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"To forward mankind by little". Dreams of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky

17 September 2020

"The activities and works of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky are varied: he developed aeronautics, aerodynamics, physics, astronomy, interplanetary communications, natural science, but at the same time he was a philosopher and a writer", said the Soviet scientist Nikolai Rynin in the book "Russian Inventor and Scientist Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky" (1931).

"The patriarch of astronautical science", the founder of modern cosmonautics, a self-taught inventor with a very difficult fate, "Tsiolkovsky belongs to those exceptional minds whose creative forces set big goals for themselves", wrote mathematician and a popular exponent of science Yakov Perelman in the publication "Tsiolkovsky: His Life, Inventions and Scientific Works" (1932), which is available in the electronic collection of the Presidential Library, devoted to the scientist, philosopher and writer.

September 17 (5, according to the old style) marks the 163rd anniversary of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky. He was born in the village of Izhevskoye near Ryazan and originates from an old Polish noble family. Tsiolkovsky reminded about his parents in his autobiography, given in the book of Yakov Perelman: "Father is a liberal Pole (from Volyn) with a difficult character, but very honest. He suffered poverty all life through. Mother is Russian, with "spark", as my father used to say. My father had a tendency for invention (invented and constructed a thresher), natural sciences (he was a teacher of natural science, but it seems that he was dismissed a year later) and philosophy. My mother's family included skilled craftsmen".

The boy acquired an inherited interest in craftsmanship, inventions and sciences after a misfortune - while sledging, he caught a cold, had scarlet fever and, as a result, almost got deaf. It prevented him from studying at school: "I could not hear the teachers at all or only indefinite sounds", remembered Tsiolkovsky in his autobiography, cited by engineer Boris Vorobyov in his book "Tsiolkovsky". - "When I was eleven years old <...> I liked making doll skates, houses, sledges, clocks with chimes. It all was made of paper and cardboard and was pasted with sealing wax... <...> Sparkles of serious mental consciousness... appeared with reading. About fourteen years old, I decided to read arithmetic, and everything seemed completely clear and understandable to me".

The teenager was successfully engaged in self-education and inventions. He read books from his father's library and designed various tools and devices - the astrolabe, a throw lathe, an automotive steam carriage, a paper balloon. The father sent the talented son to Moscow to enter the Higher Technical School (now - Bauman Moscow State Technical University). But Konstantin did not enter the School and led almost a marginal existence in Moscow: "He ate only rye bread, had no potatoes and tea. But he bought books, pipes, retorts, hydrargyrum, sulfuric acid and others for different experiments and home-made devices", - notes Boris Vorobyov. Tsiolkovsky continued self-education: he spent several hours a day in the free Chertkovskaya Library, and within the three years of his stay in Moscow he mastered the full gymnasium program and part of the university program.

In 1879, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky passed the exam and became a mathematics teacher, and a year later, launched his pedagogical activity at the district school in Borovichy (Kaluga Province). "I am completely self-taught. I received the diploma of a teacher by exam (as an external student in 1879). I used to serve without pauses for about 40 years. In 1920, I retired due to illness. <…> It is clear that my deafness since childhood, deprived me of communication with people, left me with a weak knowledge of practical life... I involuntarily avoided it and found satisfaction in books and thinking only. My whole life consisted of work, the rest was unavailable", confessedTsiolkovsky in his autobiography, provided by Perelman's book.

The scientist's variety of interests and topics of scientific research and development is great. For example, he wrote such different works as "How to Protect Delicate Things from Bumps" (1891) and "The Reasons of Space" (1925) and "The Goals of Astronautics" (1930). These and other works are included in the Presidential Library's collection. Research in the field of aerodynamics and thermodynamics, the theory of aeronautics, astronomy, astrophysics and cosmogony; works on scientific ethics, philology, biology and philosophy; science fiction and technical projects and inventions - Tsiolkovsky is the author of more than 400 published works and manuscripts.

All this enormous scientific activity of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky runs in difficult conditions. He had to fight poverty, misunderstanding, and the bureaucracy of official science. He also combined scientific research with the difficult work of a teacher. That's why, he had "to get up early, invented for a while, and then went to school", recalled Tsiolkovsky. Almost all the earned money he spent on experiments and printing manuscripts, which were not accepted by the publishing house, at his own expense. Communication with the scientific community and recognition came gradually.

The lack of information in the provinces about the achievements of world science led to the fact that Tsiolkovsky sometimes achieved the already made discoveries: "...I presented a number of my works... to the Saint-Petersburg Physico-Chemical Society. I received their works too late. It happened that I made discoveries, already performed by others", he confessed in his autobiography, cited by the book of Nikolai Rynin, who explains that "everywhere, in his every work, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky displays originality and individuality. Even though the conditions of work in Kaluga... did not allow him to keep on top of the latest developments in his field, he was ahead of many European scientists in studying various problems, and, in some cases, he independently came to the same conclusions with foreign scientists".

In the first decades of the XX century, Tsiolkovsky was haunted by misfortunes - the death of the sons Ignatiy and Alexander, the Oka flood, which damaged the house and destroyed the results of many of his works, arrest and investigation at the Lubyanka... But there were happy occasions. He became a member of the Socialist Academy of Social Sciences and was assigned a lifetime pension for contribution to domestic and world science.

Despite all the difficulties and poor health, Tsiolkovsky continued to work. He stated: "Life brought me a lot of sorrows, and only the joyful world of ideas helped me to endure them. <...> The main motive of my existence is to do something useful for people, not to spend my life in vain, to forward mankind by little. That is why I was interested in things that gave me neither bread nor strength. But I hope that my works - probably soon, and probably in the distant future - will give society mountains of bread and an abyss of power", - these words of the brilliant scientist are cited by the book of Yakov Perelman.

Konstantin Tsiolkovsky died on September 19, 1935, in Kaluga and was buried in the Pushkin Garden. In 1935, the park received the name of the founder of modern astronautics.

The collection of the Presidential Library, besides the already mentioned publications, features digital copies of numerous books and articles of the scientist, for example, "The Simplest Project of a Metallic Aeronaut Made of Corrugated Iron" (1914) and "Space Rocket Trains" (1929), autobiographical and documentary materials: "K. E. Tsiolkovsky. 1857–1935" (1939), "Guide to the Konstantin Tsiolkovsky House-Museum"(1965), a video of the Presidential Library "Tsiolkovsky" (2011) and much more.