From Cellar to a Thoughtful Step. How Sergei Korolev’s Memorial House Is Arranged

October 8

The house in 1st Ostankinskaya Street, as Sergei Korolev, the designer of rocket and space systems, lived in during last six years of his life, was got by him as a gift from the government for the successful creation and launch of the world’s first artificial Earth satellite. The place was selected by himself. It was a picturesque green Moscow suburb at that time, in late 1950s. The choice was affected by the monument “To Space Conquerors” erected nearby. The scientist visited the construction site each day nearly, it was visible from his window.

On August 1, 1975, nine years after the designer’s death, S.P.  Korolev’s Memorial House was opened here. It has become a branch of Moscow Museum of Cosmonautics. The exposition has around 20 thousand storage units — personal effects, books, documents, photos, everyday items.

Former Cellar

Museum visitors come into the house through the base entry, absent during Korolev’s lifetime. The cellar premise was reequipped by museum opening, and now documental films devoted to the Korolev’s personality and space exploration are demonstrated here, as well as temporary exhibitions held. Among the most valuable exhibits, as may be seen here, there are: Korolev’s traveling dress (mackintosh, hat, scarf and trousers), as well as things he did not part in travels, such as the traveling bag, flashlight, compass, and shaving stick.

There are exhibits here connected with the scientist’s childhood — a thirst for creating something new appeared for him when he was young: for example, he made a pencil holder once from a Civil war deactivated grenade (such exhibit is from the home museum of Natalia Sergeevna, Korolev’s daughter). Korolev’s activity books, working notebooks, certifications from funds of the Museum of Cosmonautics can be also seen here.

Hospitable Home

“To Stars!” sculpture by Grigory Postnikov - a symbolic present of the first cosmonauts to the chief designer — is on the high pedestal at the wooden stairway leading upstairs. Like Prometheus carrying fire to mankind, a young mighty athlete launches a rocket to skies as a torch, which will help people to reach space distant spots.

The sculpture was delivered to the “space father’s” house by Yury Gagarin and Alexei Leonov. This present was very dear to Korolev. Later, autographs of all 11 cosmonauts, as had been in space during his life, were engraved on the sculpture basement at his request.

From the hallway, passing glass shelves with porcelain statuettes from designer’s wife Nana Ivanovna collection, we get to a spacious living room divided from the dining room by a partition with movable folds. Korolev’s home was very hospitable, relatives and friends gathered frequently here. There came so many guests, that there was just no room at the table for all of them - then, another one was brought here after moving folds apart. A Telefunken radio set with a record player — a valuable present from General Andrei Sokolov, one of Korolev’s friends - is near the table. They got acquainted in Germany in September of 1945. A place for one present more, a funny one, was found here either. A funny rubber troll brought from Norway by Boris Raushenbach, a scientist, is looking at guests besides the glass, near the set.

From the dining room, we can get to a small but very comfortable kitchen along the narrow corridor. Korolev’s seat is closer to the door. He liked to take his breakfast just here. He preferred very simple food. That is how Nina Ivanovna wrote about her husband’s gastronomic preferences:

“He liked transparent soups, that is the broth should have been transparent. He never ate the pickle soup (with kidneys), mushroom soup (made of cep dried boletuses) with the sour creme. He used to say: “The sour creme takes away the taste and smell of mushrooms, etc.” He used to call the domestic chicken noodle soup as the “chicken dream”, but for a joke and not because he liked it. <...> He called cooked (thin) sausage a “dog’s delight” for a joke.”

Cinema and Music

Sergei Pavlovich preferred the cinematograph from entertainments. It was not often that he got to “Cosmos”, the nearest cinema, but arranged shows just in his living room. He was helped in it by the “Ukraine” film projector and a special screen, occupying nearly all the wall. The last film Korolev watched here was “Mari-October” 1959 drama on the French Resistance. The film projector was switched on last on January 14, 1968, on the second Korolev’s death anniversary. That day, Yury Gagarin was showing a film to friends and relatives of Sergei Pavlovich gathered, as had been shot during his burial. The projector is stored on a mantelshelf now, and the screen is rolled up near the TV set. The “Rubin-202” TV set was bought shortly after the Korolevs moved to Ostankino. It was rare that Sergei Pavlovich watched it, he considered its to take away too mush time.

But Korolev was a hardcore music fan, Pyotr Tchaikovsky especially. The First Concerto for Piano and Orchestra recording performed by Van Kliburn, an American pianist, was one of his favorite records. Nina Ivanovna supported such hobby - she liked to play piano herself. The spouse presented her with Stainway, an instrument of a well-known firm when they lived in Podlipki near Moscow yet. The instrument mover then to 1st Ostankinskaya with them.

