Vasili Pavlovich Mishin (1917-2001) was one of the pioneers of the Russian rocketry and the leader of the ill-fated Soviet effort to beat America to the Moon.

At the height of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union, Mishin led TsKBEM design bureau, known today as RKK Energia. During Mishin’s tenure, the organization was developing a giant Moon rocket and the spacecraft intended to send the Soviet cosmonauts to the Moon before the Americans.

Born on Jan 5, 1917, Mishin graduated from Moscow Aviation Institute in 1941. He started his career in rocket science at NII-1 research institute, best known for the development of the legendary Katusha rockets. In 1945, Mishin was among a group of the NII-1 engineers dispatched to Germany to search for remnants the A-4 ballistic missiles used by the Nazis to terrorize London. During his work in Germany, Mishin met and forged friendship with Sergei Korolev, a future founder of the Soviet space program.

Upon returning to the USSR in 1946, Mishin became deputy to Korolev, who was assigned to lead the emerging missile development program in country. As Korolev’s right hand, Mishin was responsible for overseeing the design of several generations of rockets, including the first Soviet intercontinental ballistic missile R-7. On October 4, 1957, the R-7-based launcher delivered into orbit the world’s first artificial satellite.

At the beginning of the 1960s, Mishin played vital role in the development of a super- heavy-lift booster, designated N-1. The Soviet equivalent of the Saturn-5 rocket, the N-1 was the crucial element of the Soviet lunar landing project. However, unlike the Apollo program, the Soviet effort to land a man on the Moon suffered from the lack of funds and internal rivalry in the rocket industry.

As Sergei Korolev died unexpectedly in 1966, Mishin found himself at the helm of the unprecedented project, plagued with technical problems and unrealistic schedules. According to many of his associates, Mishin possessed neither charisma nor connections of Korolev, which needed to succeed in such a complex enterprise.

Between 1969 and 1972, as NASA scored six successful expeditions to the Moon, Mishin oversaw four disastrous attempts to launch monstrous N-1 rocket. In 1974, the Soviet government ousted Mishin from his position as the head of TsKBM and two years later officially terminated further attempts to send the Soviet cosmonauts to the Moon.

For the following decade and a half, Mishin remained in oblivion, working at his alma mater, Moscow Aviation Institute. After liberalization of the Soviet society in the second half of the 1980s, Mishin entered a public scene with a number of revealing and controversial publications on the history of the Soviet space program.

In 1990, Mishin published the work entitled "Why we did not fly to the Moon," which gave the first detailed account of the Soviet lunar program. In the conclusion of the book, Mishin wrote: "I do not want my readers to understand that I try to avoid the responsibility as a Chief Designer for some mistakes, which have been made, (including my personal ones) in the course of the lunar program. The one who doesn’t do anything does not make mistakes. We, the successors to Korolev, did everything we could, but it was not enough."

Vasiliy Mishin died in Moscow on October 10, 2001. He was 84. He was buried on October 15, 2001 at Traekurovskoe Cemetery in Moscow.



Vasily Mishin (left) and Nikolai Kuznetsov next to the NK-33 engine, which was designed for the upgraded version of the N1 rocket. Credit: Progress