Konstantin Tsiolkovsky

Konstantin Tsiolkovsky

Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky (Russian: Константи́н Эдуа́рдович Циолко́вский; Polish: Konstanty Ciołkowski; 17 September [O.S. 5 September] 1857  – 19 September 1935) was a Russian and Soviet rocket scientist and pioneer of the astronautic theory, of Russian and Polish descent. Along with his followers, the German Hermann Oberth and the American Robert H. Goddard, he is considered to be one of the founding fathers of rocketry and astronautics.[1] His works later inspired leading Soviet rocket engineers such as Sergey Korolyov and Valentin Glushko and contributed to the success of the Soviet space program.

Tsiolkovsky 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 townsfolk .


  • Early life 1
  • Scientific achievements 2
  • Later life 3
  • Legacy 4
  • Philosophical work 5
  • Tributes 6
  • In popular culture 7
  • Works 8
  • See also 9
  • References 10
  • Further reading 11
  • External links 12

Early life

He was born in Izhevskoye (now in Spassky District, Ryazan Oblast), in the Russian Empire, to a middle-class family. His father, Edward Tsiolkovsky (in Polish: Ciołkowski), was Polish; his mother, Maria Yumasheva, was an educated Russian woman.[2] His father was successively a forester, teacher, and minor government official. At the age of 10, Konstantin caught scarlet fever and became hard of hearing. When he was 13, his mother died.[3] He was not admitted to elementary schools because of his hearing problem, so he was self-taught.[3] As a reclusive home-schooled child, he 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.

After falling behind in his studies, Tsiolkovsky spent three years attending a Moscow library where Russian cosmism proponent Nikolai Fyodorov worked. He later came to believe that colonizing space would lead to the perfection of the human race, with immortality and a carefree existence.[4]

Additionally, inspired by the fiction of Jules Verne, Tsiolkovsky theorized many aspects of space travel and rocket propulsion. He is considered the father of spaceflight and the first person to conceive the space elevator, becoming inspired in 1895 by the newly constructed Eiffel Tower in Paris.

Despite the youth's growing knowledge of physics, his father was concerned that he would not be able to provide for himself financially as an adult and brought him back home at the age of 19 after learning that he was overworking himself and going hungry. Afterwards, Tsiolkovsky passed the teacher's exam and went to work at a school in Borovsk near Moscow. He also met and married his wife Varvara Sokolovaya during this time. Despite being stuck in a small town called Kaluga away from major learning centers, Tsiolkovsky managed to make scientific discoveries on his own.

The first two decades of the 20th century were marred by personal tragedy. Tsiolkovsky's son Ignaty committed suicide in 1902, and in 1908 many of his accumulated papers were lost in a flood. In 1911, his daughter Lyubov was arrested for engaging in revolutionary activities.

Scientific achievements

This section has recently been partly machine translated from the Russian article. Please supply an improved translation if possible.
Monument to Konstantin Tsiolkovsky in Moscow
Tsiolkovsky on a 1972 UAE stamp

Tsiolkovsky stated that he developed the theory of rocketry only as a supplement to philosophical research on the subject.[5] He wrote more than 400 works, most of which are little known to the general reader.

During his lifetime he published approximately 90 works on space travel and related subjects.[6] Among his works are designs for rockets with steering thrusters, multistage boosters, space stations, airlocks for exiting a spaceship into the vacuum of space, and closed-cycle biological systems to provide food and oxygen for space colonies.

Tsiolkovsky's first scientific study dates to the year 1880–1881. He wrote a paper called "Theory of Gases," in which he outlined the basis of the kinetic theory of gases, but after submitting it to the Russian Physico-Chemical Society (RPCS), he was informed that his discoveries had already been made 25 years earlier. Undaunted, he pressed ahead with his second work, "The Mechanics of the Animal Organism". It received favorable feedback, and Tsiolkovsky was inducted into the Society. Tsiolkovsky's main works after 1884 dealt with four major areas: the scientific rationale for the all-metal balloon (airship), streamlined airplanes and trains, hovercraft, and rockets for interplanetary travel.

In 1892, he was transferred to a new teaching post in Kaluga where he continued to experiment. During this period, Tsiolkovsky began working on a problem that would occupy much of his time during the coming years: an attempt to build an all-metal dirigible that could be expanded or shrunk in size.

