Encyclopedia Astronautica
1965.10.22 - Gagarin writes a letter to Brezhnev


Gagarin has sent a letter to Brezhnev, complaining of the poor organisation of the Soviet space program. The Kremlin has received it... reaction is awaited. The letter specifically cites the multitude of space projects and de-emphasis of manned efforts.

Text of Gagarin's Letter to Brezhnev

Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
Comrade L.I. Brezhnev

Dear Leonid Il'ich!

We are writing to you to raise certain issues, which we consider very important for our state and for us.

Soviet achievements in space exploration are well-known, and there is no need to list all of our victories here. These victories have been achieved and will remain in history to be the pride of our nation forever. The people, the Party, and our leaders have always appropriately connected our achievements in space with our achievements in the construction of socialism. "Socialism is the best launching pad for space flights." This catch phrase circled the entire world. Soviet people said these words with pride, the peoples of the socialist countries believed it was true, and hundreds of millions of people abroad learned the ABC of communism through our achievements in space. Such it was. We, cosmonauts, traveled abroad many times; a thousand times we witnessed how warmly multi-million crowds in various countries greeted Soviet achievements in space.

In the past year, however, the situation has changed. The USA have not only caught up with us, but even surpassed us in certain areas. The flights of space vehicles Ranger-7, Ranger-8, Mariner-4, Gemini-5, and others are serious achievements of American scientists.

This lagging behind of our homeland in space exploration is especially objectionable to us, cosmonauts, but it also damages the prestige of the Soviet Union and has a negative effect on the defense efforts of the countries from the socialist camp.

Why is the Soviet Union losing its leading position in space research? A common answer to this question answer is as follows: the USA have developed a very wide front of research in space; they allocate enormous funds for space research. In the past 5 years they spent more than 20 billion dollars, and in 1965 alone 7 billion dollars. This answer is basically correct. It is well known that the USA spend on space exploration much more than does the USSR.

But the matter is not only funding. The Soviet Union also allocates significant funds for space exploration. Unfortunately, in our country there are many defects in planning, organization, and management of this work. How can one speak about serious planning of space research if we do not have any plan for cosmonauts' flights? The month of October is coming to an end, there is a little time left before the end of the year 1965, but no one in Soviet Union knows whether there will be a manned space flight this year, what will be the task for that flight, and what duration. The same situation was characteristic of all the previous flights of the ship-satellites Vostok and Voskhod. This creates totally abnormal conditions during cosmonauts' preparation for flight and precludes the possibility of preparing crews for flight without hassle ahead of time.

We know that in this country there are plans for developing space technology, we know decisions of the Central Committee of the CPSU and the government that include specific deadlines for the construction of spacecrafts. But we know also that many of these decisions are not being implemented at all, and most are being carried out with huge delays.

Manned space flights are becoming more and more complex and prolonged. The preparation of such flights takes a lot of time, requires special equipment, training spacecraft, and simulators, which are now being created with huge delay and with primitive methods. To put it briefly, we need a national plan of manned space flights which would include the flight task, the date, the composition of the crew, the duration of the flight, the deadline for the preparation of a spacecraft and a simulator, and many other important issues of flight preparation.

Up to now manned space flights have been carried out according to the plans of the USSR Academy of Sciences, while the direct management and technical support have been organized by representatives of the industry and the USSR Ministry of Defense. Items of military significance have been present in flight programs only to some degree, which can be explained by the fact that within the Ministry of Defense there is no organization that would unify the whole complex of questions of space exploration. Everybody is involved in space affairs - the Missile Forces, the Air Force, the Air Defense, the Navy, and other organizations. Such scattering of efforts and resources in space exploration interferes with work; a lot of time is spent on coordination of plans and decisions, and these decisions often reflect narrow departmental interests. The existing situation with the organization of space research contradicts the spirit of the decisions of the September Plenum of the Central Committee of the CPSU, and it must be changed.

