You Cant Imagine What We've Just Done!

October 3, 2017

Yuri Dmitrievich SILAEV is one of the most well-known members of a large team of employees of our company that took part in making, testing and launching the first artificial Earth satellite.

In 1953, at the time when the first artificial satellite was being developed, as was employed as an assembly fitter in workshop No.7. Of course, we faced many challenges, since everything was being done for the first time ever. It was planned that the mass of the satellite might be as high as 1.5 tons. But making such a product air-tight was at the time problematic. Sergei Korolev got together the product designers and assembly workers, which included me, and told us that a small simplest satellite would be built. Well call PS-1, said the Chief Designer. He clearly defined the milestones and due dates, and appointed people responsible for each milestone. And everything swung into action.

In the workshop they set up a special secret room with acoustic blankets on the walls, sealed windows, guards were placed on 24-hour duty. Me and the assembly worker Kleymenov were assigned the task of assembling the first elements of PS-1. A week after we started assembling, the workshop was visited by M.S.Khomyakov the lead designer for the product. He inspected the progress of work, reminded us about the due dates and the need to strictly observe design and manufacturing specifications. In a month the first mockup of the satellite was ready it was a sphere with rough surface.

Sergei Korolev visited us very often. When he saw the finished mockup, he gently stroked the sphere and said: Something seems to be wrong, I dont like it this way. It is going to overheat up there! Then Khomyakov proposed to cover the satellite with a mirror. We built for the satellite an aluminum shell so finely burnished that when you touched it, even wearing gloves, smudges were left on the surface. The chief designer liked that solution very much and he gave go-ahead to assemble the flight model. Three more mockups were built: Dynamic, electrical and engineering models. And two flight models: The main satellite and its backup. Additional assembly workers were put to work on the project: V.I. Morozov, V.V. Seleznev and V.Y. Skoptsov.

We reached the test phase, it was necessary to simulate the space environment in which the simplest satellite was going to find itself. It was also necessary to run thermal tests. That is, for a satellite fully loaded with operational equipment, we needed to create two poles plus and minus simultaneously. We approached the task experimentally. We took a large pot, poured into it some alcohol, threw in some dry ice, and when it dissolved, the temperature reached minus 60°. We lowered into it a half of the satellite, while the other half was roasted by twenty incandescent lamps up to the temperature of plus 50°. Every 15-20 minutes the satellite was abruptly turned over. The metal hissed and crackled as if it was going to split! The tests went on for two days, with small breaks for functional checks of chemical power sources and sensors. Virtually simultaneously with these tests, a mockup was being tested on vibration bench, since during the launch of the rocket the satellite was to experience very strong vibration. During tests that were given a notional name of electric tests we simulated listening in on the radio signal. The satellite was suspended in a special rig, its signal was being monitored while they looking for the proper length of the antennas. The most challenging part was creating deep vacuum: there is virtually no pressure in space. We urgently needed a vacuum chamber. A young engineer A.M. Sidorov found it in a research institute, and during tests we managed to achieve the necessary pressure inside it. New methods were tried out during leak tests. The team production engineers and welders did an excellent job: out of ten pressure shells that were tested, only one had a pin-point leak in the weld. By early September all the tests had been completed, and the products were prepared for shipment to the launch range.

The flight and backup models of the satellite were shipped off from an airfield in Podlipki. Everything was top secret. Me and A.M.Sidorov, when we arrived at the launch range, were carefully checked by security and only then were we allowed to enter Area 2. At the time there was only one processing facility there, where they assembled the rocket. We stayed four men to a room in the barracks, sharing the room with Gradusov and Tikhonov. Even in the rocket processing facility, nobody knew about the purpose of our trip and what kind of payload the rocket was going to carry. There were all kinds of rumors. The launch of the R-7 rocket carrying the satellite as its payload was scheduled for October 4 at midnight, Baikonur time.

We were lucky enough to be able to observe this unforgettable spectacle from a vantage point about five hundred meters away from the launch pad. The tension of the last seconds before the lift-off is etched in my memory forever! Everything stood still, everybody on edge... Ignition. The rocket is in flame and smoke to its very top! My first thought was: its a launch failure! But the rocket did lift off! It goes farther and farther away, with smoke spreading behind it for almost a kilometer. And the earth-shattering roar! In about three minutes the light died out, and it became quiet. Thus, in a seemingly matter-of-fact manner, the first satellite made by our own hands departed for space. Then it was reported that the separation was successful. We were so tired, that we immediately returned to our lodgings and dropped into sleep. And about two hours later, when the first radio signals had been received from the satellite, we were woken up by overjoyed and excited M.S. Khomyakov. - Guys, you cant even imagine what we've just done! The satellite is in orbit and sends us its signals! Weve entered a new age! In the afternoon our team flew to Moscow. When we arrived and came to our workshop, we learned that S.P.Korolev had given an order to start preparing for the launch a second satellite, and the work had already started.

Having joined our company in 1947 as an apprentice assembly fitter, Y.D. Silaev worked at the plant for more than 60 years. For many years he was manager in the workshop for final assembly of Soyuz and Progress spacecraft. For his immediate participation in the assembly and testing of the first artificial Earth satellite, In December 1957 he was awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Labor.

This year it will be for the firs time that Yuri Silaev will not stand on the speakers stand, will not address the meetings marking this big day. One of the last witnesses of those historic events passed away on the eve of this big anniversary of the launch of the first artificial Earth satellite, which he considered to be the most important event in his life.




October 14, 2017
LV Soyuz-2.1a with SC Progress MS-07 is launched.
September 13, 2017
LV Soyuz-FG with SC Soyuz MS-06 is launched.

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