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Russia Celebrates 100th Birthday Of Space Pioneer

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) speaks with Natalya Koroleva, a daughter of Academician Sergei Korolev as Russian Space Agency chief Anatoly Perminov looks at them before a ceremony commemorating the centenary of Soviet pioneering rocket scientist and designer Sergei Korolev in Moscow's Kremlin palace, 12 january 2006. Russia marked Friday the 100th anniversary of the birth of Soviet space programme founder Sergei Korolev, the man behind iconic breakthroughs in space exploration including the Sputnik satellite and the first man in orbit. Photo courtesy AFP
by Victoria Loginova
Moscow (AFP) Jan 12, 2007
Russia marked Friday the 100th anniversary of the birth of Soviet space programme founder Sergei Korolev, the man behind iconic breakthroughs in space exploration including the Sputnik satellite and the first man in orbit. A concert was held at the Korolev ground control centre just outside Moscow and flowers laid at the space pioneer's grave, which lies alongside those of other prominent Soviet men under the Kremlin's wall on Red Square.

President Vladimir Putin said at a Kremlin ceremony that Korolev was "not only a brilliant scientist. He was a true pioneer, author of the first great victory of space conquest."

There was also a tribute, via videolink, from the current crew on the International Space Station.

Korolev, who was born in 1907 and died in 1966, was the brains behind many landmark Soviet space advances at a time when keeping a step ahead of the US programme was not only of professional, but of huge ideological importance.

Korolev -- who as a result of obsessive state secrecy was virtually unknown to the Soviet public while alive -- masterminded the 1957 launch of the world's first satellite, the Sputnik, as well as the first manned space voyage in 1961.

He also designed the R-7 inter-continental ballistic rocket, which was the precursor to the Soyuz rocket -- to this day the key workhorse for taking humans to the International Space Station.

Former colleague Vakhtang Vachnadze, 77, who participated in building the Mir space station, said Korolev's dedication was visionary. "He always looked to the future. He told us: 'Space is not empty. It contains huge reserves of energy that we must use properly for the good of humanity."

But, incredibly for someone who rose to the top of such a politically sensitive industry, Korolev almost died young at the hands of the state he served.

In 1938, at the height of Stalin's paranoia-fueled mass repression, Korolev was accused of economic sabotage and sentenced to six years in the Gulag.

For several months he was subjected to inhuman conditions working as a gold miner in the notorious Kolyma facility, effectively a death camp for tens of thousands of Soviet prisoners.

His life was saved with a move to a special prison for scientists, where he continued his work, albeit under close scrutiny, but only winning formal rehabilitation during the Khrushchev thaw of 1957, six months before the historic Sputnik launch.

Despite the historical flavour of the occasion Friday, Russians emphasised that the space programme was looking to an ever-more ambitious future.

"Going to Mars via the Moon -- that's our leitmotif today," said Nikolai Sevastyanov, who succeeded Korolev at the head of the RKK Energiya company, which builds the Soyuz and Progress space vessels.

Part of this spectacular project is to explore the Moon for Helium-3, a substance that is hoped could provide an alternative fuel source to oil and gas on Earth.

As Vachnadze said: "The 21st century will pose great challenges on energy and cataclysmic climate change. We must use space research to save humanity."

One key element in this new wave of space travel will again come from Russia in the form of the Clipper, which will replace the Soyuz, and the Parom cargo vessel, which will replace the Progress.

There are also battles today that Korolev would not be able to recognise.

"Today, state support for the space sector and for science in Russia is negligible," said one of Korolev's former deputies, Boris Chertok, 94. "If I was president I would fire all these ministers in charge of the economy. We have had enormous losses in science over the last years. But one has to be an optimist."

Source: Agence France-Presse

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