A. Topchiev, A Great Victory of Soviet Science (Sputnik). October 16, 1957
This article by a leading Soviet scientist provides a summation of Soviet scientific research which paved the way for the launching of Vostok 1, the first Sputnik.
Original Source: Pravda, 16 October 1957.
October 4, 1957, will occupy a special place in the history of mankind. On this red-letter day the first artificial earth satellite appeared in the sky. This satellite was created by Soviet scientists, designed and launched by Soviet engineers and technicians, and it took the orbit exactly indicated by the Soviet people.
The world press is paying a great deal of attention to this event. But apart from enthusiastic comment, many bourgeois newspapers and magazines cannot conceal their alarm over this remarkable new achievement of Soviet science and technology. Impartial people see this as a major victory for socialism in the competition with capitalism. The foes of the Soviet Union, trying to minimize the importance of this event, are terming it accidental and insignificant.
Is the earth satellite, launched in our country for the first time in world history, an isolated achievement of science and technology, an accidental success? No! Such a success is unthinkable for separate, isolated branches of science and technology. Scientific and technical progress in our country takes place on a broad front.
Socialism opened broad horizons for scientific development. By bringing about fundamental political and economic changes in our country, the Great October Socialist Revolution opened up broad horizons for the flourishing of science….
V. I. Lenin paid great attention to scientific development, displaying truly paternal concern about Soviet scientists, about providing them with the most favorable conditions for their scientific work. The Party and government have not spared funds or resources to aid scientists in every way and to create and train new cadres of a scientific and technical intelligentsia.
Science has played a large role in the entire constructive process of building socialism. Its importance has increased many times in the period of the building of communism in our country. The Communist Party’s general line for industrialization, for the preponderant growth of the production of the means of production, for accomplishment of the USSR’s main economic task and for achievement of a higher labor productivity than under capitalism necessitated the comprehensive development of theoretical and practical research in all branches of knowledge and maximum application of the results of scientific exploration. Each step in the development of socialist industry provides food for science and sets new tasks before it. Science, in turn, influences technology and production.
The successful launching of the first artificial earth satellite is the natural result of Soviet scientific and technical development under socialist conditions, the natural victory of socialism over capitalism. What, then, are the achievements of our science and technology that made possible this success, this well-deserved triumph of our people?
Achievements of Soviet Physicists. In the last quarter of a century, physics has forged way ahead in the natural sciences. Developing a rapid pace, physical research has had results of striking importance.
Speaking of the achievements of theoretical physics, we must note above all the further development by Soviet scientists of the theory of relativity, particularly with respect to the non-stationary solution of Einstein’s equation of gravitation and the problem of the law of the movement of the system of bodies.
Soviet physicists have made a large contribution to the development of modern quantum mechanics. A major landmark in this direction was V. A. Fok’s approximation method of resolving problems of the quantum mechanics of many particles. The theory advanced by Soviet scientists that nuclear forces arise as the result of the exchange of light particles and the creation by our physicists of the liquid-drop model of the atomic nucleus had a substantial influence on the further development of the theory of nuclear forces.
The discovery of the Vavilov-Cherenkov effect was of great importance. The theory of this effect was worked out by I. Ye. Tamm and I. M. Frank. They have solved the problem of the radiation of an electron moving in a given medium at a velocity greater than that of light.
L. D. Landau’s works on thermodynamics and static physics and P. L. Kapitsa’s discovery of the superfluidity of liquid helium, which made it possible to predict the phenomenon of the second sound in helium, subsequently discovered in experiments, are also major achievements of Soviet theoretical physics.
Experimental physics, especially nuclear physics, has achieved large successes. Begun back in 1924, the research on cosmic rays by means of the Wilson chamber developed into a series of experiments for studying the properties of elementary particles, artificially splitting the atomic nucleus and studying artificial radioactivity and the mechanism and law of the formation of positrons. In 1940 the spontaneous fission of uranium nuclei was discovered in the Soviet Union. Soon afterwards it was established that by a small enrichment of a natural mixture of uranium isotopes with uranium-235 a chain process of fission was possible with the use of ordinary water as a retarding agent.
