MIT Lecturer Vyacheslav Gerovitch on Sergei Korolev’s design bureau, the leadership of the Soviet cosmonauts, and thinking outside the box in space
Why was the proposal for manual control over the release of backup parachute rejected? What force governed the space program in the USSR? Lecturer in History of Mathematics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology Vyacheslav Gerovitch explains the emergency situation in 1965 during the flight – Voskhod 2.
Why the Soviet cosmonauts were not able to give a meaningful input into on design of critical systems on their spacecraft? At the very same time American astronauts were actually making the very same proposal. They were not descending on an individual parachute, they were descending inside their capsule, but their parachutes also were deployed, also there was a main and a backup parachute, and the astronauts also insisted on giving them control over the release of the backup parachute, and they did get that.
Unlike the United States where the space program was managed by a single government organization, NASA, in the Soviet Union there was not any essential government agency responsible for the space program. This may sound surprising, knowing how many government agencies there were in the Soviet Union, but there was no agency for space.
The space engineers conceptualized the spacecraft, the place for a cosmonaut inside that spacecraft. They viewed the spacecraft as a complex technological system with unreliable components. And one of those unreliable components was a cosmonaut. The engineers were very concerned with measuring reaction times and various technical parameters of the functioning of the cosmonaut, and what they wanted from the cosmonaut was to act predictably and to fit well into that technological system.