Son of Nikita Khrushchev Says Father Didn't Want to Compete in Race to Moon

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Marco Werman: The passing of Neil Armstrong over the weekend had many Americans thinking back to 1969. Armstrong's "giant leap for mankind"  meant the U.S. beat the Soviet Union in the race to land a manned mission on the moon. A decade earlier, it was the Soviets that seemed to be in the lead. In 1959 they landed the first spacecraft on the moon, an unmanned spherical contraption named Luna II. At the time, Sergei Khrushchev, son of former Soviet Premier, Nikita Khrushchev, was working on the Soviet Missile and Space Program. He did so until 1968, the year before the Apollo 11 moon landing. Sergei Khrushchev came to the U.S. in 1991 and he's now a visiting professor at Brown University. Mr. Khrushchev, as someone who had participated in the Soviet Missile and Space Program, was Armstrong's landing on the moon a memorable day for you?

Sergei Khrushchev: Of course it was memorable day for me like for all humanity because it was one more big achievement, first time we go to either planet and it was on the moon, but at that time, we thought that very soon we would go to Mars and, of course, everybody wants to be the first, but the same like it is in the Olympic games, it's important that somebody win.

Werman: I'm wondering, did you think when you heard the news of Neil Armstrong's landing on the moon, "Oh darn, the Americans got there first?" 

Khrushchev: We were prepared for this because at that time I was moved from the space program to computers, but still I was in touch with all my friends and we knew with all these attempts of the Americans, going step by step toward the moon, so it was very predictable and we knew that it would happen and that we were [inaudible].

Werman: Now much of the world was flabbergasted when President Kennedy announced in the early "Ë?60"²s that the U.S. would put a man on the moon before the end of the decade, then Neil Armstrong did his walk on the moon in 1969. Do you think that pushed the Soviet Union even further to develop their space program?

Khrushchev: It did not push us forward because we launched the Sputnik and the first man in space using the R-7 missile that was designed for the protection against possible American attack, so it was not for free, but it was not for the big spending, and then Kennedy announced that they will build this program to send men to moon. My father told the Soviet Union will not participate in this race because it is too expensive, we have other priorities to make the life of the Soviet people better, so he did not do it. Well, Armstrong stepped on the moon, [inaudible] Soviets, but it is still one big achievement for all of humanity.

Werman: Mr. Khrushchev, since the passing of Neil Armstrong over the weekend, there's been a lot of talk about how Armstrong may have been the last great American pioneer. What do you think about that?

Khrushchev: I think that [inaudible], if the nation is strong enough to explore the new frontiers. It can be human being, it can be automatic vehicle, and with now the success of Neil Armstrong, [inaudible]. I think that the human travel to space, more and more in my personal opinion, going to the history because the automatic vehicles are much cheaper and much more reliable than human flesh.

Werman: Sergei Khrushchev, thank you very much.

Khrushchev: Thank you.