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  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

Konstantin Feoktistov on the Spaceships of Today and Tomorrow, 1968

Konstantin Feoktistov in the Voskhod spaceship.

Konstantin Feoktistov was a Soviet space engineer and cosmonaut who had a truly remarkable career that really should have never happened at all.

When he was just 16 he was captured by the Germans while acting as a scout for the Red Army and was sentenced to be shot. The sentence was carried out but Feoktistov was only wounded in the neck and managed to survive by faking his death and escaping from a ditch where he had been dumped later in the evening.

After the war he went on to play a critical role as an engineer in the Soviet space program and was involved with the teams that designed the Sputnik satellites, the Vostok space capsule, the Voskhod space capsule, and the Soyuz space capsule.

As related by the Great Soviet Encyclopedia: "After working in various scientific research organizations, he became a cosmonaut in 1964. As a flight scientist, Feoktistov made a space flight on Oct. 12 and 13, 1964, aboard the multiseat spacecraft Voskhod, together with V. M. Komarov and B. B. Egorov. During the flight, Feoktistov flew around the earth 16 times, covering a distance of approximately 700,000 km."

In doing so he became the first civilian to go into space.

Among his many honours he was awarded the Lenin Prize, the Order of Lenin, the title of Hero of the Soviet Union and of Hero of Socialist Labour by Vietnam. There is also a crater on the far side of the moon named for him.

This interview with Feoktistov from 1968 looks at what he envisioned as the future when it came to spaceship design for trips to the Moon, Mars and Venus as well as for space station escape capsules and how space walks could be performed during multi-cosmonaut missions.

It provides a fascinating look at what the Soviets felt lay ahead in space travel at the dawn of the space exploration era.

Interview (Soviet Life, August 1968):

QUESTION: How important is the shape of a spaceship? How does it change with the progress of spacecraft construction?

ANSWER: The situation is somewhat different for a spacecraft than a plane, where the shape is determined by the laws of aerodynamics. After testing various arrangements. aircraft designers arrived at the monoplane shape, with wings up front and the tail assembly in the rear.

In outer space, where there is no air resistance, a craft can be practically any shape. Remember our sputniks and the lunar and interplanetary stations? They differed considerably. The shape and size of a spacecraft depend, first of all, on the nature and quantity of its scientific and service equipment.

This Is true to a degree of any type of ship. Spacecraft designers have a great deal of leeway here except for the shape of a re-entry vehicle, where they are limited. The consideration is whether it is desirable to have what is known as a gliding descent or a ballistic reentry.

For a spherical ship, like the Vostok and the reentry vehicle of the Venus-4 station, only a ballistic reentry is possible, since a purely spherical shape will be subject to drag, no matter which of Its sides is turned In the direction of the flight. The overload is regulated only by the angle of reentry.

In the case of another shape, let us say an inverted cone (the U.S. Gemini-type craft), the reentry vehicle might have a lift with a certain balance achieved by a proper location of the center of gravity. If a control system is also installed, it will be possible with this form of reentry vehicle to change the direction and volume of the lift and consequently to guide the descent trajectory and regulate overloads. Even with an aerodynamic quality of small values it is possible to have overloads no larger than 3 or 4 g, which is less than in launching a ship Into an orbit.

QUESTION: What do you think will be the difference between spaceships designed for the Moon and Mars or Venus?

ANSWER: The main difference will be in their power supplies, that is, in the rocket stages of the ship. The length of the flight will also be a factor. A return trip to the Moon will take from 10 to 15 days, while an expedition to Mars or Venus will take two or three years.

These two circumstances will determine the difference in shape and design. In my opinion lunar ships will be mainly using rocket stages burning chemical fuel — oxygen, hydrocarbon or any other chemical compound capable of producing sufficiently high specific Impulses. The chemical rocket stages will then take up the greater part of the weight and volume of a ship. If, for example, such a craft weighs from 100 to 200 tons on its orbital flight as an Earth satellite, it will weigh from five to seven tons on its return to the Earth. The rest will be scattered in the form of burnt-up fuel and used-up rocket stages somewhere along the Earth-Moon trajectory, in the area of the Moon and on the lunar surface.