Tsiolkovsky developed the first aerodynamics laboratory in Russia in his apartment. In 1897, he built the first Russian wind tunnel with an open test section and developed a method of experimentation using it. In 1900, with a grant from the Academy of Sciences, he made a survey using models of the simplest shapes and determined the drag coefficients of the sphere, flat plates, cylinders, cones, and other bodies. Tsiolkovsky's work in the field of aerodynamics was a source of ideas for Russian scientist Nikolay Zhukovsky, the father of modern aerodynamics and hydrodynamics. Tsiolkovsky described the airflow around bodies of different geometric shapes, but because the RPCS did not provide any financial support for this project, he was forced to pay for it largely out of his own pocket.

Tsiolkovsky studied the mechanics of powered flying machines, which were designated "dirigibles" (the word "airship" had not yet been invented). Tsiolkovsky first proposed the idea of an all-metal dirigible and built a model of it. The first printed work on the airship was "A Controllable Metallic Balloon" (1892), in which he gave the scientific and technical rationale for the design of an airship with a metal sheath. Progressive for his time, Tsiolkovsky was not supported on the airship project, and the author was refused a grant to build the model. An appeal to the General Aviation Staff of the Russian army also had no success. In 1892, he turned to the new and unexplored field of heavier-than-air aircraft. Tsiolkovsky's idea was to build an airplane with a metal frame. In the article "An Airplane or a Birdlike (Aircraft) Flying Machine" (1894) are descriptions and drawings of a monoplane, which in its appearance and aerodynamics anticipated the design of aircraft that would be constructed 15 to 18 years later. In an Aviation Airplane, the wings have a thick profile with a rounded front edge and the fuselage is faired. But work on the airplane, as well as on the airship, did not receive recognition from the official representatives of Russian science, and Tsiolkovsky's further research had neither monetary nor moral support. In 1914, he displayed his models of all-metal dirigibles at the Aeronautics Congress in St. Petersburg but met with a lukewarm response.

Disappointed at this, Tsiolkovsky gave up on space and aeronautical problems with the onset of World War I and instead turned his attention to the problem of alleviating poverty. This occupied his time during the war years until the Russian Revolution in 1917.

Starting in 1896, Tsiolkovsky had systematically studied the theory of motion of jet apparatus. Thoughts on the use of the rocket principle in the cosmos were expressed by him as early as 1883, and a rigorous theory of jet propulsion was developed in 1896. Tsiolkovsky derived the formula, which he called the "formula of aviation", establishing the relationship between:

  • change in the rocket's speed (\delta V)
  • specific impulse of the engine (I_0)
  • initial (M0) and final (M1) mass of the rocket
\delta V=I_0 \ln\left( {M_0\over M_1} \right)

After writing out this equation, Tsiolkovsky recorded the date: 10 May 1897. In the same year, the formula for the motion of a body of variable mass was published in the thesis of the Russian mathematician I. V. Meshchersky ("Dynamics of a Point of Variable Mass," I. V. Meshchersky, St. Petersburg, 1897).

His most important work, published in 1903, was The Exploration of Cosmic Space by Means of Reaction Devices (Russian: Исследование мировых пространств реактивными приборами).[7] Tsiolkovsky calculated, using the Tsiolkovsky equation,[8]:1 that the horizontal speed required for a minimal orbit around the Earth is 8,000 m/s (5 miles per second) and that this could be achieved by means of a multistage rocket fueled by liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen.

In 1903 he published an article "Investigation of Outer Space Rocket Devices," in which for the first time it was proved that a rocket could perform space flight. In this article and its subsequent sequels (1911 and 1914), he developed some ideas of missiles and the use of liquid rocket engines.

The result of the first publication was not what Tsiolkovsky expected. No foreign scientists appreciated his research, which today is a major scientific discipline; he was simply ahead of his time. In 1911 he published the second part of the work "Investigation of Outer Space Rocket Devices." Tsiolkovsky evaluates the work needed to overcome the force of gravity, determines the speed needed to propel the device into the solar system ("escape velocity"), and examines calculation of flight time. The publication of this article made a splash in the scientific world, Tsiolkovsky found many friends among his fellow scientists.

