Dreams of a Hearing Impaired Rocket Scientist

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Robert Traynor
May 20, 2014

rs5Edward Ciołkowskia was a Polish orthodox priest who was deported deep into the heart of Russia on the order of Alexander II because of his political activities.  Edward Russianized his name and married an educated Tartar woman; they had 18 children of whom Konstantin was fifth.  Living about 120 miles south of Moscow in the Spassky District, young Konstantin’s father became a forester, teacher and later a low level government official that provided a meager but adequate  income for his family.

As most Russian children of the time, Konstantin often time spent away from the tyrannical clutches of parental discipline and enjoyed roaming rs4through domestic corridors and wild gardens. About 1866, he contacted Scarlet Fever and became hearing impaired from the disease.  While Scarlet Fever is a  disorder that affects the eardrum and middle ear bones, at the time it was a serious hearing loss that had no known method of amplification.  Konstantin lost a significant portion of his hearing and became isolated from his peers. By the age 14, he was suspended from school, having acquired only a few brief years of formal educationAs a reclusive home-schooled child, Konstantin passed much of his time by reading books and became interested in mathematics and physics. As a teenager, he began to contemplate the possibility of space travel, considered folly at the time. Encouraged by the boy’s crafty designs, Konstantin’s father agreed to pay for his education in Moscow, but Konstantin failed to enter the technical school there and decided on his own to stay in Moscow and educate himself by reading books. His father sent him little money and he later recalled, “I ate just black bread didn’t have even potatoes and tea. Instead I was buying books, pipes, sulfuric acid (for experiments) and so on.”  Konstantin’s arrival in Moscow, however, coincided with rs2great changes in Russian society, arts and sciences. It was the age of Tchaikovsky, Dosteovsky and Dimitri Mendeleev who developed the first periodic table of elements. Nikolai Zhukovsky did his pioneering work on aerodynamics. He was teaching himself at the Chertkovskaya Library where a very strange and brilliant man named Nikolai Fyodorovich Fyodorov was an employee. Fyodorov was a transhumanist philosopher and a futurist who believed that humankind’s path forward leads ultimately to technological transcendence and divinity. He felt that scientific progress would eventually lead to physical immortality and then ultimately to the resurrection of all people who rs1have ever died (Fyodorov liked to think “outside of the box”).  With the tutelage and mentorship of Fyodorov, Konstantin taught himself math, took an active interest in Fyodorov’s scientific philosophy of space travel and even began to wonder what could be done with all of the immense number of dead humans if and when they returned. The thought led Konstantin to think about outer space and the subject came to dominate the rest of his life. .At the library Konstantin came across Nikolai Fedorov, whose theories,- cosmism, however bizarre, captured his imagination. In 1865 From the Earth to the Moon a novel by Jules Verne was also creating a stir.  After three years in Moscow, Konstantin returned home and earned his living with private tutoring, and later passed official exams to get the position of a teacher at a state school. Before taking his first teachingrs7 job, however, he built a centrifuge with the idea of testing gravitational effects. Local chickens served as his test subjects. He later came to believe that colonizing space would lead to the rs8perfection of the human race, with immortality and a carefree existence. He taught arithmetic and geometry in the local school in Borokvsk, a small town 70 miles south of Moscow. There, he married Varvara Sokolova and raised a family. In 1892, Konstantin was  promoted to another teaching position in Kaluga, where he spent most of his life in a log house on the outskirts of Kaluga, about 200 km (120 mi) southwest of Moscow. A recluse by nature, he appeared strange and bizarre to his fellow towns folk would remain until his death in 1935.

Of course,  we are referring to Konstantin Tsiolkovsky the founding father of rocketry and cosmonautics.  His Tsiolkovsky Formula, published in 1903, established acrscurate relationships between mass of the rocket and its propellant, the speed of the gas at exit, and rocket speed.  Additionally, he predicted many aspects of space travel with stunning accuracy, describing many of the details of pressurized space suits, orbital space stations, the use of solar power, life in low gravity environments, a the need for multi-stage rockets to achieve escape velocity.  Konstantin even predicted the advantages of combining liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen for rocket fuel.  Although two other scientists, Robert Goddard and Hermann Oberth derived many of his basic principles around the same time (independently), it was Tsiolkovsky who would later be given credit for inspiring and informing the fledgling Soviet space program that beat the US into space.  In 1917, after the Bolshevik Revolution led to the creation of the Soviet Union, his work received formal recognition and in 1921 he rs6was awarded a lifetime pension from the state.  He retired from teaching to devote himself wholly to his space flight investigations.    In 1935 he died at his home in Kaluga, Russia at the age of 78.  honors paid to him have included induction into the International Aerospace Hall of Fame, the naming of a lunar crater in his honor and the creation of the Konstantin E. Tsiolkovsky Stat Museum of the History of Cosmonautics devoted to his work.  In Russia, Konstanin Tsiolkovsky is known as the “the father of theoretical and applied cosmonautics”.

Not bad for a self taught, hearing impaired recluse Turned Rocket Scientist!






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