Kerim Kerimov

Muslim Matters

Kerim Kerimov

By Syed Aslam

Vostok-1 launch, 12 April 1961

vostok-1_launchKerim Kerimov was born in the year 1917 in a Muslim family of an engineering background in Baku, Azerbaijan then part of the Russia. After graduation from the Azerbaijan Industrial Institute in 1942, he continued his education at Dzerzhinsky Artillery Academy, where he committed himself to design and development of rocket systems. An expert in rocket technology, he worked during World War II on the inspection and acceptance of the famous Katyusha rocket launchers. His work was honored with the Order of the Red Star. After his  retirement in 1991 he worked as a Consultant to the Main Space Flights Control Center of the Russian Federal Space Agency. General Kerim Kerimov died March 29, 2003 in Moscow, at the age of 85.

Kerim Kerimov was one the great rocket scientist of the Soviet Union and he is considered as the father of Soviet Rocketry.  He was one of the lead architects behind the string of Soviet successes that stunned the world from the late 1950s – from the launch of the first satellite, the Sputnik  in 1957. The first human spaceflight, Yuri Gagarin’s 108-minute trip around the globe aboard the Vostok  in 1961,  the first fully automated space docking of Cosmos 186 and Cosmos 188 in 1967. He also involved  in building the  first space stations, the Salyut and Mir series from 1971 to 1991. Kerim Kerimov  was involved in Soviet aeronautics from its inception. After World War II, Kerimov worked on the Soviet inter-continental ballistic missile program, rising by 1960 to head the   Missile Weapons  Program.  Along with other rocketry experts, he was sent to Germany in 1946 to collect information on the German V-2 rocket. In 1964 he became head of the newly formed Central Directorate of the Space Forces  of the USSR Ministry of Defense. Following the death of Sergei Korolev in 1966, Kerimov was appointed Chairman of the State Commission on Piloted Flights and remained Chairman  for 25 years . He supervised every stage of development and operation of both manned space complexes as well as unmanned interplanetary stations for former Soviet Union. Kerimov was also the Head of Chief Directorate of the Ministry of General Machine Building in 1965-1974, which was engaged in creation of rocket systems.

As in the case of other Soviet space pioneers, the Soviet authorities for many years refused to disclose Kerimov’s identity to the public. At televised space launchings, cameras always focused on the cosmonauts and not the person to whom they reported their readiness to carry out the mission.  Kerimov was a secret general, he was always hidden from the camera’s view; only his voice was broadcast.  Until 1987, even Azerbaijanis did not know that the man holding the Number One position in aerospace was an Azerbaijani Muslim. His name remained a secret until era of glasnost in Soviet Union, when he was first mentioned in Pravda newspaper in 1987.

He wrote a book; The Way to Space, a history of the Soviet space program in which he describes the entire birth and development of the aerospace industry of the former Soviet Union.  Kerim Kerimov was a Hero of Socialist Labor, laureate of Stalin, Lenin and State prizes of the Soviet Union..


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