Speaking of ships designed for trips to Mars or Venus, to reach the velocities needed for escaping from their Earth satellite orbits to the trajectory of flight toward the planet of destination, for braking and for entering the planet's orbit, it would seem more expedient, at present to use either ion or plasma jets. But the question immediately arises: Where will the electric power for the jets come from? Obviously the ship will have to carry a nuclear power unit with a great enough capacity. A lunar ship will therefore took like a modern rocket with a spacecraft in its nose part, while a spaceship designed for a trip to Mars or Venus will look more like "sails," with a power plant in one end and living quarters and Instrument compartments In the other.

The "sails" provide large radiation surfaces for the removal of unused power since the efficiency of a generator cannot be equal to 1.0.

QUESTION: What are the prospects for a single-seater?

ANSWER: It is hard to foresee any reason for building a single-seater spaceship. It was logical for the first flights since the designers were limited by the Possibilities of carrier rockets. But only ships designed for many people will be used In the future, I think.

The scope of work to be done in outer space will be considerable: research of various kinds and the assembly of orbital stations and laboratories, among other things. And I can see only an increase in this scope with time.

A single-seater would not even serve for trips between orbital stations and the Earth. A transport ship to carry replacement crews for orbital stations must obviously have a rather large capacity.

Perhaps the lifesaving capsules on a satellite station will be single-seaters or two-seaters. This needs further investigation. What I have in mind is some major trouble on a satellite station which forces the crew to leave in a hurry when there is no transport ship in the vicinity. Such lifesaving situations will have to be provided for. It might be advisable, for example, to have life-saving devices on the station. Cosmonauts will board them, find their bearings manually, switch on the brakes and descend to Earth. Such a capsule must not be large, of course.

QUESTION: What is the optimum size of a space crew at our present level of engineering skill, and is it likely to change with time?

ANSWER: It is too early to answer that question. All ships built up to now were approximately the same weight, from three to six tons. They could take no more than three men. The size of the crew is determined by the tasks of a given flight and the power capacity of the carrier rocket.

One man has to pilot the ship, another to navigate, For charting the course of the flight a good knowledge of the sky (which, incidentally, Is not so hard to acquire) will not be enough. Also needed will be a knowledge of celestial mechanics. the techniques of reading and analyzing instruments, the solution of navigational problems by electronic computers, and the methods of checking the validity of the measurements. All this will call for a certain degree of specialization. Ships bound for long flights will need doctors and biologists to observe the biological environment inside the ship and watch the health of the crew. But none of these people will have only one specialty, because on a flight to Venus, for example, you would then need a crew of 50 to 100 specialists. But a crew that big is not possible, particularly In view of the quantifies of food and water the ship would have to carry. The probability is that no more than a 10-man crew will be used in the first flights to Mars or Venus. Each one will have to have something approximating an encyclopedic knowledge, be master of several skills. For example. the captain might be both pilot and navigator, and it would be good if he were an engineer as well.

QUESTION: What method of leaving the ship for a walk in outer space is most promising and why? Is any other method possible besides depressurizing the cabin or locking?

ANSWER: Locking seems to be the most promising method, since It would be unwise to depressurize an entire ship or orbital station. To depressurize the cabin, all the members of the crew would have to put on space suits. We expect that people working on orbital stations will wear light suits, like those worn on earth or like those we were wearing during our flight on Vostok I. Locking methods will have to be worked out to make it possible for a spaceman to take a walk outside the ship or station without inconveniencing the other members of the crew.

I cannot think of any method other than depressurization or locking. A lock can be turned into a space suit, perhaps. That is easily visualized. Let us say that a rigid space suit is prefastened to a hatch. A man climbs into the suit. sticks his legs and arms out, the hatches are closed from inside the suit and the ship, and the suit is then detached from the ship. But this is not much more than a space suit with a different name, a kind of a trip in a lock. The lock will return to the ship and be fastened to the hatch; the cosmonaut will even the pressure, the hatches will open and the spaceman will find himself in the ship again.

I think that large ships and satellite stations will have more than one lock. Imagine a large ship with a crew of 10 or even more people. It will be a huge object. The possibility of a meteorite striking it will be much greater than with today's ships. However, not every meteorite, even if it punctures the shell, is dangerous. The pressure does not go immediately. Still, it may happen that a crew is forced to leave the ship. In that case it would be best to exit through an undamaged section. There should therefore be at least two locks.



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