"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."
Vassily P. Mishin
Interviewer: Describe your initial impression when you first saw German missile technology?
Vassily Mishin: For the first time, we became familiar with the German rocket technology at the end of 1944, when our troops occupied a range near Dembitse, where Germans performed training firings before shooting against England. Because these rockets were not perfected, they broke up in the area of impact, and, partially, they were not even broken up, but fell into swamps, with certain damages, but well enough preserved. According to one of memoirs by Polish patriots, which they gave in a book published in Germany, they delivered one of these missiles on Dakota aircraft to London.
We were struck by the fact that these rockets were of large enough size compared to rockets, which were at that time developed in the Soviet Union. But most of all we were struck by -- that these large rockets were perfected to the level of combat application against England. At that time in our corners, there was an opinion, propagated by future Academician V.P. Glushko, that only 300 kilograms of thrust could be obtained from one combustion chamber. Yet, German rockets possessed a liquid rocket engine with a combustion chamber, which gave about 25 tons, 25000 kilograms. That struck us very much. And, accordingly, we were struck by the dimensions of this large rocket, which carried a rather large warhead and could deliver substantial damage to the targets, which were fired on by these rockets.
Interviewer: Describe physical conditions of the facilities, etc. when they started mastering of German technologies in 1946?
Vassily Mishin: Later, when we were sent to Germany to study this rocket technology, we were struck by the swath of development of this technology in Germany at the end of the war. We were stricken by that production, serial production, which was deployed in Germany before the end of the war. Just one plant in Nordhausen, underground plant, could issue 1000 rockets per month. In case -- if these rockets would be perfected to a proper condition, that would represent a huge threat not only to England, but to the Soviet Union as well.
Having returned back from the Germany to the Soviet Union, we were given a task to reproduce production of these rockets. It must be straightly said that our industry was not ready for production of these rockets. Moreover, we got very little sound information, because most of this information was shipped to the United States or hidden by the Germans. We had to pick up this information by tiny pieces, and, based on this insufficient information, we arranged production.
It must be said that the war with the German Fascism destroyed our industry. Leaders of the aviation industry managed to prove that production of rockets is not their business, and it was given to other branches of industry, which, generally speaking, were not ready for that. Everybody knows the historical decree about development of the rocket technology in the Soviet Union. In accordance with which, D.F. Ustinov was appointed as a Minister of Armaments, which was given responsibility for production of these rockets. And the plant, which should have produced these rockets, was located in Podlivki, now Korolev town, and when I arrived to this plant from Germany, I was struck by the circumstance that the plant was not prepared for production of these rockets. It had to be started literally from zero, from organization of this production and from reproduction of that insufficient information, which was required for production of these rockets.
Is it fair to say that as early as in 1949-50, Korolev was thinking about human space flight and used surplus military missiles to launch animals, etc? The main dream of Korolev in his short life was sending a human into space. Therefore, all his efforts in the creation of rockets for military purposes were directed to the preparation of sending humans into space alongside with the creation of these combat rockets. Therefore, along with the creation of a series of long-range ballistic missiles, he studied high layers of atmosphere -- there was very little information about these high layers of atmosphere. And, at the same time a group of scientists became interested in studies of these highest levels of atmosphere with the help of so-called geophysical rockets, created on the basis of combat long-range rockets. Therefore, every combat missile was modified into a geophysical rocket for studies of the highest layers of atmosphere with the help of automatic instruments and live creatures, primarily dogs.
Interviewer: When you were building R-7, did Korolev know that he is building a rocket, which will also be capable of sending a human to space; was it actually his objective?
Vassily Mishin: It was clear to Korolev and his collaborators, while obtaining the task for the creation of intercontinental ballistic missiles, that it will be capable of sending a human into space. But, while sending humans into space, the most complicated task is to return him back from space to Earth. Creation of a warhead for this combat ICBM, which had to be delivered to the target in operational condition, facilitated for us the solution of this task.
Interviewer: When you were building the R-7 as an ICBM did you feel genuinely threatened by America?
Vassily Mishin: During development of the R-7 intercontinental ballistic missile for us, Korolev and his collaborators, it was clear that this was the only means for delivery of nuclear and thermonuclear warheads to the territory of United States. Because at that time, no other kind of transportation means provided delivery of these charges down to the territory of the USA, while the Soviet Union was surrounded by a network of Naval and Air Force bases along the borders of the Soviet Union, from which such nuclear charges could be delivered down to any important administrative center of the Soviet Union. It was absolutely clear to us at that time that the creation of ICBMs was vitally important for assuring -- well, defence capability of the Soviet Union. And that inspired us, gave us enthusiasm for the creation of such a rocket.
Interviewer: What was Korolev's mood just before launching Sputnik? Was he excited?
