"The following is a complete, unedited, unverified interview, portions of which were utilized in the Red Files PBS broadcast. Statements therein are the sole opinion of the interviewee, and do not reflect the views of PBS, DDE or Series and Web Site producer Abamedia, which are not Responsible for the interview content."


Interview with Dr. Sergei N. Khrushchev
Engineer, Historian, Author and Son of Soviet Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchev

Sergei Khrushchev being interviewed for the filmInterviewer: In the 1950's, in the Soviet Union, there was a fear of America and America's intentions. Can you talk about how the concern for your national security helped shape the need for an ICBM and the development of the R7?

Dr. Khrushchev: In my first year in the university, when President Eisenhower was elected, this was a clear signal that Americans elected the general as the president, because they decided to begin the war against the Soviet Union. It was not in newspapers. It was in our hearts, and all the people were very scared. It was the beginning of the Cold War. It was not long ago, just after the real war, where half of the Soviet Union was destroyed. We were very scared on all levels from the top politicians to the people. Who can defend us? How can we defend ourselves? It was different between Germany and America. America was impossible technically to reach. So the main goal was that we must be as powerful as the Americans, but not equal in capability of reaching American territory and the delivery there of nuclear weapons.

Interviewer: So that actually you want to be able to deliver a nuclear weapon to America?

Dr. Khrushchev: Yes, because it was the first years when the Soviet Union tested the nuclear weapon. The thought was that we would be equal on this side, but we have to be equal on the delivery technology. The first step Stalin took was he ordered Tupolev, the famous Soviet designer, to design, to copy the B29. Tupolev said, "I will design it better." Stalin said, "No, you must do the same because American's deliver their nuclear weapon by the same plane, and I don't want to have any risk. Do just the same."

Interviewer: Could you talk now about how the bomber wasn't the right idea, so the decision was made to focus on developing an ICBM?

Dr. Khrushchev: The question was how to deliver the weapon, and at that time Stalin asked Tupolev, "Can you design a bomber which will penetrate the American airspace?" And he answered, "No." If it is a plane, which can reach the American territory, it will be too slow at a low altitude, so it would be impossible. One of designers says that he will do this. But then, when he builds this bomber, and he showed it to my father, at the end of the presentation he said, "There is one problem. We cannot fly it back, it will have no fuel." Then he said, "But maybe we could land in Mexico?" My father was surprised; he did not even know what to say. Then he joked, "Maybe your mother-in-law lives there so you will have the permission." So, it was the only possibility, to use the missile. They completed the project. They based it on the preliminary calculations of Sakharov who calculated that the thermo-nuclear device will be 5.5 tons. So the real father of the R7 and the space achievement of Russia was Sakharov.

Interviewer: Was it Korolev's aim to just launch the ICBM, or did he have something else in mind? What was that, and how did he go about achieving his real goal?

Dr. Khrushchev: When we're talking about the real goal of Korolev, we cannot tell that it was only one goal. Like all others, he was eager to protect the country and to build the ICBM, but not lead in this. It was his life-long dream to launch a satellite and a person, human being, into space. Because of his nature he was a very strong entrepreneurial person; he wanted to be the first. He wanted to beat any competitors: Americans, first because they were the only competitors.

Interviewer: Did your father share that same goal?

Dr. Khrushchev: My father had a much broader goal. He wanted to beat the Americans in all spheres of life and to prove that our Socialist system is working better. A small portion of this was space, so when Korolev presented him his rocket, the first goal to my father was defense, the military usage of the intercontinental rocket. When Korolev told him that we can launch this ball into space, and we would be ahead of the Americans, my father only asked, "Will it hurt our defense program?" Korolev answered, "No." So my father told him to go ahead. He was a strong supporter of this endeavor afterwards.

Interviewer: Was your father surprised by the reaction that Sputnik had from the West?

Dr. Khrushchev: Nobody, not my father, not Korolev, not myself, thought how the reaction would be of the West. Of course everybody understood that it would be a great achievement. We thought that it would be like the first passenger plane, 104, which flew to Great Britain. When my father received this information he was in Kiev. He was very excited. He told all the Ukrainian bureaucrats who came there. He said this before the Ukrainians could talk about their development. They tried to get him back to the Ukrainian development. But he was so excited about space, he could not understand it. The next day in Pravda, when he received all the reaction from the West about the Soviet launch, it was only then, at that time, he realized what really Korolev had achieved.

Interviewer: And then he wanted more?

