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Chertok, Boris Yevseyevich
Credit: © Mark Wade
Pioneering Russian guidance and control engineer, key member of Korolev's design team 1946-1992. Deputy Chief Designer 1956-1992, created Soyuz and N1 LV control systems. His frank biography is a key source for Soviet space history.

Born: 1912-03-01. Died: 2011-12-14.

Boris Chertok was a talented and pioneering guidance and control engineer, and a key member of Korolev's team from 1946 on. He was a Deputy Chief Designer 1956-1992 at Korolev's design bureau and its successors. He was an intimate witness to the key events of the space race on the Soviet side, and his memoirs are a major historical source for Soviet space history.

Chertok was born in Lodz, the son of an accountant. The family moved to Moscow before Boris reached the age of two. Chertok began his working career at age 17 as an electrician. However he was fascinated by electronics, and despite his lack of higher education he began work at an avionics factory in 1930. His talent was recognized, and he began a university education in parallel with his work. By 1935 he was head of a design office, and played a key role in developing and supporting the electronics for Soviet polar expeditions. He received his formal degree in 1940 and began work on guidance and control systems at V F Bolkhovitinov's bureau. Chertok's first work in rocketry came with his involvement in design of the ignition and control system for the BI-1 rocketplane's engine.

In April 1945 was assigned to the special group that was tasked with obtaining German rocket technology for the Soviet Union. He worked in Germany until January 1947, famously missing a chance to obtain Wernher Von Braun's services for the Soviet Union. Here he came in contact with Sergei Korolev. He was assigned to Korolev's NII-88 institute in August 1946, beginning his lifelong career as Korolev's chief deputy for rocket and spacecraft control and guidance systems.

In this position Chertok became a key participant in the Soviet Union's space program. Following work on the celestial navigation system for long range cruise missiles, he worked on the control systems for the world's first ICBM, the R-7, and then the first manned spacecraft, the Vostok, Voskhod, and Soyuz. He was responsible for the KORD engine control system for the ill-fated N1 super booster for the disastrous Soviet manned lunar program. After that project was cancelled in 1974, Chertok remained at the reorganized Energia enterprise as Deputy Chief Designer for control systems until his retirement in 1992.

Chertok received the highest honors from the Soviet and Russian states, and also served as a university lecturer in his specialties. He was the author of over 200 scholarly papers. His four volumes of memoirs, 'Rockets and Men', were written in the 1990's and span the period from 1946 to 1991.

Most fascinating are Chertok's accounts of key meetings where decisions were made on the course of the Soviet program. These are extremely lively and seem to be taken from contemporary notes or even verbatim transcripts. These were rough-and-tumble sessions, where the Chief Designers were pressed to defend their projects.

Country: Russia. Bibliography: 367, 5260.
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Credit: © Mark Wade


1912 March 1 - .
  • Birth of Boris Yevseyevich Chertok - . Nation: Russia. Related Persons: Chertok. Pioneering Russian guidance and control engineer, key member of Korolev's design team 1946-1992. Deputy Chief Designer 1956-1992, created Soyuz and N1 LV control systems. His frank biography is a key source for Soviet space history..

1964 September 16 - .
  • Baikonur abuzz - . Nation: Russia. Related Persons: Chertok, Khrushchev, Tsybin. Program: Voskhod. Flight: Voskhod 1. Spacecraft Bus: Vostok. Spacecraft: Voskhod.

    The cosmodrome is a beehive of activity, not just for the unmanned Voskhod launch, now set for 18 September, but also for the impending visit of Premier Khrushchev on 24 September. Meanwhile Tsybin, Chertok, Kholodkov, and Vinokur are hurriedly implementing and testing changes made to the landing system as a result of the failures at Fedosiya. This will likely slip the mannequin launch to the end of September.

1964 September 18 - .
  • Voskhod State Commission - . Nation: Russia. Related Persons: Chertok, Kerimov, Korolev, Mrykin, Rudenko, Tyulin. Program: Voskhod. Flight: Voskhod 1. Spacecraft Bus: Vostok. Spacecraft: Voskhod.

    The State Commission meets at Baikonur. Chertok advises that the failure of the parachute hatch to jettison in the trials in Fedosiya was due to a serious defect in the schematics of the electrical layout and will not occur again. Korolev declares he is ready to certify Voskhod ready for the final drop test at Fedosiya but would prefer to delay the launch of the spacecraft with mannequins until after the Fedosiya test. The state commission finally agrees to reschedule the launch from 28-30 September, subject to a successful test at Fedosiya on 24-25 September.

    Aftrwards Tyulin calls Korolev, Mrykin, Kerimov, Rudenko, and Kamanin aside. He tells them the Communist Party and Soviet Ministers have now taken a personal interest in the crew selection for Voskhod. Korolev and Kamanin bitterly debate their competing preferred crews.