In recent years Soviet science has achieved results in the peaceful use of atomic energy which have brought it to the fore in world science.
V. I. Veksler’s method of “autophasing” charged particles made it possible to build powerful accelerators. The world’s largest, 10,000,000,000electron-volt accelerator put into operation in 1957 is based on this method, which is now used all over the world.
In building accelerators-the basic instrument for studying the properties of elementary particles-our scientists and technicians have reached the highest energies ever obtained in the world’s research laboratories. Research and designing work is now being done to construct a still more powerful, 50,000,000,000-electron-volt accelerator, which will be another mighty impetus to the development of nuclear physics.
Extensive research in the physics of nuclear reactors and reactor building is being done in the Soviet Union. One result of this work is our atomic power plant, the first in the world. The successful operation of this power plant has been the basis for planning the construction of several larger atomic power plants in the next few years. Work is now being done to build atomic motors for transport purposes, and an atomic icebreaker is under construction.
The construction of nuclear reactors has also made it possible to organize the production of radioactive isotopes, which are extensively used in research laboratories and at the country’s industrial enterprises as radiation sources and as “tracer” atoms. Radioactive isotopes helped to disclose the nature of several complex processes occurring in nature and technology. They have made it possible, for instance to obtain a wealth of new data on the mechanism of photosynthesis, the displacement and absorption of nutritive substances in plants, the biochemistry of the higher nervous activity and several other biological problems.
Among the studies of fundamental importance for the use of nuclear energy mention should be made of the work done to achieve a controlled thermonuclear reaction by means of high-energy impulse discharges. This enabled us to obtain temperatures of more than 1,000,000 degrees C. in laboratory conditions for the first time in the world. The study of high-energy gas discharges brings us closer to solution of the general task of present-day science-the creation of a reactor capable of operating on heavy and superheavy hydrogen (deuterium and tritium) rather than on uranium fuel. The work of I. V. Kurchatov, M. A. Leontovich, L. A. Artsimovich, and other scientists is tremendously important for accomplishment of these tasks.
There would have been no satellite without the present-day achievements of radio engineering, the beginning of which is linked with the name of the Russian scientist A. S. Popov. In the hard years of the Civil War and postwar chaos V. I. Lenin, the founder of the Soviet state, supported the remarkable scientist M. A. Bonch-Bruyevich, who in his Nizhny Novgorod laboratory enriched radio engineering with his research on radio-instrument making. In 1922 he built a 12-kw. radiotelephone station, which at that time was the most powerful in the world. The first radio concert in the world was broadcast in the Soviet Union. Radio engineering in the U.S.S.R. is steadily improving and is now solving new and greater problems.
Communication with the satellite would be impossible without a knowledge of the laws of the propagation of radio waves, particularly in the ionosphere. The earth is blanketed by a layer of air the atoms of which become ionized as a result of bombardment by cosmic rays. This layer- the ionosphere-is “transparent” only for radio waves of a definite frequency; waves of other frequencies are reflected back from this layer. Academician M. V. Shuleikin was among the first to devote his energies to a study of the propagation of radio waves in the ionosphere.
For 25 years now work has been done continually in the Soviet Union to “sound” the ionosphere by means of several dozen special ionosphere stations. All this made it possible to choose the correct radio-wave frequencies for communication with the satellite. Tn 1930 Academicians L. I. Mardelshtam and N. D. Papaleksi theoretically substantiated and actually carried out the phase methods of measuring distances by means of radio waves. The stations now observing the satellite are based on these methods.
Radar was the first means enabling man to peer into outer space for the first time long before the first earth satellite was launched. I am speaking of the measurement of the distance to the moon with the help of radar. The theoretical basis for this was provided by Academician N. D. Papaleksi. Radio astronomy, a new branch of science, developed as result of the successes gained in developing antenna engineering and in increasing the sensitivity of radio receiving equipment. Radio telescopes are now used to study the sun and so-called “radio stars.”