Dr. Khrushchev: Everybody wanted more. Most of all, it was Korolev who wanted more. Because for Korolev it was the first step, and now he understood that he became the top-secret hero of the whole world. So Korolev was the real driving force behind all new launches. No one needed to order anything in this field to Korolev to do. Korolev tried to present his idea to my father and then, as a good manager, he returned back and upheld his strong order from the Central Committee. Of course my father was very excited, and he was a full supporter, not only through the political goals, but he was very curious about all new things, and he liked all this. He met with Korolev many times, and asked him, "Can you do more? What are your new plans?" He was very much involved in many things in the details of this development.

Interviewer: It also turned out by the late ‘50s that the R7 was not a particularly good ICBM. When America was about to launch a spy satellite, it was discerned that they would then know that the Soviet Union was not as strong as they perceived. To what extent did Korolev's space program begin to impact the military by the late ‘50s?

Dr. Khrushchev: When we talk about space research and military, they worked in parallel. In the Soviet military, designers had deep feelings about military usage of space. America was more concerned about how many weapons we have. To our different way of thinking, my father was not so much interested in this, because he said they have everything. It's not so important what they have. It's more important what they will decide in the White House. Sometimes in planning a society less ordered than the market society, nobody calculated in advance how much it would cost each launch of the R7.

In 1958 it appeared that it would cost a half billion rubles. Then Korolev said all the plans of the deployment of these missiles were unacceptable, as it cost too much. So we had to find some other idea. And here emerged Ilyushin with his SX7 or 6, I think. He said, "I will make everything much cheaper." Korolev opposed this. He tried to tell my father in a long discussion that it is technically impossible. My father met with Korolev then with Yanguel and one more time with Korolev and then with Glushko. Glushko said it is possible and, "I will build this engine for Yanguel," and, "He will build what he told you."

It was the first step of this creation in the bad relations between these two great people. Korolev accepted. After that Yanguel was a traitor. As any manager would have said, "Tell anybody who works with him." And he said, "Now I will work with your competitor." It was the first steps with Korolev's monopoly on the missiles that was destroyed. It appeared one more time, a less powerful but very successful new designer.

Interviewer: How did Korolev view Glushko's personally after that? What did he think of him?

Dr. Khrushchev: Once I remember when my father invited Glushko and Korolev and their wives to a dinner in his country house to try to improve their relations. They changed with our presence, then closed the door and sat in the dining room. After that my father went to bed. Glumich went out, and he never did this when he had guests. He said he would go upstairs to read his papers. Korolev and Glushko went out, Glushko was the first and then Korolev whispered to him, "You are a snake in the grass." After that Korolev sat with me, and we talked about different things. And Glushko went for a walk somewhere in the garden. So it was a very complicated relationship.

Interviewer: Can you elaborate on what you just said about Glushko?

Dr. Khrushchev: When it appeared that the S7 couldn't be used for a military missile, then my father still had no answer about what to do with the Americans. Then Yanguel appeared and said he would build a much cheaper missile, but he would use nitric acid. Korolev told my father it's impossible, and they talked with one and another, and at last he went to Glushko. Korolev said that he would support Glushko and told my father that it's possible to build this engine. Glushko told my father, "I will do this." After that it ruined every single relation between Glushko and Korolev. After this answer to my father, Korolev viewed Glushko as a traitor, because he was part of his team, and he betrayed his team. He never put him back on his team, and it was the first step to the breaking of this coalition of paths.

When my father first met Gagarin, it was his idea to make such a big event from all of this. And all the Politburo will go to meet the so-called ordinary major. My father's feelings for him were personally like the most glorious person in the world and maybe like his own son. He was may be not less proud than Gagarin. For Gagarin he tried to do the best for my father. He drove him in his car. My father even said to him, "You will drive without me, because you're more important today than me." Gagarin then replied, "Dr. Khrushchev, you have to be in the same car!" There was no need to ask him twice. Then there was the big meeting in the Red Square, then the big reception. It was on the highest level, and he tried to do this as big as he could. He was right, because the action of Moscow was much bigger than the launch of the first satellite. All the people were real proud. Nobody was asked to go to the streets, but it was filled with the people. People were everywhere in the balconies, windows, on the roofs of the multi-story buildings. They were sitting everywhere, looking for the first man in the world to go to space. It's possible to compare it with the celebration of the victory of the Second World War.

Interviewer: Gagarin's flight led to a number of Soviet firsts, they kept doing more remarkable things. It also sparked America's Apollo program. How did that all look from where you sat?

Dr. Khrushchev: For my father, the real goal was to be ahead of the Americans in a much broader way. He wanted to prove that our economy was more effective than American economy. The country after the war was still destroyed. So he tried to save all the money to invest them in agriculture, to produce the food and the housing program. Of course he wanted to be the first in space, but until this was made relatively cheap, he had this launch. Korolev was in a hurry. He did not think seriously about the new launches. He wanted longer flights, two men in space, man and woman in space, first walk in space. There was serious thoughts about the next step and especially the next big investment. Here appeared the first controversial, because my father was not ready to invest too much in space.

