And the Creation of a Superpower
Sergei N. Khrushchev
The Pennsylvania State University Press
University Park, Pennsylvania
Cooperation in Outer Space
In the autumn of 1963, Farther returned
several times to his conversation with Kennedy in Vienna about the
possibility of working jointly on a lunar project. At that time,
concerned about military secrets, he rejected the president’s proposal
to cooperate and limited himself to an agreement on joint peaceful
research in space. It was more of a statement about exchanging
information than a serious program of cooperation.
Father’s views gradually changed. The possibility
of revealing some Soviet secrets to American scientists didn’t seem
quite so terrible anymore. Previously, Father had been especially
concerned that the Americans would find out that the Soviet Union had so
few intercontinental missiles. Moreover, the level of Soviet missile
readiness couldn’t be compared to that of the opposite side. Such
information, in Father’s opinion, might push the hotheads towards
preventive measures. Before they missed their chance.
The situation had begun to change in 1963. R-16’s were being deployed, one after another. The missile development
program was acquiring a more polished look. It wouldn’t hurt if they
found out that the Soviet Union possessed a good number of
intercontinental nuclear launchers. Father wasn’t fazed by the fact that
these missiles were only in the initial project stage. They would soon
appear on their launch pads. The first step in that direction was taken
that autumn. Flight tests of Yangel’s R-36 began in September and were
The meeting with Korolyov and Glushko made
Father think again about the lunar program. Sergei Pavlovich was asking
too high a price for his N-1. It was sometime during the second half of
September that I first heard Father talking, or rather thinking out
loud, about the possibility of concluding an agreement with the United
States to implement a joint lunar program. Apparently the impetus was
provided by the U.S. president’s speech at a session of the U.N. General
Assembly on September 20, in which he again proposed that we fly to the
moon together. Father still didn’t share his thoughts with anyone, but I
knew from experience that if he were thinking along those lines he would
eventually speak out. When he was ready.
The last time Father returned to this subject
was in November, about a week before Kennedy’s tragic death. He said
that when Soviet ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin met with the U.S.
president, Kennedy referred to the lunar program (along with a whole
series of other issues) and asked Dobrynin to assure Father that his
proposal to associate the lunar projects of our two countries was a
serious one and that he would like to discuss it in detail in the
future. “I must think about it,” said Father pensively, adding: “It’s
very tempting. We would save lots of money, not to speak of everything
else.” He didn’t explain what he meant by “everything else.” I
can’t say that I was pleased by this information. It seemed to me that
it would be very dangerous to reveal our secrets to an adversary.
Now they were driven by the myth of Soviet
superiority: powerful launchers, mysterious fuel, fantastically precise
instruments, and who knows what else. But we knew that our superiority
didn’t amount to much, Maybe our rockets were just as good, but they
were certainly no better than those launched from Cape Canaveral. In
1957, and to some degree in 1961, you could talk about the unique
payload capacity of the R-7. But that was all in the past: the UR-500
and the N-1 were substantially inferior to the Saturn. I had to express
my concerns to Father. He agreed with my reasoning, but drew the
diametrically opposite conclusion. Father turned it around to suit his
own point of view: If we couldn’t stay ahead, there was all the more
reason to join efforts.
He didn’t dismiss my fears concerning military
secrets, but considered them exaggerated. Father again cited Kennedy’s
acknowledgment that we were capable of destroying the United States. But
he rephrased his response somewhat:
It doesn’t make the slightest difference whether we use more
advanced missiles or less advanced missiles. If the Americans believe
that something like that is possible in principle, then other factors
will be secondary. Kennedy is a clever politician. War doesn’t enter
into his plans, nor into ours. We will agree and decide matters
peacefully. In six years, when he has to give up his seat in the White
House, we’ll have more than enough “100s.” So our country will be
too much for the Americans to cope with, even if their policy changes
Father fell silent and our conversation came to an end.
Father found out about John Kennedy’s assassination on the evening of
November 23. It’s difficult to say now at exactly what time, but it was
already quite dark out, which was not surprising for the end of
November. We had finished dinner, Father had read the evening mail and
was planning to go up to his bedroom on the second floor when the
government phone rang in the living room.
Evening phone calls to our residence were rare.
Father thought that he should work in the office and rest at home—that
is, if pouring over stacks of papers brought from the Kremlin every
evening can be called rest. Father was disturbed only in exceptional
circumstances. “Good evening, Comrade Gromyko,” said Father in response
to the first words of the invisible caller. “What’s the matter? What’s
happened?” Father listened intently for a long time, his expression
changing to one of deep concern. He finally said in a depressed tone of
voice: “Call the ambassador. Find out more. Perhaps it’s some mistake.
