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Soviet and Russian Space Activities

A substantial fraction of this section of the website is derived from the work of Dr. Charles S. Sheldon II, was chief of the Science Policy Research Division of the Congressional Research Service at the Library of Congress in Washington. Though he had access to secret intelligence material, he always emphasized that the reports he prepared for Congress were based on open source information.

Charles Vick, Senior Fellow at and previously a senior research associate at the Federation of American Scientists, has five decades of experience in assessing Soviet space technology. His technical drawings of Soviet launch and space vehicles are known worldwide, illustrating the CRS series. By applying his own creative powers to analyze whatever paltry data were available from the Soviets before 1989.

Vick was the first to publish a drawing that reconstructed the N-1/L-3 Soviet manned lunar vehicle, at a time when the Soviets were denying that they ever had a manned lunar program. His skills as a space-age detective were underscored in 1984 when the Soviets released the first complete photos of their workhorse Proton rocket. The photos clearly show that years earlier Vick had correctly deduced the size and shape of the booster rocket despite the deep secrecy that had surrounded it for nearly two decades.

The history of the Russian spaceflight effort was chronicled in his superb Congressional Research Service reports to Congress. The early reports were authored by a renowned Soviet space expert, Dr. Charles S. Sheldon, while the last was authored by the no-less learned Marcia Smith. Their careful research was the basis of several detailed studies of Soviet space affairs that became essential reference works for Congress, journalists and scholars. They provide an "as-it-happened" contemporaneous account of every element of the Soviet program: manned and unmanned programs, military satellite, launch sites, compendiums of official statements, plans, international participation and cosmonauts, and much more.

The Western designation system for Soviet boosters was devised in the early 1960s by Charles Sheldon of the U.S. Library of Congress. It is based on allocation of letters to families of launchers, and variants are designated by suffix numbers and letters. For example "Family A" included the boosters for Sputnik 1, Sputnik 2, Vostok and Soyuz, and Sputnik 1/2 were designated "A", Vostok was "A-1", and Soyuz was "A-1-m". In addition, suffix letters are sometimes used to characterize a rocket.

Sheldon was born in Shanghai, China, of American parents and was educated at the University of Washington at Seattle. He was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and received his doctorate in economics from Harvard University in 1942. He was an officer in the Navy in World War II and the Korean War.

From 1961 to 1966, he was a senior staff member of the President's Space Council. Sheldon also was the staff director of the House Select Committee on Committees and the director of research for the Special Study on Economic Change of the Joint Economic Committee.

Sheldon joined the Congressional Research Service in 1955, where he participated in drafting both the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, which established the American civilian space organization, and the Communications Satellite Act of 1962. Over the years, he wrote five books and more than 50 articles, many of them on the U.S. and Soviet space programs.

Sheldon, who lived in Arlington, held the title of distinguished lecturer at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. He was a fellow of the American Astronautical Society and the British Interplanetary Society. Sheldon died of cancer 11 September 1981 at Arlington Hospital in Virginia.

Charles S. Sheldon is not to be confsed with the unrelated Charles Sheldon, the naturalist who promoted the idea of making the area around Mt. McKinley a national park. He also worked with Naval Intelligence in th Great War. He organized agents in Central America at a time when there was a fear those ports would be used by German submarines. Nor should he be confused with Charles Monroe Sheldon (February 26, 1857 in Wellsville, New York February 24, 1946), the American minister in the Congregational churches and leader of the Social Gospel movement. Or with Charles H. Sheldon (1840-1898), second Governor of South Dakota.

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Page last modified: 15-05-2016 20:06:26 ZULU