Vassily Mishin: During the perfection of ICBMs, certain difficulties were met with delivery of combat charges to a target. The task of delivering this charge into space was solved. So, it was decided, during testing in the framework of perfecting of the ICBM, to launch an artificial satellite of the earth. And, simultaneously, with the development of the R7 rocket -- from the very beginning such a satellite was being developed. But because in the process of development certain difficulties were met, the idea emerged, idea of Korolev's, about the creation of the simplest satellite, so called PS, in the process of perfecting the ICBM. And such a satellite, in a very short time, during a month, was developed after the successful launch of ICBM R7 into space -- meaning, along the ballistic trajectory, without successful recovery. The launch of the first artificial satellite was initially accepted as not an historical event, but as a competition between the United States and the Soviet Union. The United States at that time had widely advertised that they will be the first to launch an artificial satellite into space under the Vanguard program. But the United States, during the creation of this satellite, also got into certain difficulties with the insertion of it by the rocket. They did not have such a heavy rocket as the R-7. And there was a number of other reasons which did not allows the U.S. to be the first to launch an artificial satellite of the Earth. But I emphasize, once again, that the launch of the simplest satellite itself was not treated by us as some historical event which would overturn -- which would have such a huge importance, which the launch of the first A.S.E [Artificial Satellite of Earth] had in reality. The launch of the simplest satellite with the help of ICBM R7 in the process of perfecting this rocket was not considered, initially, as some very important historical event, which will have some very big importance for the further development of cosmonautics.
Interviewer: Tell us the story about being called back from vacation to build Sputnik 2.
Vassily Mishin: The highest leadership of the Soviet Union, Central Committee of the Party, Council of Ministers, underestimated the importance of launch of the first A.S.E. And only after the global public expressed its opinion about the role of launching this satellite in the S.U., our leadership understood that this launch should be widely used for propaganda purposes. And therefore, after we launched this satellite and left to rest different points of our country, the task was issued for the launch of the second simple satellite by the next anniversary of the Great October Revolution.
I can also add that Korolev was given the task to launch, by the anniversary of the October Revolution, a new satellite. He called us back from vacation. And that launch of the second satellite of earth, PS-2, occurred. It was performed on 3 November, 1957.
Interviewer: After the success of Sputnik 1,2,3 etc., did some of the other designers and the military begin to -- how did the split between Korolev and Glushko get started, was it motivated by technical or personal issues as well?
Vassily Mishin: I can only tell my opinion on this subject. I think that for Glushko V. P. the appointment of Korolev as a leading designer of combat missile complexes was a surprise. This is the first reason for their discrepancies. The second reason is that V.P. underestimated the role of cryogenic components of rocket fuel for the further development of cosmonautics. He mainly was interested in the development of only military rocket technology. And the main disagreement was revealed later than launch of the first satellites, during the creation of spacecraft for the fly-by of the moon by a human and the landing of an expedition to the moon.
Interviewer: Did the two men like each other?
Vassily Mishin: Well, it is very difficult to answer this question. I would divide this into two periods. In the first period, Glushko and Korolev, so to say, were friends. That was an initial period. Later, during development of a lunar program, their paths went different ways. Korolev stood for the use of cryogenic components of rocket fuels, while Glushko stood on positions of using for these purposes liquid rocket engines on hypergolic components. That meant that the creation of such rockets was, well, less efficient.
Interviewer: What was Korolev's mood before Gagarin's launch?
Vassily Mishin: One must understand Korolev. Naturally, he was nervous before that launch, because sending a human into space linked with his necessary return back to Earth alive and, well, healthy -- sending a human into space at that time -- that could be only done by Korolev. He understood that whatever measures he would take to ensure success of such a launch, risk still remained.
Interviewer: How did you or Korolev sleep the night before -- details?
Vassily Mishin: At that time we lived with Korolev together, at the so-called House of Chief Designer at Baykonur. Well, for me personally, it was the next launch of the ICBM for the accumulation of statistics of this rocket at the powered phase of its flight. Therefore I, maybe, was less nervous than Korolev, because I did not understand at that time the responsibility, which he carried during the launch of this satellite. After the launch everybody knew Gagarin, while Korolev became known only after his death. Although, it should have been done visa versus, because, if there would not be Korolev, there would not be Gagarin. It needed sureness and decisiveness, which Korolev possessed. I personally would not venture for such a launch at that time.
There wouldn't be a launch of the first satellite in our country unless there was Korolev. The launch of a human, Yuri Gagarin -- all the world knew Yuri Gagarin after the launch, but it did not know the man who provided the launch of this man. If there wouldn't be Korolev, there wouldn't be Gagarin either. Because to perform and to ensure success of launching a human into space -- could only be done having brevity and decisiveness, which Korolev possessed. I, at that time, would not venture for the launch of Gagarin into space, because risk in success -- of un-success in this launch--still remained. Unfortunately, the name of Korolev had become known only after his death. That it was him, who was the, so to say, enthusiasm and the author of launching the first A.S.E. into space and the first human into space.