Then call me again right away.”
Father hung up and walked to the middle of the
room, as if undecided whether to sit down at the table or wait where he
was. He shifted from one foot to the other. A bitter expression was
fixed on his face.
Since Father’s behavior seemed very unusual I
couldn’t resist asking him what happened, though without really
expecting an answer. One was not supposed to ask in such cases.
To my surprise, Father answered readily. My
question interrupted his unhappy train of thought. He said that American
radio broadcasters were saying that someone had attempted to assassinate
John Kennedy. The president was on a trip around the country. It was not
clear whether he was wounded or killed. Reports were contradictory. Of
course, if there had really been an assassination attempt, it was hardly
likely that reporters would have full information.
“I asked Gromyko to find out more from the
ambassador,” Father repeated what I had already heard him say over the
phone. “Of course, he’s not likely to have exact information
After a pause, Father said somewhat
distractedly: “If the president is alive . . .”
He didn’t finish. What did he want to say?
Hearing what Father had said, Mama and my
sister Lena, who were reading in the dining room, abandoned what they
were doing and joined us. There was a heavy silence. A small, polished
round table and three chairs stood in the middle of the room. Father
circled around them. I sat on a chair by the phone. Mama and Lena sat
down on a small couch against the wall.
The phone was silent. Father lost patience. He
looked up Gromyko’s number in the directory and dialed. The secretary
answered that Andrei Andreyvich was at home. Father identified himself
and asked that Gromyko call him at the apartment. A minute later the
Sounding slightly annoyed, Father asked: “Why
haven’t you called me back?”
“We put in a call to Washington, but we can’t
seem to get through.” Andrei Andreyvich started trying to justify
“Why Washington?” Father was surprised.
“To the ambassador as you ordered” Gromyko
“I meant the U.S. ambassador, Kohler,” said
Father, beginning to get irritated. “They would have informed him immediately
if something bad happened. Call him and then call me back immediately.”
Father hung up and gave half a smile.
“What a dunce. He called our Embassy in
Washington instead of the Americans,” he explained. “He’ll call
Father resumed his circling. This time he didn’t have long to wait. Andrei Andreyvich reported that President
Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, Texas. The president was dead.
Still holding the phone, Father paused, as if
thinking something over. Then he began to talk about expressing our
condolences and asked about our participation in the funeral ceremony.
Gromyko said that the ambassador could represent our country, but that
he could fly to Washington as well. He said that on the one hand,
Kennedy was the leader of an imperialist country and we should not
particulary grieve over him. On the other hand, the appearance of a
Soviet minister would be appreciated. Gromyko referred to the precedent
of his attendance at the funeral of John Foster Dulles.
Father had already managed to think over the
matter. He felt that the ministerial rank was not adequate in this case.
A president should be buried by a president, but since Brezhnev was
little known in America, he thought that it would be best to entrust
this sad mission to Mikoyan. Gromyko agreed immediately.
In conclusion, they decided that Andrei
Andreyvich would find out when Father could visit the U.S. Embassy to
pay his condolences. Father said that, in addition to the official
protocol telegram to Johnson, the new president, he also wished to send
condolences to Kennedy’s widow, Jacqueline.
He thought for a bit and then added: “And
from Nina Petrovna separately. They met in Vienna.”
This was unprecedented. Mama accompanied Father
on trips and people had gradually grown used to the idea, but that was
the extent of her role in state affairs. By this gesture, Father wanted
to emphasize as far as possible the sincerity and personal nature of his
The next day Father, accompanied by Gromyko,
visited Ambassador Kohler and signed the book. A message was sent out to
Johnson, which read: “I will preserve the memory of my personal
meetings with President John F. Kennedy, a leader of wide-ranging views,
who had a realistic grasp of the world situation and who tried through
negotiations to find ways to resolve the international problems now dividing
Father wrote to Jacqueline Kennedy: “He
inspired great respect in all who knew him, and meetings with him will
remain in my memory forever.”
Mikoyan arrived in Washington on the
A day later, President Johnson made a statement
confirming his country’s hard-line position toward Vietnam.
A few days later, during our evening walk,
Father suddenly recalled his ideas about the moon program. He said
bitterly that that was all over now. He had trusted Kennedy and counted
on mutual understanding. He had been ready for risky (for those times)
contacts, but with Kennedy, not with the U.S. administration. Now
Kennedy was gone.
He thought for a few moments, then added that
everything would be different with Johnson.
President Kennedy did not have the six years
that Father counted on. Father did not have them either.