifting body. On June 26, 1935 USSR-1bis was launched with the crew of three. This balloon was actually a renovated USSS-1 and reached an altitude of 16km. During the descend it appeared that gas was leaking from the body increasing the speed. All crew members jumped from the gondola and landed safely using their parachutes. The enlightened stratostat landed softly as well and was actually considered as a successful flight.


On September 18, 1935 another record breaking attempt has been made using enormous USSR-3 designed to reach unthinkable altitude of 25-27km. unfortunately, after reaching 800 meters the statostat started to loose gas, rapidly descending and finally crash-landed severely injuring all three crew members. On October 12, 1939 USSR VR-60 “Komsomol” reached an altitude of 16km and performed all planned scientific program activities. During its descent the balloon caught fire forcing all crew members to abandon it using parachutes. The burning gondola crash-landed but the commander of the crew with the help of local workers managed to extract the documentation.

The last attempt to bring the giant balloon to the record breaking altitude has been made on June 22, 1940 in totally redesigned Osoaviakhim-2. Despite being the most advanced high altitude balloon at the time, stratostat failed to excel. Reaching 10 meters its gondola unexpectedly separated from the balloon and crashed slightly injuring the crew. The balloon body hovered for some time and landed several kilometers away. In 1941 the war stopped all the research programs connected with high altitude balloons paving the way to the “rocket age”.

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