Interviewer: What was the personal impact to you of the secrecy?
Vassily Mishin: Secrecy, which ruled at that time around these works, it certainly interfered with work, and Korolev and I felt that. Secrecy, which surrounded all works on rocket technology at that time, it interfered with our work, and we along with Korolev clearly felt that, because we did not have enough information about activity, about the work of our collaborators.
Interviewer: Did you really feel like you were in a race to the moon in 1962, 1963?
Vassily Mishin: Well, naturally all the work in rocket technology was done in the direction of competition of the two -- in that time -- two systems, the Capitalist and the Socialist, and in the first place competition between the S.U., and U.S.A. After launchings of the first satellites and the first human into space, having subverted prestige of the U.S., they were forced to think about the return of that prestige to themselves. And then the President of the U.S., I think it was Kennedy, made, in my opinion, a very right move. He considered that a launch by the U.S. of an A.S. would be a repeat of works, which are performed in the Soviet Union, while flight to the moon would require huge resources, which were not up to the Soviet Union at that time. We believed that we were "ahead of all the planet," and that we will bypass U.S. in launching humans to the moon as well. But desires are one thing, while opportunities are another, because opportunities of the S.U., the people, were exhausted after the hard war of launching the first satellites and the first human into space.
Objectively speaking, we, at that time, believed that we can make it ahead of the U.S. in the landing of an expedition to the moon. But desires are one thing, while opportunities are another thing, so to say. But opportunities of the S.U. were exhausted after launching the first satellites and first human into space. For launching to the moon one required tremendous resources and capacities of the industry, which our country could not allocate.
Interviewer: Did Korolev really believe that N-1 had a military value?
Vassily Mishin: The matter is that the military establishments are practically not interested in flight to the moon. They are interested in launching spacecraft into near-Earth space. They are not interested in launching spacecraft into far space. It is of interest to science and national economy, but this costs tremendous finances. Interests of the military and civilian and scientific agencies went different ways. The military must be somehow gotten interested in launching heavy rockets, and Korolev suggested to use the launch of heavy rockets for military purposes as well. Now maybe, well, views for application of military, combat rockets has somewhat changed, but at that time it was perceived that with one heavy rocket, one could hit several very important targets with large accuracy.
[Translation -- Mishin continues about link of that idea with modern concept of MIRVs]
Interviewer: Did Korolev feel under increasing pressure to deliver?
Vassily Mishin: Well, Korolev felt difficulties in his work, which were associated with the then existing system. He understood the necessity of his presence in further works. And therefore his premature death was heavily felt, although, I can straightly say, would he have stayed alive, Korolev would have been fired in half a year. Too complicated an environment was around Korolev at that time.
Interviewer: What was the situation?
Vassily Mishin: Well, successes of Korolev were based on military allocations. To strike the world, one has to conquer far space, while the military were not interested in mastering far space. And one thing is desires of rulers, while another is opportunities. Korolev felt that.
All the successes of Korolev in launching the first satellites, the first humans into space were linked to assignments for military purposes. For the exploration of far space additional allocations were needed in which the military are not interested at all.
Feelings of success with the Luna-9, which landed after his death -- he said before his death that the next one we will definitely land. The matter is that landing automated spacecraft on the moon is one task; landing of humans on the moon is absolutely another more complicated and laborious task, requiring creation of new means. In order to clean up a road for himself in piloted flights to far space, Korolev was forced to transfer works to other organizations in order to get occupied with development of piloted flights to far space.
Interviewer: After Korolev died, how did you feel personally being in charge?
Vassily Mishin: Well, first I did not rush to this post. I realised the environment and responsibility in which we remained after the death of Korolev. Part of these works I managed to achieve -- to perfect work on Soyuz, to create, well, long-term orbital stations -- so, works, linked with near Earth space. In works on far space, the military were not interested, and even works on N1-L3 linked to the landing of an expedition to the moon were backed by the military. They practically did not participate, except for the fact that the launch pads for launches of these heavy rockets located in Baykonur. And, moreover, the industry, ours and the organization of the industry, was not prepared for this most complicated work, and I had felt that on myself. I understood the responsibility, I took all the measures, but they were not enough. There were also mistakes, which could not be done only by one who does not do anything Glushko. But it is one thing to desire and another thing to implement.
Interviewer: After the first flyby of the moon, cosmonauts wanted to make the next one piloted. Why was that not done?
Vassily Mishin: Well, one has to accumulate statistics to make oneself sure about the reliability of these complexes. Only after accumulation of certain statistics one can proceed with a piloted launch. One must not launch a human into space if there is no certainty about his safe return back to Earth. And such statistics were later accumulated, and one could launch, and the material part was ready, but the decision was made not to launch, because the Americans had surpassed us in these launches and under a more complicated program.
