(No. 14/2004 - March 2004)
Editor: Fran Bock

Although practically unknown even in his own country, Belarussian Semyon Kosberg was one of the most prominent of all Soviet rocket scientists.

We thank Vitaly Charny for this sketch of another noteworthy Jew from Belarus.


This article is copyrighted by Vitaly Charny.

Reprinting or copying of this article is not allowed
without prior permission from the copyrightholders


Semyon Ariyevich Kosberg


by Vitaly Charny

The countries that once formed the Soviet Union now compete with each other for priority in claiming achievements that most people of the world would refer to as "Russian." For example, Ukraine uses an impressive list of the most famous people in the history of Space Exploration - Kibalchich, Kondratyuk (Shagrey), Yangel, Korolyov to show on Ukrainian postage.

This year, the Republic of Belarus takes its turn by issuing into circulation a pre-stamped envelope with commemorative stamp and topical cachet in honor of the centennial anniversary of the birth of Semyon Kosberg - practically unknown because of the secrecy in the field of his work, but now considered the most famous of Belarussian rocket scientists.

Semyon Ariyevich Kosberg, prominent Soviet designer and creator of aviation and rocket engines, was born on 14 October 1903 in Slutsk, a predominantly Jewish provincial town south of Minsk, into a family of Jewish blacksmith-handicraftsmen. There were 9 children in the Kosberg family. From 1917 through 1919, Semyon attended Slutsk commercial school, but from 1919 through 1925, he worked as a blacksmith and metal craftsman in the smithy of his father to help his big family. Simultaneously, from 1922 through 1924, he took some evening classes, obtained his high school diploma, and for two years served in the Red Army. After demobilization he worked as a metal craftsman at the Khalturin factory in Leningrad.From 1927 through 1929 he studied in the Leningrad Polytechnic Institute, and then in the Moscow Aviation Institute, from which he graduated in 1930. The following year, Kosberg was assigned to the Central Institute of Aircraft Engine Construction, where he went all way from design engineer to chief of a major research department dedicated to the creation of systems for fuel injection aircraft engines .

With the beginning of WWII in Russia, new research and production facilities were built in Siberia - out of reach of German bombers. Kosberg was put in charge of the design and production of fuel injection systems in the town of Berdsk near Novosibirsk. Under severe Siberian conditions, a handful of specialists - about 30 people led by Semyon Kosberg - in a short time created and put into production direct fuel injection systems for aircraft engines. The use of these engines substantially improved flight performance (rate of climb, maneuverability, speed, flying range), which ensured an advantage to Russian air fighters over the best German machines (Fokke-Wolf -190 and Messerschmitt-109.)

The undoubted advantage of the system, confirmed by operation in field conditions, led to its use from 1943-1944 for all newly developed piston engines. These engines during World War II were used on bombers and fighters including LA-7, designed by Semyon Lavochkin (another Jewish designer). The plant produced more than 30,000 of these fuel injection systems. For his outstanding personal contribution to the cause of the development and production of combat aviation equipment, Kosberg was rewarded with the orders "The Sign of Honor", "The Red Star" and "The Patriotic War".

In the 1950s, it was the time of change to jet engines and Kosberg, then Designer-in-Chief of jet engine special design bureau based in Voronezh, began the development of fuel injection systems and other equipment for the turbojet and turboprop engines for most Soviet jet aircraft. Kosberg also began development of liquid fuel-propelled rockets.

On 10 February 1958, Semyon Kosberg met with Sergey Korolev, leader of the Soviet space program. This meeting marked the beginning of their collaboration. Stocky, but full of life, vigorously and emotionally gesticulating, with his typically Jewish appearance, Kosberg was always in an optimistic mood. Korolev immediately recognized the internal essence of his creative personality during their first encounter. Obsession and the utter devotion to science drew together and made friends of these two people with identical properties of mind and nature.

The two-stage carrier rocket designed by Korolev successfully put into orbit the three initial earth satellites. However, further study of the outer space was impossible without the third or upper stage, which would ensure acceleration of the ship to planet escape velocity and bring it back to Earth. Kosberg's third stage rocket was developed in 1958 in the record short time of just nine months!

That was the first Soviet liquid propellant rocket engine, started under conditions close to the null gravity and high vacuum of outer space. It could restart in space several times. Application of the third stage made it possible to increase the mass of the spacecraft from 1400 to 4500 kg and to reach planet escape velocity, which made it possible to accomplish flights of space objects - to the Moon, and around the moon to photograph its far side. One of the craters on the far side of the moon was named after Kosberg.

For his ingenious contributions to the success of these flights, Kosberg was awarded the Doctor of Technical Sciences degree and was honored with the Lenin State Prize. Afterwards, Kosberg's newly-created Design Office independently developed more advanced and, most importantly, highly reliable upper stage engines for the "Vostok" spacecraft, as well as satellites that could be launched into space and returned to Earth. With the undeniably important personal input of Semyon Kosberg, the first man was launched into outer space on April 12, 1961 - the Russian cosmonaut Yuriy Gagarin. After this success, Kosberg's design bureau and plant produced a new more powerful rocket that enabled flight of space probes to Mars and Venus, and the orbiting of two- and three-man crew spaceships. These engines enabled the first human space walk, and in-orbit docking, including that with American spaceship "Apollo". The "Soyuz" launch vehicle is used for delivering space crews and cargo to long-term space stations.

After a trip to Moscow, on his return from Voronezh airport, Kosberg was in a car accident on an icy road and suffered severe injuries. . The intensive care and emergency medical team flown in from Moscow worked through the night, but couldn't save him. Semyon Arievich Kosberg died on January 3 1965. Korolev, told by physicians, that Kosberg was out of danger, was shaken. Next year, Sergey Korolev died on the operating table at the age of 60. Some people, knowing of the tough competition in the space program and conflicting priorities between different Russian teams of engineers, scientists and generals, were suspicious about the coincidence.

Kosberg worked in cosmonautics less than seven years but accomplished a lot. His tragic death stunned everybody who knew him; it was so unexpected, unnatural for this high- energy person. The next "giant leap for mankind" was made by Americans.

Copyright 2004 Belarus SIG and Vitaly Charny

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