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Valentin Glushko

Former Engineer, Soviet Academy of Sciences

Valentin Glushko was a Soviet engineer, and the principal Soviet designer of rocket engines during the Soviet/American Space Race.

At the age of fourteen, Valentin became interested in aeronautics after reading novels by Jules Verne. He studied at an Odessa trade school, where he learned to be a sheet metal worker. After graduation he apprenticed at a hydraulics fitting plant. He was first trained as a fitter, then moved to lathe operator.

During his time in Odessa, Glushko performed experiments with explosives. These were recovered from unexploded artillery shells that had been left behind by the White Guards during their retreat. From 1924-25 he wrote articles concerning the exploration of the Moon, as well as the use of Tsiolkovsky's proposed engines for space flight.

He attended Leningrad State University where he studied physics and mathematics, but found the specialty programs were not to his interest. He reportedly left without graduating in April, 1929. From 1929-1930 he pursued rocket research at the Gas Dynamics Laboratory. A new research section was apparently set up for the study of liquid-propellant and electric engines. He became a member of the GIRD (Group for the study of Rocket Propulsion Systems), founded in Leningrad in 1931.

On 23 March 1938 he became caught up in Joseph Stalin's Great Terror and was rounded up by the NKVD, to be placed in the Butyrka prison. By 15 August 1939 he was sentenced to eight years in the Gulag. Despite his supposed imprisonment, however, Glushko was put to work on various aircraft projects with other arrested scientists. In 1941 he was placed in charge of a design bureau for liquid-fueled rocket engines. He was finally released in 1944 by special decree. In 1944, Sergei Korolev and Glushko designed the RD-1 KhZ [sic] auxiliary rocket motor tested in a fast-climb Lavochkin La-7R for protection of the capital from high-altitude Luftwaffe attacks.

At the end of World War II, Glushko was sent to Germany and Eastern Europe to study the German rocket program. In 1946 he became the chief designer of his own bureau, the OKB 456, and remained at this position until 1974. This bureau would play a prominent role in the development of rocket engines within the Soviet Union.

His OKB 456 (later NPO Energomash) would design the 35-metric ton (340 kN) thrust RD-101 engine used in the R-2, the 120-ton (1,180 kN) thrust RD-110 employed in the R-3, and the 44-ton (430 kN) thrust RD-103 used in the R-5 Pobeda (SS-3 Shyster). The R-7 ("Semyorka") would include four of Glushko's RD-107 engines and one RD-108. In 1954 he began to design engines for the R-12 Dvina (SS-4 Sandal), which had been designed by Mikhail Yangel'. He also became responsible for supplying rocket engines for Sergei Korolev, the designer of the R-9 Desna (SS-8 Sasin). Among his designs was the powerful RD-170 liquid propellant engine.

In 1974, following the successful American moon landings, premier Leonid Brezhnev decided to cancel the troubled Soviet program to send a man to the Moon. He consolidated the Soviet space program, moving Vasily Mishin's OKB-1 (Korolev's former design bureau), as well as other bureaus, into a single bureau headed by Glushko, later named NPO Energia. Glushko's first act, after firing Mishin altogether, was to cancel the N-1 rocket, a program he had long criticized, despite the fact that one of the reasons for its difficulties was his own refusal to design the high power engines Korolev needed because of friction between the two men and ostensibly a disagreement over the use of cryogenic or hypergolic fuel.

Glushko was an advocate of a new line of powerful launchers that he wanted to use for the establishment of a Soviet lunar base. However the American Apollo program was coming to an end at about that time, and the government wanted to build a competitor to the Space Shuttle.

Glushko's team was part of the Soviet General Machine-Building empire headed by Minister Sergey Afanasyev. Before his death in 1989, he appointed Boris Gubanov to become his successor.

After his death, his obituary was signed by multiple Communist Party of the Soviet Union leaders, including Mikhail Gorbachev. It was only following his death that Glushko's efforts became known to most of the Soviet populace.

For many years Glushko had worked in Korolev's shadow, and certainly never received the credit he deserved (at the time) for his contributions. His personality was reputed to be bull-headed, and he never lacked for an ego.

Perhaps his most significant engineering failure, as noted by division chief Yuri Demyanko, was his insistence that hydrogen was unsuitable for use as a rocket fuel. As a result the Soviet space program was still discussing the use of hydrogen-fueled engines while the Americans were assembling the Saturn V launcher. Also, Glushko's design bureau consistently failed at building a rocket engine powered by LOX/Kerosene with a large combustion chamber to rival the American F1 used on the Saturn V; instead, his solution was the RD-270, a single large combustion-chamber engine powered by hypergolic fuels which had almost the same thrust and better specific impulse as compared to the US F-1 rocket engine in addition to using the very advanced full-flow staged combustion concept as opposed to the simple gas generator cycle used by the F-1 rocket engine. This was a primary reason for the failure of the N1, which was forced to rely on a multitude of smaller engines for propulsion because Sergei Korolev, its chief designer, insisted on using the LOX/Kerosene combination, which Glushko felt would take much more time and money to design. Glushko never did overcome the combustion instability problems of large rocket motors using kerosene propellants; his eventual solution for this is seen on the RD-170 which is basically four smaller combustion chamber/nozzle assemblies sharing common fuel delivery systems. This solution and engine gave the Soviets the large thrust propulsion needed to build the Energia superbooster, and is probably the finest technical example of Glushko's abilities when he was at his best. The fact that he never developed this solution until the firing of Vasily Mishin and his gaining ultimate control of the entire Soviet space program is a testament to the paralyzing intrigue and in-fighting that went on within the Soviet effort to reach the Moon.