In 1926–1929, Tsiolkovsky solved the practical problem of the role played by rocket fuel in getting to escape velocity and leaving the Earth. It turned out that the finite speed of the rocket depends on the rate of gas flowing from it and on how many times the weight of the fuel exceeds the empty weight of the rocket.

Tsiolkovsky conceived a number of ideas that have been used in rockets. They included: gas rudders (graphite) for controlling a rocket's flight and changing the trajectory of its center of mass, the use of components of the fuel to cool the outer shell of the spacecraft (during re-entry to Earth) and the walls of the combustion chamber and nozzle, a pump system for feeding the fuel components, the optimal descent trajectory of the spacecraft while returning from space, etc. In the field of rocket propellants, Tsiolkovsky studied a large number of different oxidizers and combustible fuels and recommended specific pairings: liquid oxygen and hydrogen, and oxygen with hydrocarbons. Tsiolkovsky did much fruitful work on the creation of the theory of jet aircraft, and invented his chart Gas Turbine Engine. In 1927 he published the theory and design of a train on an air cushion. He first proposed a "bottom of the retractable body" chassis. Space flight and the airship were the main problems to which he devoted his life. Tsiolkovsky had been developing the idea of the hovercraft since 1921, publishing a fundamental paper on it in 1927, entitled "Air Resistance and the Express Train" (Russian: Сопротивление воздуха и скорый по́езд).[9][10] In 1929, Tsiolkovsky proposed the construction of multistage rockets in his book Space Rocket Trains (Russian: Космические ракетные поезда).

1 ruble commemorative coin, 1987

Tsiolkovsky championed the idea of the diversity of life in the universe and was the first theorist and advocate of human space exploration.

Tsiolkovsky never built a rocket; he apparently did not expect many of his theories to ever be implemented.

Hearing problems did not prevent the scientist from having a good understanding of music, as outlined in his work "The Origin of Music and Its Essence."

Later life

Only late in his lifetime was Tsiolkovsky honored for his pioneering work. He supported the Bolshevik Revolution, and the new Soviet government eagerly promoted science and technology. In 1918 he was elected as a member of the Socialist Academy.[8]:1–2,8

Tsiolkovsky worked as a high school mathematics teacher until retiring in 1920 at the age of 63. In 1921 he received a lifetime pension.[8]:1–2,8 He did not particularly flourish under a communist system, in particular Tsiolkovsky's support of eugenics[11] made him politically unpopular. However, from the mid 1920s onwards the importance of his other work was acknowledged, and he was honoured for it and the Soviet state provided financial backing for his research. He was initially popularized in Soviet Russia in 1931-1932 mainly by two writers:[12] Iakov Perel'man and Nikolai Rynin. Tsiolkovsky died in Kaluga on 19 September 1935 after undergoing an operation for stomach cancer. He bequeathed his life's work to the Soviet state.[4]


Although many called his ideas impractical,[8]:8,117 Tsiolkovsky influenced later rocket scientists throughout Europe, like Wernher von Braun. Russian search teams at Peenemünde found a German translation of a book by Tsiolkovsky of which "almost every page...was embellished by von Braun's comments and notes."[8]:27 Leading Russian rocket-engine designer Valentin Glushko and rocket designer Sergey Korolyov studied Tsiolkovsky's works as youths,[8]:6–7,333 and both sought to turn Tsiolkovsky's theories into reality.[8]:3,166,182,187,205–206,208 In particular, Korolyov saw traveling to Mars as the more important priority,[8]:208,333,337 until in 1964 he decided to compete with the American Project Apollo for the moon.[8]:404

Philosophical work

The cover of the book "The Will of the Universe. The Unknown Intelligence." by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, 1928, considered to be a work of Cosmist philosophy.

Tsiolovsky wrote a book called The Will of the Universe. The Unknown Intelligence in 1928 in which he propounded a philosophy of panpsychism. He believed humans would eventually colonize the Milky Way galaxy. His thought preceded the Space Age by several decades, and some of what he foresaw in his imagination has come into being since his death. Tsiolkovsky also did not believe in traditional religious cosmology, but instead (and to the chagrin of the Soviet authorities) he believed in a cosmic being that governed humans as "marionettes, mechanical puppets, machines, movie characters", [13] thereby adhering to a mechanical view of the universe, which he believed would be controlled in the millennia to come through the power of human science and industry.


