Biography of Russian Scientist Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky Part 2

About the famous Russian scientist Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky, history and biography of the pioneer in the field of rocket fuel.


Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky


In 1891 he had requested a grant to construct a working model of his dirigible, but the request was denied. After his move, he decided to concentrate on a new project. Using his own funds, he built a wind tunnel of his own design and began the study of airfoils that led to his design of a heavier-than-air flying machine. Again, he could find no financial support for the actual construction. He then turned to the rocket--a device that would support Jules Verne's credibility in suggesting that a cannon projectile might be shot to the moon. He conceived a liquid-fueled device that would use the propellant mixture to cool the walls of the combustion chamber--a procedure now known as "curtain cooling." At the same time, he was the first to show that a rocket can indeed go faster than its own exhaust gases. His formula for rocket dynamics is still known as "Tsiolkovsky's formula." Recognizing that a rocket's fuel consumption would be greatest when the rocket was near the earth's surface, he proposed the use of multistage rocket vehicles. This concept of space travel catapulted his restless mind into a series of futuristic scenarios, on which he based more than a dozen works of science fiction.

In 1902 his son committed suicide. In 1908 a flood of the Oka River swamped his home and destroyed much of his equipment and scientific library. In 1911 his oldest daughter was arrested for participating in a revolutionary movement. During this same period, the contemporary scientific societies reacted with complete indifference to his scientific work. Apolitical up to this point in his life, Tsiolkovsky in 1914 turned to the problems of the class struggle. His timing couldn't have been better. After the 1917 revolution, he was able to gain the support of the Soviet state for a wide variety of research projects. In 1919 he was elected to the Socialist Academy.

Although Robert Goddard launched the first liquid-fueled rocket in the U.S. in 1926 and Hermann Oberth soon followed in Germany, the Russians did not get a rocket off the ground until Tsiolkovsky was too old and ill to travel to see it. Oberth nevertheless recognized Tsiolkovsky's theoretical contributions when he wrote to him early in 1935, "You kindled this fire. We shall not let it die; we shall try to realize man's greatest dream." But Tsiolkovsky considered Oberth a rival and a latecomer. He had not forgotten the years of anonymity and frustration, and he was not about to share freely his newly won recognition. When he died on Sept. 19, 1935, following an operation for stomach cancer, he received a state funeral.

The launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957 was apparently intended to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Tsiolkovsky's birth. The Soviet postal department issued a special stamp for the occasion, and Sept. 17, 1957, was marked by speeches honoring the rocket pioneer in Kaluga and Moscow. Unfortunately, the launch that shook the world took place some two weeks late, on Oct. 4.

Two years later, when the Soviet Luna 3 took the first photographs of the far side of the moon, the largest crater was named for Konstantin Tsiolkovsky. It is a crater that the earthbound will never see.

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