Research in the field of semiconductors has become widespread. Considerable success was achieved in studying thermoelectric phenomena. This work, done under A. F. Ioffe, resulted in the building of thermoelectric generators, which transform heat energy into electric power.
A great future lies ahead for semiconductor photocells, which transform the energy of various types of radiation into electricity. Silicon photocells convert the energy of sunlight into electricity.
The semiconductor laboratories of the P. N. Lebedev Physics Institute and the Institute of Physics and Engineering worked out the theory and studied the electrical properties of semiconductors and on this basis designed Soviet models of semiconductor radio apparatuses-diodes and triodes. The use of semiconductor devices in radio equipment makes it possible to build apparatuses that are small and have other advantages over equipment employing tubes.
Some Achievements in Mathematics and Chemistry. The rapid development of present-day physics and technology has confronted mathematicians with fundamentally new tasks. Soviet scientists continuing the glorious traditions of Russian mathematicians have introduced many new elements in the development of both theoretical and applied mathematics. Our mathematicians-Academician I. M. Vinogradov, A. N. Kolmogorov, S. L. Sobolev, M. V. Keldysh, M. A. Lavrentyev and others-enjoy well-deserved fame in the U.S.S.R. and abroad.
The new tasks which have arisen before mathematics have brought about such trends as the theory of information, the theory of programming and the theory of computing machines. Mathematical logic has found important application. Today no sphere of theory or practice can get along without using a complex mathematical apparatus. Rapid computing machines that solve various problems in nuclear physics, aerodynamics, radio engineering, astrophysics, etc., have been built in this country.
Soviet chemistry occupies an important place in the general achievements of Soviet science that have made it possible to solve major problems of technical progress. A substantial contribution to the development of both theoretical and applied chemistry has been made by Soviet chemists under the guidance of Academicians A. N. Nesmeyanov, N. N. Semyonov, A. Ye. Arbuzov, A. P. Vinogradov, B. A. Kazansky, A. N. Frumkin, M. M. Dubinin, I. I. Chernyayev and others.
An outstanding achievement of Soviet chemistry, for instance, is the theory of chain ramified reactions, founded by N. N. Semyonov and his school, a theory of great importance for world science. A study of a large number of model reactions has made it possible to disclose the basic laws of chain processes and to outline ways of studying the various elementary stages of the process and, what is particularly important, ways of controlling a developing chain reaction.
An exceptionally important role in the creation of industrial radium and natural radioactive elements and in the artificial radioactive elements industry belongs to the research done by V. G. Khlopin and his students. It was under his direction that the first preparation of Soviet radium was obtained. V. G. Khlopin discovered the law of quantitative co-precipitation, which makes it possible to calculate theoretically and work out new methods for the isolation of radioactive substances.
The achievements in such new fields of chemistry as biochemistry, biophysics, organic chemistry of elements and others are of great importance. A major achievement in the field of the chemistry of organic compounds of elements is the method of obtaining organic compounds of metals by means of diazo compounds, a method discovered by A. N. Nesmeyanov. The theoretical and experimental studies of A. N. Nesmeyanov and his school have led to the creation of new methods in the organic synthesis of metals and elements and the production of a number of valuable new types of substances.
K. E. Tsiolkovsky’s Ideas Are Being Carried Out. Solution of one of the greatest tasks ever undertaken by mankind-the task of overcoming the force of gravitation and entering cosmic space-would have been impossible without the creation of rapid flying machines. In this field, too, Soviet scientists and designers have achieved big successes. Fast jet planes are now flying on international air routes, evoking the admiration of specialists throughout the world.
Russian science has remarkable traditions in rocket building. More than half a century ago, when no airplanes yet existed, K. E. Tsiolkovsky for the first time in the history of science laid the foundations for the theory of jet propulsion and proposed a design for a rocket to travel in cosmic space. But it was only with the victory of the Great October Socialist Revolution that Tsiolkovsky’s ideas won the recognition of the Soviet government and the scientific community.
