Yuri Vasilievich Kondratyuk (1897-1942): Born as Aleksandr Shargei, he took a new name to avoid persecution during the Russian Revolution. Kondratyuk wrote visionary works on spaceflight and rocketry. He suggested using space vehicles that had two or more modules that could use the Earth’s gravity to ‘sling-shot’ a manned vehicle to the Moon; this was the first ‘Lunar Orbiter Rendezvous’ proposal. His ideas were used by NASA for the Apollo lunar landing missions.
Kondratyuk was born as Aleksandr Ignatyevich Shargei on June 21, 1897 in the city of Poltava, in what is now the Ukraine. He attended the Great Polytechnic School in what is now St. Petersburg, Russia but was drafted into the army at the outbreak of World War I in 1914. During the war, he began to write down his ideas of interplanetary flight. One of these was to use a modular spacecraft to reach the Moon: One part of the vehicle would stay in lunar orbit while the other, smaller portion of the craft would lander landed on the Moon’s surface. The lander would then return to rendezvous with the orbiter. He also calculated the trajectory to take a spacecraft from Earth to the Koon and back. This is now known as “Kondratyuk’s route” or “Kondratyuk’s loop”.
He left the army in 1917 following the Russian Revolution, and in 1918 tried to escape political oppression by fleeing to Poland. As he failed in the attempt, he went into hiding for three years before he assumed a new identity as Yuri Vasilievich Kondratyuk, who had died in 1921. After working as a mechanic and railroad worker, he moved to Siberia in 1927.
In that time, he wrote “Conquest of Interplanetary Space”, a self-published book on rocket motion and the colonization of space. In another work he suggested using a gravitational slingshot trajectory to accelerate a spacecraft. Kondratyuk’s discoveries were made independently of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky who also worked on spaceflight issues at that time.
In 1930, Kondratyuk was investigated as a “saboteur” by the Soviet secret police, the NKVD. He was sentenced to three years in a prison camp, but due to his record as an engineer, ended up in a research facility prison. In 1932, he met Sergei Korolev, then head of the GIRD, the Soviet rocket research group. Korolev offered him a position on his staff, but Kondratyuk declined, fearing that the scrutiny he would come under the NKVD would reveal his true identity.
When Nazi Germany invaded the USSR in June 1941 Kondratyuk volunteered for duty in the Red Army. He may have been killed as early as October during a battle with the Germans, but it is more likely that he went missing in action in January or February 1942. After the War, his notebooks with his unpublished works were smuggled out of the USSR. In the 1960s these and his other writings were an integral part of the planning for the Apollo lunar landing missions.