1965 March 12 - .
  • Cosmos 60 - . Nation: Russia. Related Persons: Chertok, Ishlinskiy, Kamanin, Keldysh, Kerimov, Korolev, Rudenko.

    At 13:00 the State Commission meets at the launch pad. All work is complete, and the approval to launch the E-6 robot probe to the moon is given. Keldysh takes the opportunity to confront Rudenko by asking him, who will manage the manned flights to the moon - the VVS or the Rocket Forces? Kerimov replies that this is a function of the VVS. Ishilinskiy, Kamanin, and Kerimov hope very much to be the first commander of a spaceport on the moon... The Lunik is launched successfully into earth parking orbit, but the fourth stage fails to ignite when the moment comes to launch it towards the moon. This is the sixth Lunik not to make it anywhere near its objective; together with the 100% failure rate of the planetary probes, there have been 10 failures. Kamanin believes this points to the absolute necessity of the crew being in control at all times during a manned lunar flight, as opposed to Korolev's insistent reliance on fully automatic systems. Korolev is greatly disturbed by this latest failure, and appoints Chertok to head the investigation.

1966 March 18 - .
1966 March 23 - .
  • Acting director Mishin held a brainstorming session with this top managers to address "...our inconsistent lunar program". - . Related Persons: Mishin, Chertok. Spacecraft: Block D, Soyuz, Soyuz 7K-L1, Soyuz 7K-LOK, Soyuz 7K-OK, Soyuz Kontakt.

    He noted then-current contradictory approaches: 1. Return to a two-launch scheme (podsadka, as baseline); 2. Keep with direct landing; 3. Use a Block D with storable propellants; 4. Use the 7K-OK as the designated return spacecraft. He noted that the L1 program was a diversion for the bureau to the core objective of landing a cosmonaut on the moon (the L3 program). Among the advantages of continuing with the L1, he noted that it "Utilizes the 7K-OK" - evidently there was no purpose for the spacecraft beyond the L1 mission in the podsadka scenario. He asks for frank opinions from his managers. V Rauschenbach noted that they "..have to do the L-1 and therefore we will have to use a 2-launch scheme based on the L1-S". BE Chertok: discussed the rendezvous and docking systems for the various spacecraft: L1-S - "Igla"; LOK - "Kontakt" (since "Igla" cannot be used on the LOK (due to mass considerations); or a new system for the LOK. (Mishin Diaries 1-226) Here we have an indication that the L1 podsadka version did use the Igla system, which makes complete sense, since the Soyuz 7K-OK missions conducted dress rehearsals for podsadka using this system to rendezvous and dock two 7K-OK spacecraft in earth orbit.

1968 February 1 - .
  • The LKR rescue lunar lander plan was disclosed to the other Chief Designers. - . Related Persons: Mishin, Chertok, Ryazanskiy. Spacecraft: Soyuz Kontakt, LK, LKR.

    Chertok compared the "Kontakt" and "Liga" systems, and noted that the "Liga" elements in the control loop control system simplified LK landing. MS Ryazanskiy noted that this contradicted a decision two years ago to have the LK make an autonomous landing on the moon (LK homing on and landing near a beacon was postponed at that time). But AS Mnatsanakyan supported the approach, saying it was necessary to speed up the development of the "Liga"; it provided a precision landing on the moon within 50 to 100 m of the target. (Mishin Diaries 2-120).

1969 January 29 - .
  • Debate on post-Apollo 8 Soviet priorities. - . Related Persons: Mishin, Chertok, Feoktistov, Okhapkin, Bezverby, . Spacecraft: MKBS, TOS, TMK.

    SO Okhapkin: I do not agree with the first part of the speech of VP Mishin. We accepted obligations and have not fulfilled them. We deceived the Central Committee and the government with the second part of the performance agreement. These will have terrible consequences (no communication satellites or MKBS, etc.)
    KP Feoktistov: Orientation toward Mars - is correct. We will achieve Mars - and the moon, and the TOS heavy space station. The OKB should complete the ordered spacecraft, all the systems, and ordered launch vehicles... the TMK - for Mars, the Moon and the MKBS (cover for weapons systems development)
    Chertok: It is good that the program proposed by the Soviet of Chief Designers was approved unanimously. Big manned spacecraft to Mars (and from that to derive standard modules with automatic options for Earth manned flights.) MKBS - for defense purposes.
    VK Bezverby: Use EYaRD nuclear electric propulsion for deep space missions and MKBS (for defense purposes). (Mishin Diaries 2-162)

1969 July 21 - .
  • Soviet space managers watched the Apollo 11 flight on the television at TsNIImash. - . Related Persons: Mishin, Chertok.

