Mstislav Vsevolodovich Keldysh. January 28 (February 10), 1911 – June 24, 1978. Soviet scientist in the field of applied mathematics and mechanics, a major organizer of Soviet science, one of the Soviet space program ideologists. Academician of the USSR Academy of Sciences, its president in from 1961 to 1975. Thrice Hero of Socialist Labor.


Life and Work:

1. In 1970, Komsomolskaya Pravda published a photo with the caption Three Great K. One of them was Korolev, the second was Kurchatov, and the third was the subject of the article, Mstislav Keldysh.


2. President of the USSR Academy of Sciences, Three Times Hero of Socialist Labor Mstislav Vsevologovich Keldysh was an outstanding scientist of the 20th century. Those were the years of active development of science and technology. Russia was recognized as an aviation nation, created an atomic bomb and electronic computers, and broke out into space. Mstislav Vsevolodovich Keldysh’s mind and talent made a considerable contribution into each of these huge works.


3. There is a street named after Keldysh in the capital of Latvia. And it is not surprising, as Mstislav Keldysh’s place of birth field reads “the city of Riga.” He was born in 1911 – the year when Titanic was built. There was a curious coincidence much later: the vessel Akademik Mstislav Keldysh took part in filming the Titanic movie.


4. Mstislav Keldysh was born in the family of the “father of Russian reinforced concrete,” Associate Professor of the Riga Polytechnic University, Major General of the Engineering and Technical Service Vsevolod Mikhailovich Keldysh. In his old age, the academician of architecture, and former nobleman chuckled, “If I knew that one of my boys would become president of the USSR Academy of Sciences, maybe I would have paid more attention to him.” By the way, there were four boys in the family, while in total, Mstislav had six siblings.


5. Both Keldysh’s grandfathers were also generals: his maternal grandfather was General of Artillery A. N. Skvortsov, while his paternal grandfather, M. F. Keldysh, was a medical service general. Much later, Keldysh’s sister Lyudmila would call him a general of science.


6. In the second year of World War I, the Keldysh family moved from frontline Riga to Moscow. During the Russian Civil War and immediately afterwards, Vsevolod Mikhailovich lived in Ivanovo-Voznesensk with his family. His youngest son, Mstislav, went to school.


7. Mstislav Keldysh discovered his outstanding abilities in exact sciences already in the 7th grade.


8. At the age of sixteen, the future academician entered the Mathematics Department of Moscow State University. He did so not because of a passionate love for mathematics, but on his older sister’s advice and because he was too young to enter the Construction Department of Moscow Higher Technical School. Actually, Mstislav wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a civil engineer. He even prepared himself for this occupation: every summer, the high school student Keldysh worked as a handyman at construction sites.


9. His teacher at Moscow State University, Academician Nikolay Nikolayevich Luzin, lamented: Mstislav is interested in applied mathematics! He is interested in engineering problems! An outstanding mathematical talent is dying!


10. The talent did not die, although Mstislav Vsevolodovich retained his interest in engineering and applied problems for the rest of his life. After graduation, he was sent to the Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute, where Keldysh worked until the end of the war.


11. Mark Gallay recalled that at some point TsAGI employees were required to learn how to fly airplanes. Keldysh’s achievements impressed the instructor that he suggested Mstislav Vsevolodovich to change his profession and become a professional pilot.


12. When Keldysh worked at TsAGI, he managed to overcome flutter – that is, self-excited sustained bending and twisting vibrations of structures that can destroy a plane.


13. Later, flutter affected the sword of the Motherland Calls monument on Mamayev Kurgan. A new sword was made according to Keldysh’s recommendations.


14. Keldysh also coped with “shimmy:” aircraft designers use the name of the American dance to describe self-excited vibrations of the nose wheel of the aircraft landing gear.


15. Keldysh received his first hero star for his participation in the Soviet nuclear project. The special calculation bureau organized by him at Steklov Mathematical Institute of the USSR Academy of Sciences performed all the mathematical calculations for the Soviet thermonuclear bomb. So, he had a chance to work with the atomic K, Kurchatov.


16. Keldysh also had a chance to work with the space K, Korolev: Mstislav Vsevolodovich received his second star of the Hero of Socialist Labor in 1961, after Gagarin’s flight.


17. His work was strictly classified, and at that time no one knew that it was Mstislav Vsevolodovich Keldysh who used the pseudonym Cosmonautics Theorist. This theorist led the development of the theoretical foundations for launching artificial bodies into near-Earth orbits in the mid-50s and solved many problems of the space flight mechanics. All space exploration activities unfolded with Mstislav Keldysh’s most active participation.


18. One of Korolev’s closest associates, Academician Boris Yevseyevich Chertok, recalled that in 1960 they were preparing to launch the first automatic station to Mars, and among other scientific devices it was planned to equip the station with a spectoreflexometer, which was supposed to determine whether there was water on Mars, that is, life. Keldysh proposed to test the device on Earth. The device showed that there was no life on Earth.


19. The development of computational mathematics in the USSR is also associated with Keldysh. It was Mstislav Vsevolodovich who supervised the work on the first Soviet computers for calculations required by atomic and aerospace projects.


20. Academician Boris Paton said the following about Keldysh, “Mstislav Vsevolodovich is able to fit so many activities in a 24-hour day that would not manage to do in several workdays. This is not fanaticism or sacrifice to the detriment of life. This is life itself. And quite a happy one.”


21. In 1955, Keldysh signed the so-called Letter of Three Hundred criticizing the Lysenkoism. During the campaign against A. D. Saharov, Keldysh signed a statement against Sakharov, but did not allow the exclusion of Andrey Dmitriyevich from the Academy of Sciences. Keldysh met with Andropov personally to defend Sakharov.


22. In 1951, when Academician Petrovsky was appointed rector of Moscow State University, Keldysh advised him to strictly follow the three rules: not to fight the evil, but to do good deeds; not to listen to complaints in absence of the person being complained about; not to promise anything to anyone, but if something has been promised, fulfill the promise, even if the circumstances have worsened. He explained it this way: when fighting, the evil uses all means, while you use only noble ones, therefore you will lose and suffer damage. It is very useful not to listen to complaints: the number of complainants immediately decreases, and when both parties are present, the case review is accelerated due to absence of unfounded claims. Finally, it is better not to promise and do what is asked, than to promise and fail to deliver if circumstances are against it.


23. Despite the classified nature of many of Keldysh’s works, he became a member of almost a dozen foreign academies of sciences, as well as an honorary professor of several foreign universities. Among his many awards, there is even the French Order of the Legion of Honor.


24. A minor planet, a crater on the Moon and a rare silicate, keldyshite, first found in the Murmansk Region, are named after Keldysh.


25. “He died at the wheel of a car, a second before setting off...” – wrote Yaroslav Golovanov in his book Etudes on Scientists.