An arm chair near the fireplace under the picture with Mikhail Klodt’s woodland landscape bought in 1962 was Korolev’s favorite object in the living room. Sometimes, having placed himself comfortably in it with a magazine or a book, Sergei Pavlovich used to tell his wife: “I’ve gone to the forest.” It meant that the scientist wished being along for a while.

More than Five Thousand Books and Private Studies

From the hall, going upstairs to the library directly is possible, where fiction — around 2.5 thousand books — are collected. Sergei Pavlovich was especially fond of reading science-fiction writers — Alexandr Beliaev, Strugatskys brothers, Stanislav Lem, Ivan Efremov. The collection has editions with specific value, there is an impressive slim volume of Pushkin’s works among them with a subscription: “These fair songs are for you, my inspiring. To the day of October 20, 1949. Sergei”.

One of steps of the stairway leading to the library is specific. Korolev liked to sit down on it and look thoughtfully into the window overlooking the VDNKh. He called this step thoughtful.

We can get to Korolev’s private study from the library. Bookcases locate as much rich scientific and technical library. There are around two thousand books, brochures, journals here — all in the same order as in the owner’s times. The work table has two portraits nearby of people inspiring him. These are Konstantin Tsiolkovsky and Friedrich Zander, engineer, pioneer of rocket techniques, creator of the first domestic liquid-fuel rocket, 09 (GIRD-09).

There is a photo showing off near the entrance with a “Three Ks” joking name, impressing Sergei Korolev, Igor Kurchatov and Mstislav Keldysh, who headed the work on creating the missile and nuclear shield. The photo was taken in 1959 in the garden not far from the Kurchatov’s house and institute he led. Sergei Pavlovich and Mstislav Vsevolodovich came to visit their friend after sickness.

There is a portrait of his wife in the Korolev’s study performed in wood inlaying techniques (incrustation variant). On January 12, 1965, Sergei Pavlovich got portrait as a gift from friends made using such techniques, and ordered the similar one right away for Nina Ivanovna. By the way, his portrait is in her room, where she was working on translations. Nina Ivanovna furnished her personal area with then most up-to-date furniture Sergei Pavlovich disliked as all, it was uncomfortable according to him. He even threatened to throw it out, but didn’t do it — two arm chairs and a sofa may be seen today.

“Nice Creeps” and a Horseshoe for Luck

Korolev put his hand to creating certain interior items. He drew a sketch, for example, based on which a flower stand was made — cactuses ere settled there. The scientists called his collection of succulent plants “My nice creeps”. Cactuses were in the bedroom in the spouses’ lifetime, they are still there.

Like all other rooms, the bedroom looks in the same way as many years ago: the same bed, bedside tables, a rocking chair with a bright-green checkered (quite modern) rug. Spouses’ garments are at their places in closed wardrobes and a chest. There is no access there for guests, they are only opened by museum employees liable for the safety of belongings.

From the bedroom (just as from the study of Sergei Pavlovich), one may get to the balcony with an excellent view of the house land plot. The flowerbed of roses of “triumph” hybrid tea color was the main couple’s pride. Museum employees managed to save, rear them by a miracle, so visitors can see now descendants of that very flowers, as Korolev and his wife admired. He laid walk paths in the form of a plane taking off with wings forking sideways, with a cedar planted at its “nose” (Cedar was the scientist’s callsign).

Spouses kept a garden also — fruit, vegetables, cherry trees were growing there. Sometime, when working at the land plot, Sergei Pavlovich found a horseshoe. Everyone was inspired with the find and said it was for luck. Sergei Pavlovich immediately nailed the find to the trunk of a tree right above the bench. It is the real sacred object for cosmonauts now: each time they come here before the flight to seat under the symbol of happiness considering same a good sign.

Final Things

Early January of 1966 happened to be very uneasy. Korolev was to take an uncompounded polyp removal operation, and doctors assured everything would be well. But Sergei Pavlovich was worried, as if feeling anything bad. Nina Ivanovna recalled that she had gone downstairs before the hospitalization from the second floor and heard sounds of music. The husband was sitting his back to her. He appeared as very thoughtful to her — to such extent that heard neither her steps, nor parquet creak. He was afraid that the operation might have been more complex. It was his last evening in the beloved home.

In the morning of January 5, 1966, main entrance doors closed behind the owner for the last time. He went to the hospital. Nina Ivanovna recalled that the husband turned round at the doorway and said: “I shall take the key to the front door with me!” He was going to return home — to his dreams, plans, intensive work rate. But the heart, of which disease he had suffered for many years, failed in the unforeseen hour-long operation. On January 14, Sergei Pavlovich Korolev was gone.

The final article of the chief designed published in the “Pravda” newspaper on January 1, 1966 was called “Steps to the Future” and finished by the following words: “Things that seemed as unrealizable over centuries, that were a daring dream yet yesterday, become a real task today, and an achievement — tomorrow. The human thought has no barriers!”


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