At the end of the 1920’s there appeared in this country groups of engineers who carried out research in a number of concrete problems of the physics and technology of jet propulsion. Tirelessly continuing his research on the dynamics of rockets, which he had started at the beginning of the century, K. E. Tsiolkovsky by this time had arrived at the conclusion that a single rocket using chemical fuel could not achieve cosmic speed (eight to 11 km. per second). In searching for a solution to the problem of achieving high speeds, he arrived at the idea of building multistage rockets, an idea which has proved to be so fruitful.
Thanks to the concern of the Communist Party and the Soviet government, research in the field of jet propulsion in this country was included, even during the first five-year plans, in the group of special studies of state importance. This made it possible at the beginning of the 1930’s, long before similar work was done abroad, to carry out stand tests of jet engines and, in 1933, to launch the first rocket, designed by the engineer M. K. Tikhonravov for meteorological observations.
In the postwar years we began to build ballistic and guided long-range rockets. Rocket technology was developed and perfected both in the interests of the country’s defense and for scientific purposes.
Since 1947 instruments lifted into the air by rockets have been used regularly for studying the upper layers of the atmosphere and the processes occurring beyond its boundaries. The X-ray radiation of the sun has been discovered; information has been obtained on the chemical composition of the atmosphere at heights of more than ]00 km.; a study has been made of the concentration of free charges in the ionosphere, which plays a highly important role in shortwave distant radio communications observations have been made of the state of a living organism in a weight less condition, arising when a rocket begins its free flight: and a number of other valuable studies have been conducted that broaden the horizons of scientific cognition and prepare the conditions for the cosmic flight of man.
Our instrument-making industry played an extremely important role in preparing the launching of the artificial earth satellite. The work of such eminent scientists as D. S. Rozhdestvensky, S. I. Vavilov, G. S. Landsberg and A. A. Lebedev laid the foundation for the Soviet optical industry. This industry has provided our astronomical observatories with the most modern optical equipment. It managed in a short time to equip the optical stations for carrying on observations of the satellite. It is now boldly competing with American industry in the construction of giant telescopes. Yet there was a time when we imported even opera glasses from Germany! The designers and workers of the instrument industry have done a great deal to help make the satellite.
The artificial earth satellite was launched in the U.S.S.R. as part of the program for the International Geophysical Year. Our country is participating in this program by a large number of other measures also. of course; these are being carried out under the coordinated plan of international studies and in collaboration with scientists abroad. In this work the prestige of Soviet science as the advanced science of the world has been enhanced as never before.
The victory of Soviet science, which was expressed in the launching of the first artificial earth satellite-an event noted with great satisfaction by al1 progressive mankind-is the result not of individual record achievements of Soviet science but of the creation of a single broad front of Soviet science, the creation of its basis-socialist industry. The socialist system has made science in the U.S.S.R. mighty. the most progressive science in the world, capable of carrying out its lofty miss~on-that of serving the cause of building communism.
The strength of Soviet science lies in its ties with practice, with life. Its basic features are collectivism, a wide scope of scientific work contact with industry and selfless devotion to the interests of the people. who are building socialism. Soviet scientists are participating with great enthusiasm in the grandiose program of communist construction outlined by the 20th Party Congress.
In September, 1957, the Party Central Committee and the Council of Ministers found it necessary to draw up a long-range plan for developing the U.S.S.R. national economy over a longer period and instructed the U.S.S.R. State Planning Committee, the Union-Republic Councils of Ministers, the economic councils and the U.S.S.R. ministries and agencies to draft a plan for national economic development for 1959-1965. This decision states: “A major condition for accomplishing the main task of the long-range plan is an all-around increase in labor productivity on the basis of uninterrupted technical progress and the mastering and extensive introduction, in all branches of production, of the discoveries of advanced science and technology. The new draft long-range plan should offer broad prospects for the development of all branches of science, theoretical research and major new scientific discoveries.”
Thus, the Communist Party and the Soviet government are providing a new stimulus for the creative work of our scientists and opening up broad new prospects for scientific creative work for the good of our country.
Source: Current Digest of the Soviet Press, Vol. IX, No. 40 (November 13, 1957).