In 1964 the chief of the Joint Staff, the Marshal of the Soviet Union Biriuzov created a special commission. This commission studied in detail the organization of work on space exploration and came to the conclusion that it was necessary to unify all space affairs under the command of the Air Force. The Marshal of Soviet Union S.S. Biriuzov, the General of the Army A.A. Epishev, and the Marshal of the Soviet Union A.?. Grechko supported this proposal. But after the tragic death of the Marshal of the Soviet Union Biriuzov this reasonable proposal was discarded and the Central Administration for Space Exploration (TsUKOS) was organized under the Missile Forces. The creation of this organization changed nothing, however. The narrow departmental approach, the scattering of resources, and the lack of coordination have persisted.

The Air Force leadership and we, cosmonauts, repeatedly addressed the Joint Staff, to the Minister of Defense, and to the Military-Industrial Commission with specific proposals on the construction of and the equipment for spacecrafts that would be capable of carrying out military tasks. As a rule, our proposals were not supported by the Missile Forces leadership. We received such replies as: "Vostok spacecraft do not have any military value, and it is inexpedient to order their construction" and "We will not order Voskhod spacecraft, for there are no funds."


- In 1961 we flew two Vostok spacecraft.
- In 1962 we flew two Vostok spacecraft.
- In 1963 we flew two Vostok spacecraft.
- In 1964 we flew one Voskhod spacecraft.
- In 1965 we flew one Voskhod spacecraft.

In 1965 the Americans launched three Gemini spacecraft, and they are planning to launch two more before the end of the year.

Why have not been enough ships built for our cosmonauts' flights? In any case, not because of the lack of funding. It happened because the leadership of the Missile Forces has more trust in automatic satellites, and it underestimates the role of human beings in space research. It is a shame that in our country, which was the first to sent man into outer space, for four years the question has been debated whether man is needed on board a military spacecraft. In America this question has been resolved firmly and conclusively in favor of man. In this country, many still argue for automata. Only these considerations can explain why we build only 1-2 piloted ships in the same period as 30-40 automatic satellites are being produced. Many automatic satellites cost much more than a piloted ship, and many of them never reach their destination. The Vostok and the Voskhod piloted spacecraft have carried out a full program of scientific research and at the same time have produced a huge political effect for this country.

We do not intend to belittle the value of automatic spacecraft. But an infatuation with them would be, at the very least, harmful. Using the Vostok and the Voskhod spacecraft, it would have been possible to carry out a large complex of very important military research and to extend the duration of flights to 10-12 days. But we have no ships, nothing on which we could fly, nothing on which we could carry out a program of space research.

Besides what is stated above, there are also other defects in the organization of our flights - defects which we cannot remedy by ourselves. In our country there is no unified center for space flight control. During the flight every spacecraft has no communication with the command station in between the sixth and the thirteenth turn circuits of the day. At the testing range, there are bad conditions for training and resting of cosmonauts.

We also have other questions awaiting a resolution. Many questions could be resolved without appealing to the Central Committee of the CPSU. We repeatedly wrote to the Minister of Defense about these questions. We are aware of the petitions from the Air Force leadership to the Ministry of Defense and the government, but these petitions largely did not fulfill their purpose. Many times we met with the Minister of Defense, but unfortunately those were not business meetings. And today we have no confidence that the issues we raise can be resolved at the Ministry of Defense.

Dear Leonid Il'ich! We know how busy you are and nevertheless we ask you to familiarize yourself with our space affairs and needs.

The 50th anniversary of the Great October Revolution is approaching. We would like very much to achieve new big victories in space by the time of this great holiday.

We are deeply convinced that resolving the issue of unifying all military space affairs under the command of the Air Force, the thoughtful planning of space research, and the construction of spacecraft that would solve the problem of military application of piloted spacecraft would appreciably strengthen the defensive power of our homeland.

Pilots-cosmonauts of the USSR

   Yu. Gagarin
   A. Leonov
   P. Belyaev
   G. Titov
   A. Nikolaev
   V. Bykovsky

October 22, 1965


Translation by Slava Gerovitch.

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