Interviewer: By the time of Sond-5/6, did you still hope to beat the Americans to?
Vassily Mishin: No, there was no certainty. The matter is that, I believe, in my view, it was a huge mistake to develop in the Soviet Union two programs - a program of a lunar fly-by and a program of landing an expedition on the moon, not linked between each other. The Americans had a united program and fly-by of the moon by the crew was -- we initially had works proceeding in two separate collectives. Only later both these two themes had begun to be implemented. By the way, all these issues are discussed in details in my book "Why we had not flown to the moon."
Interviewer: In late 1968-1969, did you still feel that you are going to make it to the moon, maybe not ahead of Americans? When they were ready to launch it for the first time, what went through your mind?
Vassily Mishin: What I felt? That we will perform this program. The program of flight design testing of the N1-L3 complex envisioned twelve automatic launches with unpiloted spacecraft. And only on the 13th-14th launch it was planned to land an expedition with cosmonauts on the moon. That is, we thought it only possible to send a cosmonaut only after accumulating certain statistics. We launched only four rockets. Moreover, we experienced very large difficulties with the development of and perfection of rocket engines. Kuznetsov, who was forced to start his works from zero, because V.P. Glushko refused participation in work on the creation of liquid rocket engines on cryogenic components for the N1-L3 rocket. At the same time, both Chelomey and Yanguel made parallel developments with expeditions to the moon with the help of liquid rocket engines developed by Glushko on hypergolic components. But these works in early phases required more heavy rockets, 1.5-2 times heavier that N1. With the same payloads.
Interviewer: If Glushko had participated, would that have made a difference?
Vassily Mishin: That would not change the situation drastically. Anyway, we did not have enough capacities and financial means for completion of these works ahead of the U.S. Moreover, Kuzhnetsov was better qualified for solution of such tasks than design bureau of V.P. Glushko. He simply did not have enough time for perfecting the reliability of these engines. And, not incidentally, now, 40-years later, the Americans are buying these engines.
Interviewer: In July 1969, when the second N1 failed, what was your personal reaction?
Vassily Mishin: What! Certainly, a bad impression, a bad mood. We still hoped, after the first launch, for a more successful launch. But an imperfect engine screwed it up. And there are many of these engines; reliability is low. The system, for control of the work of the engines, at that time was imperfect.
Interviewer: What do you think of Luna-15 mission? Was it a good idea to pick up a sample before the Americans?
Vassily Mishin: I think, in general, landing of an expedition of humans on the moon was premature. The moon should have been first properly explored by automates. Everything what could be done with help of automates should be done with automates. It is cheaper and more reliable. So, what that the U.S. were the first to land on the moon? What did they get from that? Both for science and for the inhabitants of the U.S.? Nothing! What is written, that know-how was used because of the expedition to the moon? Well, if that same money which was spent on this expedition were allocated simply to the industry, would not these know-hows appear? They would be -- a proof of this is Japan, which did not send, did not implement an expedition to the moon, but it surpassed the Americans in the field of electronics, especially optics, and in the field of automobile building, Glushko.
Interviewer: What Korolev would have thought about Glushko running his design bureau?
Vassily Mishin: Well, I don't know this. In any case, when I was called upon -- first of all I refused, from development of Energia-Buran. It was initially suggested to make Buran with the engines of Glushko. I refused. When I was released from the duty, I believed that all -- that the Space Shuttle and Energia were mistaken projects, costly, which complicated the life of people both in the Soviet Union and in the U.S. In the U.S. these works now continue because "the train has already left," money has already been spent.
Interviewer: I heard somebody saying, "If Korolev knew that Glushko would run his department, he would turn over in his grave."
Vassily Mishin: Well, that was possibly said by an aide in the Academy of Sciences who knew Korolev. It was she, whom belonged to these words: "If Korolev knew, that Glushko would manage OKB-1, he would turn over in his coffin." I said the same to Ustinov, when I was being released. I said, "I understand everything, but I don't understand why Glushko is being appointed instead of me. He is a bad designer of engines, and he will never be a good chief designer of rocket complexes, because he is many years old, and it is too late to study."
Interviewer: Looking back, what do you think was achieved as a result of the Cold War, and what is Korolev's heritage for the whole of humankind?
Vassily Mishin: Well, still competition and the Cold War, it played a certain positive role in the development of other -- the Cold War played a certain role in the history of humankind. It resulted in the development of very important branches of industry in various countries, and first of all, in the U.S. and our country. Because successes, say in cosmonautics in our country, they could not be achieved if, in these successes other branches of science and industry had not participated. And in this respect this competition played a positive role. But it played a negative role as well. That these developments were mono-sided, directed to the side of politics rather than the side of enhancement of the life of the population, enhancement of the life of our peoples. That's what I can say.