Space X may compete the Russian space agency for commercial launches, but both institutions share an enduring respect for Sergey Korolev, the pioneering Soviet rocket engineer and father of the USSR’s space program.

Elon Musk is a long-time fan of the Soviet school of rocket engineering, so it’s no surprise that on Tuesday he joined Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, in marking the birthday of Sergey Korolev. He is credited as being the father of the Soviet space program in roughly the same way as Wernher von Braun is that of its American counterpart.

Он был великолепен

“He was amazing,” Musk tweeted in Russian, responding to a post by Roscosmos marking 114 years since Korolev’s birthday.

Now a world-famous figure in the history of space exploration, Korolev remained a mystery to the general public right up to his untimely death in 1966, even as his engineering and organizational talents allowed the Soviet Union to take a lead in the space race.

In the USSR and the US alike, conquering space was inevitably tied in with development of intercontinental ballistic missiles, so the Soviet press referred to the highly classified man simply as the “chief designer.”

Korolev’s life was also a testament to the inhumane ruthlessness that befell the USSR during the Stalin era. Like many others, he became a victim of the infamous ‘purge’ in the late 1930s, spending some time as a prison laborer at a gold mine and later worked as an inmate specialist designing weapons for the Soviet war effort. His sentence was overturned as baseless only in 1955, after Stalin’s death.

The legacy left by Korolev remains widely appreciated in Russia and elsewhere. Space X, for example, dedicated one of the conference rooms at its HQ to him.

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