18: Vostok rocket assembly line

Although he was a driven man, under intense pressure, the testimony of everyone who came into contact with him suggests that Korolev took very seriously his responsibilities towards the young men who had volunteered to risk their lives for him. It seems he took a shine to Yuri right from the start. Was he already thinking that the first man in space was going to have to be more than just a physically fit and competent pilot? That he would have to be somebody with the resilience and adaptability to cope not only with the flight, but the celebrity that would come with it?
The row of ‘Vostok’ capsules is there to emphasise that Korolev was running what amounted to a rocket factory, an assembly line. This was the reason why he was able to launch satellite after satellite, test after test, and ultimately, probes to the moon and planets, with a rapidity that was horrifying to the Americans.

The bare Vostok modules also dramatise the shock of the ‘Little Eagles’ on confronting them for the first time. These were pilots, used to aeroplanes, things that had a recognisable geometry of front and back, up and down. Flight without wings, or even rotor blades was an unprecedented idea.

The spherical shapes of the Vostok craft are a result of practical engineering decisions. A sphere is the strongest shape for a pressure vessel, as it means the forces are distributed evenly over the whole surface. Soviet industry may have lacked some of the advanced materials the Americans were developing, but their engineers had a way of getting high performance out of what they had by careful design. If the Americans had done this, they would probably have called it ‘Yankee Ingenuity’.

This entry was posted in Making a Graphic Novel, Sergei Korolev, The Book, The Space Race, Vostok Rocket design, Yuri Gagarin, Yuri's Flying Machines. Bookmark the permalink.

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