Interviewer: Let's talk now about the story of the Cuban missile crisis.

Dr. Khrushchev: Or what happened just when the Cuban missile crisis emerged. It was preparation for one more attempt to send the probe to Mars. Everything was prepared. It was announced the full readiness of the Soviet military. Under these conditions they have to replace this Mars launcher with the military intercontinental missile. The colonel that was in charge said the order came from the General Staff to replace the missile. Korolev was very nervous, and he tried to call the Minister of Defense. He said they could do nothing. He then picked up the telephone and called my father. My father listened to him and told him, "Yes it's a very deep crisis, but your launches may be more important. I will give the order and they will make this launch." It was in the middle of the crisis, and the launch was unsuccessful, so it was making Americans nervous because of the orbit of something that appeared which had no signals and no explanation what it was.

Interviewer: Your father said to Korolev, yes we're in the middle of the crisis but actually space is more important?

Dr. Khrushchev: He called the Minister of defense, and told him that Korolev had more priority than the Cuban missiles crisis.

Interviewer: I'm would like to ask you now about Korolev's personality, and the way he was able to use it.

Dr. Khrushchev: When we look at Korolev and his personality, his importance and genius was not in science, not even in designing. He was the manager. The manager of the big corporation, he was the General, like Napoleon or like Marshall Zhukov, who can win the war. It was very important to put all these people together. It's maybe much more important than the technical skill. Without this I don't think that it would have been possible to achieve any goal, and to build all these missiles. Because it takes hundreds of thousands of people working all together, and Korolev was really in charge of all this, the Ministers and Deputy Prime Ministers were on the second row.

Like in all these type of people he could be very strong. He could argue with the military. He said, "You will have to do what I tell you, or I can pick up the telephone call Khrushchev." He said, "I want to meet with you," of course he was polite. He could pick up the right people who could bring him good ideas, acceptable ideas. He supported these people; he tried to bring them higher. Many of his subordinates became academician and doctors of science. It's much rarer in any other design bureau that he could speak with the people, with the ordinary people and listen to what they said to him. Then he would rethink this and present it as his own idea. He was such a genius who could accumulate everything together to reach his own goal.

Interviewer: Was Korolev a nice guy?

Dr. Khrushchev: I can't say that Korolev was nice. He was very positive; it was inside him. He tried to attract different people of all levels beginning from the worker. In his work place there was everybody. I worked in the competitive design bureau, but I met with him many times. I have nothing against him, but I had this feeling, which was bringing me to him, because he was the person who could make everybody work for him, and not really pressing them for it.

Interviewer: Did he make some people jealous and envious of him?

Dr. Khrushchev: You know when we talk about Korolev and other designers; of course you're working in a competitive environment and maybe in a centralized economy. It was more competitive than in a market economy. Many people around became jealous, because they said we can do the same. He became a hero not even for the Soviet Union, not for the government, but for history. And they said we also want to be the first. He wanted to be the first; Glushko, maybe more than any others wanted to be the first, because he was together with Korolev from the very beginning. It was all this arguing with Korolev, because they said that the engine is the most important, the engine is the driving force, and you can put everything on top of the engine. It was also part of this big thing, but I think it's natural jealousy, driving ahead all the progress and the competition was strong. When Chillamay presented his own idea of the moon journey, it was the peak of the competition. We joked in our design bureau that both of them Korolev and Chelomey would prefer the Americans to be first on the moon, but not the competitor inside the Soviet Union, so the competition was very strong.

Interviewer: After President Kennedy stated that the American's would put a man on the moon, was there a definite decision within the Soviet to go to the moon?

Dr. Khrushchev: In 1960 when President Kennedy announced the Apollo program, the Soviets were not prepared for this. My father was not prepared to pay for this project, and he did not know how much money it would take as nobody had calculated this. Korolev was not prepared technically, as he had nobody around him who could present him this project. So in 1961, again my father rejected the corporation and this moon program, mostly because he was scared that we were too weak at that time militarily speaking. Maybe Americans know this through the corporation -- how weak we were. In 1962 Korolev pushed the first idea of his last version of N1, at a Black Sea research center where there was a meeting of the Defense Council. It was there Korolev presented N1 and the idea of the journey to the moon. But still there was no calculation how much it would cost, it was not a real idea, because at that time, Korolev's N1 could only deliver to Earth's orbit a 70-ton payload which was not enough. So it was approved in the late summer of 1964. We approved one of ten other different decrees of the government but still it was not prepared in the Korolev design bureau. They had no real vision how this spacecraft would look like, and only in August, 1964, it was approved. Here emerged Chillamey with his idea of Ore 700, I think a more realistic project, and this discussion was ended late 1964. In 1965 Korolev won and Chillamey shifted to the manned space station. Korolev's design bureau was to design the moon craft, but it was only a few months after Korolev died.