    Chertok recalled: "After the happy conclusion of the lunar expedition, Tyulin proposed stopping by the director s office. There, over a glass of cognac, he said: "This is all Chertok s fault. In 1945 he came up with a scheme to snatch von Braun from the Americans and didn't manage to pull it off". Chertok replied bitterly: "And it s a very good thing that Vasya Kharchev and I failed in that undertaking. Von Braun would have sat for some time in our country uselessly on an island, and then he would have been sent to the GDR, where as a former Nazi he wouldn't have been cleared to work anywhere. And so with the help of the Americans, he fulfilled not only his own dream, but also that of all mankind".

1970 July 26 - .
  • Organize the work of designers (those needed and useful) for blocks Sr, S and MKBS. - . Related Persons: Mishin, Chertok, Bushuyev, Bushuyev, Feoktistov, Okhapkin. Spacecraft: , MKBS. Okhapkin, Bushuyev Chertok, Bezverby, Kolyako, Feoktistov, Timchenko, Legostaev - have to involved. (Mishin Diaries 2-300).

1971 April 24 - .
  • Landing of Soyuz 10 - . Return Crew: Rukavishnikov, Shatalov, Yeliseyev. Nation: Russia. Related Persons: Chertok, Mishin, Rukavishnikov, Shatalov, Yeliseyev. Program: Salyut. Flight: Soyuz 10. Spacecraft Bus: Soyuz. Spacecraft: Soyuz 7KT-OK.

    Only a night landing on Soviet territory was possible, which meant the spacecraft could not be oriented for retrofire. The landing commission started planning for an emergency landing in South America, Africa, or Australia. But Shatalov reported the gyroscopes and orientation sensors were functioning well. He proposed that he orient on the dayside, spin up the gyro platform, and let the gyros orient the spacecraft on the nightside for retrofire. The plan is followed and the spacecraft was targeted for a landing area 80-100 km southwest of Karaganda.

    PVO radars pick up the capsule as it soars over the Caspian Sea, and a Mi-4 helicopter sights the parachute even before it thumps down, upright, on the steppes. During the landing, the Soyuz air supply became toxic, and Rukavishnikov was overcome and became unconscious. Nevertheless the crew safely landed at 23:40 GMT, 120 km NW of Karaganda. At the cosmodrome, Chertok is assigned to head a special commission to find the cause of the docking failure and correct it before the next mission can be launched. The VVS aircraft leaves at 07:00 for Moscow. Mishin was to accompany the VPK on their aircraft back, but he is drunk and has to go separately at 15:00. The Soyuz 10 crew reaches Chkalovsky Air Base at 14:00 on 26 April and proceed to Star City for further debriefings. Film and photos indicated that the docking system on the Salyut was not damaged, setting the stage for the Soyuz 11 mission.

1971 May 10 - .
  • Cause of Soyuz 10's failure to dock. - . Nation: Russia. Related Persons: Chertok. Program: Salyut. Flight: Soyuz 10, Soyuz 11. Spacecraft Bus: Soyuz. Spacecraft: Soyuz 7KT-OK.

    A sunny day in Moscow. Chertok's investigative commission has found that the likely cause of Soyuz 10's failure to dock was a dented sleeve on the active part of the docking mechanism. In repeated tests the sleeve bent at 130 kg force 60% of the time. The real force of docking was estimated at 160 to 200 kg. Therefore for Soyuz 11 and subsequent models the sleeve will be reinforced by a factor of two. The crew will also be given the capability of steering the docking probe and of operating the orientation engine to improve the chances of docking when difficulties do occur.

1971 September 29 - .
  • MKBS details are being analyzed. - . Related Persons: Mishin, Chertok, Afanasyev, Sergei, Bezverby, . Spacecraft: , MKBS.

    Chertok, Bezverby VK - Discussed the docking systems for heavy modules (MKBS). The draft decree for the station, however, is stuck in reviews by the leadership: "Called Afanasyev- Status of the draft decree on MKBS (lies with Rabinovich). The draft decree on development of greater power (the letter is with Slavsky EP). (Mishin Diaries 2-346)

1972 June 16 - .
  • Mishin notes problems with 7KS at Omsk and the rationale for continued testing of Kontak. - . Related Persons: Mishin, Chertok. Spacecraft: Soyuz, Soyuz 7K-OK, Soyuz Kontakt, MKBS, Soyuz 7K-S.

    "1. Klyucharev VM: Omsk plant (Director Kolupaev) - Delayed production of 7KS living compartments. ZEM - develop work and schedules to recover schedule for completion of 7KS modules. 2. Chertok: 7K-OK number 18 - rework using the proulsion system from number 36. Work on "Kontakt" to continue, as it can be used in the MKBS'.

1972 June 16 - .
  • The reason for continuing with development of the L3 Kontakt docking system even after the L3 was cancelled was that it was to be used in MKBS. - . Related Persons: Mishin, Chertok. Spacecraft: Soyuz, Soyuz 7K-OK, Soyuz Kontakt, MKBS. The note reads: Chertok - 7K-OK number 18 - rework using the propulsion system from number 36. Work on "Kontakt" to continue, as it can be used in the MKBS)..

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