Draft first space ship by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky

In popular culture


  • (English) Tsiolkovsky, Konstantin E., The Cosmic Philosophy. Multimedia ebooks for iPad, iPhone and iPod touch
  • (Russian) Tsiolkovsky, Konstantin E., The Cosmic Philosophy. Multimedia ebooks for iPad, iPhone and iPod touch
Illustration by A. Gofman from On the Moon
  • Tsiolkovsky, Konstantin E. (1893), On the Moon (На Луне) (in Русский) 
  • Tsiolkovsky, Konstantin E. (1903), "The Exploration of Cosmic Space by Means of Reaction Devices (Исследование мировых пространств реактивными приборами)", The Science Review (in Русский) (5) 
  • Tsiolkovsky, Konstantin E. (1931), Origin and an Essence of Music (Происхождение музыки и ее сущность) (PDF) (in Русский), retrieved 22 September 2008 

See also


  1. ^ Konstantin E. Tsiolkovsky – Soviet Space Scientist. From San Diego Aerospace Museum Educational Materials
  2. ^ Земной путь звездоплавателя. Retrieved from http://www.melnikoff.com/nikita/tsiolkovskiy/earth_way.htm.
  3. ^ a b Narins, Brigham (2001), Notable Scientists from 1900 to the Present 5, Farmington Hills, MI: The Gale Group, pp. 2256–2258,  
  4. ^ a b The life of Konstantin Eduardovitch Tsiolkovsky 1857–1935. Informatics.org (19 September 1935). Retrieved 4 May 2012.
  5. ^ Kazyutinski V. V. (2003). "Космическая философия К.Э. Циолковского: за и против". Земля и Вселенная 4: 43–54. 
  6. ^ Tsiolkovsky and his legacy on russianspaceweb.com
  7. ^ Tsiolkovsky, Konstantin E. (1903), "The Exploration of Cosmic Space by Means of Reaction Devices (Исследование мировых пространств реактивными приборами)", The Science Review (in Русский) (5), retrieved 22 September 2008 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i Siddiqi, Asif A, Challenge To Apollo: The Soviet Union and the Space Race, 1945–1974,  
  9. ^ Gillispie, Charles Coulston (1980), Dictionary of Scientific Biography, Charles Scribner's Sons, p. 484,  
  10. ^ Air Cushion Vehicle History (in Русский), Neptune Hovercraft Shipbuilding Company, retrieved 22 September 2008 
  11. ^ Konstantin Tsiolkovsky – Russiapedia Space and aviation Prominent Russians. Russiapedia.rt.com. Retrieved 4 May 2012.
  12. ^ Siddiqi, Asif A (26 February 2010), The Red Rockets' Glare: Spaceflight and the Soviet Imagination, 1857-1957, pp. 62–65,  
  13. ^ Is There God? by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky
  14. ^
  15. ^ Konstantin E. Tsiolkovsky Scientific Biography, Konstantin E. Tsiolkovsky State Museum of the History of Cosmonautics, retrieved 22 September 2008 
  16. ^ Soviet Missions to the Moon. Nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov. Retrieved 4 May 2012.
  17. ^ Phil Hall (9 July 2010). "The Bootleg Files: The Space Voyage". Film Threat. Retrieved 12 July 2010. 
  18. ^ International Space Station Imagery. Spaceflight.nasa.gov (31 October 2004). Retrieved 4 May 2012.
  19. ^   Location of "Tsiolkovsky towers" noted in a story-related map, with several mentions in the book's body matter, including pp. 218, 368, 370, and others.

Further reading

  • Andrews, James T. (2009), Red Cosmos: K.E. Tsiolkovskii, Grandfather of Soviet Rocketry, Texas A&M University Press,   Review

External links

  • Tsiolkovsky's house The house museum of Tsiolkovsky
  • Works by or about Konstantin Tsiolkovsky in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
  • Virtual Matchbox Labels Museum – Russian labels – Space – Page 2 – Konstantin Tsiolkovsky Historic images
  • Tsiolkovsky from Russianspaceweb.com
  • Spaceflight or Extinction: Konstantin Tsiolkovsky Excerpts from "The Aims of Astronautics", The Call of the Cosmos
  • The Foundations of the Space Age. The life and work of Tsiolkovskiy, by Vladimir V. Lytkin, Tsiolkovskiy Museum, Kaluga.