Interviewer: What impact did his death have on the Soviet space program?

Dr. Khrushchev: The impact of Korolev's death was disastrous. It is the same as if in the middle of the offensive you lose your Commander in Chief. So it was the same if in the middle of the Osterlids battle that Napoleon would have been shot. Maybe the French army would have been defeated, and everything would change. He was replaced with a very nice and very knowledgeable person, Mishin. But Mishin was not the manager, he was more a scientist, and he could not put together all these people. He could not manage with the government; he could not even put together all his own people, because all of them now became equal. And they began to quarrel with each other at a time when they should have worked very hard. I think it was the crucial point.

How did it happen in the planning society in the centralized economy that nobody calculated how much each site of the S7 ICBM would cost? When it appeared that it would cost half a billion rubles my father told them that was not acceptable for us, that it would bankrupt us. America will take over us without any war. And so he cancelled these installations, except four sites in North Russia.

Interviewer: After it was launched, Karimov says to us that Korolev kept saying to him, "Don't worry we know they are going to launch a spy satellite, but I'll give you one as well." And of course they just used the same, the Vostock capsules.

Dr. Khrushchev: The guided launch?

Interviewer: It wasn't until after Gagarin had actually launched.

Dr. Khrushchev: It happened because Korolev's priority was the manned flight. Khrushchev's priority was also the manned flight. He worried so much about the Americans; it was part of the routine military development, one more satellite, one more spy, one more plane.

When we talk about my fathers feeling toward the reconnaissance satellite, it's very different than the Americans. Because the Americans, who all the time were protected by the ocean, cared more about technical capability of the strike, how many weapons you have, and then will you decide to launch them or not. Khrushchev was the war, the old Soviets they think more about the decisions in the White House. Will they decided to do this or not? So the reconnaissance satellite was released before the manned flight but Korolev was much more interested in the manned flight. Khrushchev was also much more interested in the manned flight, and the reconnaissance satellite in our country was on the routine list of the military designs, it's one more plane, one more submarine; the first reconnaissance satellite was not the first priority.

Interviewer: Briefly can you talk about President Kennedy's program, and could you relate that to Khrushchev's concern over the expense of the N1?

Dr. Khrushchev: It was two proposals, which came from the American side of the corporation in the moon project. First in Vienna in 1960, and my father rejected this because he thought that through this the Americans could find out how weak we were, and maybe it would push them to begin a war. Then in the August of 1963, President Kennedy met with the Soviet Ambassador Dobrinyin, and then he spoke to the United Nations. He offered once more to join the efforts, and at that time my father was very serious. I walked with him, sometime in late October or November, and he told me about all these things. He told me that we have to think about this and maybe accept this idea. I asked why they would know everything, our secrets? He said it's not important. The Americans can design everything they want. It is a very well developed country, but we will have to save money. It's very expensive. And I think he thought at the time of the costs of the N1 and all other things. If it would be a joint venture with the Americans, then it would be much cheaper. He thought also of the political achievement of all these things, that then they would begin to trust each other much more. After the Cuban missile crisis, his trust with President Kennedy was raised very high. He thought that it's possible to deal with this President, he didn't think that they could be friends, but he really wanted to avoid the war, so through this co-operation they could sojourn their thoughts on these achievements.

Now when we are looking back to the Soviet achievement of space, and especially in this set period when the Russian program was declining and the Russian economy declining, I think that we still were very proud of this. Because it is like Christopher Columbus who discovered America and opened the New World to everybody. Even when Spain declined, it was still the achievement. We know Christopher Columbus much more than any Spanish King, so I think Korolev will be in the memory of the world as the Christopher Columbus of space. In reality, the best decision was not to race America to the moon.

When we talk about the race to the moon, and how it could affect the military and the economy, it was the best decision of the Soviet Union not to race to the moon. I think that if my father stayed in power a little bit longer, he would cancel all of this program. He told me many times we cannot compete with America when their economy is several times bigger than ours, so we have to choose some directions. And his direction was housing and agriculture, not the moon. If he could be the first on the Moon for free he would be happy to do this, but he was not ready to pay for it. I think this was a very realistic idea because the Soviet Union would spend this money, and he was trying to save money. It was why he did not reach the goal, and they lost everything. I think it is very important to understand when you have to stop.

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