Oleg Ivanovsky, Soviets’ Space-Age Designer, Dies at 92

Publié le par The New York Times Bruce Weber

Oleg Ivanovsky, a Russian engineer in the early years of the space race who helped design Sputnik, the first satellite to orbit Earth, and Vostok 1, the craft that carried the astronaut Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, died on Thursday. He was 92.

Oleg Ivanovsky, right, with Yuri Gagarin on April 12, 1961

Oleg Ivanovsky, right, with Yuri Gagarin on April 12, 1961

Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, announced the death without specifying a location or a cause.

In the 1950s, Mr. Ivanovsky was a technician in the Russian government agency devoted to designing advanced military equipment when he was recruited by the leader of the agency, Sergei Pavlovich Korolev, to join the design team for a satellite that would circumnavigate the globe.

“Initially I had my doubts; it was all very much unknown to me,” Mr. Ivanovsky recalled in a 2007 interview with a Dutch journalist, Bruno van Wayenburg, adding that Mr. Korolev, who would become known as the father of the Soviet space program, changed his mind by pointing out that space exploration was unknown to everybody. “Sergei Pavlovich said: ‘What do you think? We are going into space, to the moon and the planets. Do you think we have any experience? Don’t you think this is new for me?’ So then I said yes.”

Sputnik 1, as the satellite was called, was a metal sphere, 23 inches in diameter and weighing 184 pounds. Hauled into space on Oct. 4, 1957, by a Soviet R-7 rocket, it made 1,440 orbits of Earth over three months, its two radio transmitters emitting a distinctive “beep-beep-beep” sound that was picked up by ham radio operators around the world and, Mr. Ivanovsky said, sending encoded information about the flight to technicians on the ground.

The launch of Sputnik has been widely viewed as the start of the space race, embarrassing American scientists and alarming Americans of all stripes with the idea that their Cold War rival had leapt to technological and perhaps military superiority in a newly dangerous nuclear age.

Over the next dozen years the United States would gradually assert its primacy in space, landing men on the moon in 1969. But before the first American satellite was successfully sent into orbit — Explorer 1 in January 1958 — the Russians launched Sputnik 2, a craft large enough to accommodate a living inhabitant, the dog Laika, a clear harbinger of manned spaceflight. Laika died within a few hours of the launch.

“She died of overheating, but she gave much to biology,” Mr. Ivanovsky said. “We didn’t know if an animal could survive longer than a few minutes in weightlessness. But from the data from Sputnik 2, we could see that she moved, and even ate, after the launch.”

The first manned flight, on April 12, 1961, was rife with uncertainty. Rocket launchings were still viewed as new and dangerous; several test missions had failed; and a year earlier at the same launching site in what is now Kazakhstan where Gagarin would take off, a missile had exploded, killing 100 people.

The capsule, whose design team was led by Mr. Ivanovsky, was meant to be fully automatic, meaning the intrepid Gagarin was expected to be less a pilot than a passenger.

However, the effects on a man of the elements of travel beyond the atmosphere — isolation and especially weightlessness — were undetermined, and fears persisted that Gagarin might panic or go mad and seize manual control of the craft himself. So engineers added a security code that had to be entered on a keypad to allow Gagarin to seize manual control — and initially thought they would tell him the code via radio only if he demonstrated that he was in control of his faculties.

But an additional concern was that in an emergency, radio contact might well be lost. So, as Mr. Ivanovsky told the authors Jamie Doran and Piers Bizony for their book “Starman: The Truth Behind the Legend of Yuri Gagarin” (2011), they decided “that if he reached for an envelope placed inside the cabin, ripped it open, took out the paper and read the number printed on it, then pressed the keypad, this sequence of actions would prove he hadn’t lost his mind and was still answerable for his actions.”

“It was a dangerous comedy,” he said, “part of the silly secrecy we had in those days.”

Gagarin orbited the earth once, a trip lasting 108 minutes, and returned safely to earth near the Volga River. Shortly thereafter, President John F. Kennedy, under pressure to counteract the Soviet success — though documents made public years later indicate that the ship nearly spun out of control toward the end of the journey and that Gagarin was in danger — announced a plan to land an American on the moon by the end of the decade. Gagarin died in 1968 in an air accident on a routine training flight in a jet fighter.

Oleg Genrikhovich Ivanovsky was born in Moscow on Jan. 18, 1922. He fought in World War II and in 1945 took part in the victory parade in Red Square. After the war he went to work, initially as an errand boy, at OKB-1, the design agency run by Mr. Korolev. He later went to school at Moscow Power Engineering Institute, graduating in 1953.

After Mr. Korolev died in 1966 and the Soviet space program began to lose ground, Mr. Ivanovsky worked for Lavochkin, a Moscow-based military contractor and aerospace company that manufactures spacecraft.

Information about his survivors was unavailable.

Publié dans Avis de décès

Pour être informé des derniers articles, inscrivez vous :
Commenter cet article