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TSIOLKOVSKY KONSTANTIN (1857-1935) Russian

 

Physicist

 

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Tsiolkovsky now remembered as the father of space travel was a school teacher, almost entirely self taught. Isolated by his deafness, result of scarlet fever as a child and by conditions of the Tsarist Russia he devised the kinetic theory of gases only to be told of Maxwell’s work had preceded his by a decade, his reply was that it had been a good experience.

He was suspended from school at the age of 14.  Two years later he went to Moscow where he taught himself at Chertkovskaya Library and lived on a small allowance sent from home. “I ate just black bread didn’t have even potatoes and tea, he would later recall, “Instead I was buying books,pipes, sulfuric acid (for experiments) and so on.”

His arrival in Moscow however coincided with great social changes and also in 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. Tsiolkvsky 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 creating a stir.

 

From 1883 he had worked out principle of rocketry in detail , propulsion was provided by a mixture of liquid hydrogen and oxygen; he also had correctly foreseen it would require a multi-stage principle to get the rocket escape the Earth’s gravity. A single engine he realized was impractical. Starved of funds needed for the experimental work he published in 1911 a series of comprehensive survey of the theory of space flight.

His genius was however recognized and Sputnik was slated to go into orbit on the birth centenary,- alas it got delayed by 29 days. His tombstone carries the words, ‘Mankind will not remain tied to Earth forever.’

 

 

 

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