NASA’s Chief Historian

We’re talking to William Barry about history, era’s of spaceflight and program heroes.

(Caroline Sheen)
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Of all the historic spaceflight figures who are now deceased, who would you most like to time-travel back and talk to?

This is an easy one. Sergei Pavlovich Korolev, the legendary Soviet chief designer. He was the genius behind the early Soviet space program — not because he was a brilliant scientist or even the best engineer. More importantly, he knew how to make the balky Soviet system work, how to inspire his people, and perhaps most importantly he was fearless in the pursuit of his dream of space exploration. The Soviet space "program" was really very much a shoestring operation in the early days, yet they continuously one-upped the U.S. at almost every turn in the early 1960s. Why? I think it was largely the force of Korolev's determination. Political gridlock, the thin-ness of the Soviet space effort, and the sheer size of the U.S. effort meant the Soviets were falling behind by the mid-’60s. But Korolev still had some surprises up his sleeve. Had he not died in January 1966 I'm sure that the race to the moon (and have no doubt, there was a race) would have been much closer. By all rights Korolev should have died when he was shipped off to the Gulag during the purges of the 1930s, yet he not only survived, but through a series of remarkable gambles and successes he sparked the space race of the 1960s and humanity's first steps off the planet. I keep a picture of him in my office to remind me every day of what one determined and focused person can do when the knock of historic opportunity sounds on the door.


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