Sunday, October 21, 2007

Russian scientific pioneers neglected outside of Russia Konstantin E. Tsiolkovsky

Konstantin Eduardovitch Tsiolkovsky was born in September, 1857 in the town of Izhevskoye, Spassk District, Ryazan Gubernia. He became a "people's school teacher" at Borovsk, Kulaga Province, in 1878.

On the merits of some of his early research and related writings, Tsiolkovsky was elected to the Society of Physics and Chemistry at St. Petersburg, Russia.

On March 28, 1883 Tsiolkovsky demonstrated the reaction principle through experimenting with opening a cask filled with compressed gas. He discovered that movement of the cask could be regulated by alternating the pressure of the gas released from it.

Tsiolkovsky completed a draft of his first design of a reaction thrust motor on August 25, 1898. The following year, he received a grant of 470 rubles from the Academy of Science's Physics and Mathematics Department to engage in research. This work was dedicated to the establishment of scientific principles, so no actual motors were developed.

In 1903, his first article on rocketry appeared in the "Naootchnoye Obozreniye" (Scientific Review). The article was entitled "Issledovanie Mirovykh Prostransty Reaktivnymi Priborami" (Exploration Of Space With Rocket Devices).

In the article, Tsiolkovsky clearly outlined in scientific terms exactly how a reaction thrust motor could demonstrate Newton's Third Law to allow men to escape the bounds of Earth.

Also in 1903, Tsiolkovsky drafted the design of his first rocket. It was to be powered by a combination of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen, which would create an explosive mixture at the narrow end of a tube. Burning of the fuels would produce condensed and heated gases.

The gases would then be quickly cooled and rarefied at the wider end of the tube, located at the tail of the rocket. The resulting exhaust, escaping from a nozzle, would provide liftoff thrust at a relatively high velocity.

This design was indeed prophetic, especially when consideration is given to the fact that liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen have traditionally been combined as a fuel for various rocket components, not the least of which are the three main engines of the Space Shuttle.

In subsequent writings, Tsiolkovsky speculated on a multi-stage approach to spaceflight. He envisioned a fantastic "passenger rocket train of 2017" which employed 20 single-engine rocket stages, each of which carried its own fuel.

This rocket was to be about 300 feet long and 12 feet wide, just a bit smaller than the actual Saturn V rockets used to carry men to the Moon. It would be built from three layers of metal incorporating quartz windows and an outer skin made of refractory material to protect the spacecraft from the intense heat of moving through the atmosphere.

As each individual rocket stage consumed its fuel, it would be discarded to keep the overall weight of the vehicle as light as possible. Tsiolkovsky recognized that although this design was fanciful, it would actually require a tremendous amount of fuel for a rocket to reach escape velocity, and multiple stages would likely be needed.

He had calculated that a single-stage rocket would have to carry four times its own weight in fuel to reach escape velocity, and that a multi-stage approach would be more efficient. Even at the turn of the 20th century, Tsiolkovsky was absolutely confident that the reaction principle would some day carry men into space.

In 1919, Tsiolkovsky was elected to the Socialist Academy, which later became the U.S.S.R. Academy of Science. Between 1925 and 1932 he wrote about 60 works on astronautics, astronomy, mechanics, physics and philosophy. He died on September 19, 1935.

Indeed he predated Arthur C Clarkes space elevator by 50 years.


In 1895, the Russian scientist and school teacher looked at the Eiffel Tower in Paris and thought about such a tower. He wanted to put a "celestial castle" at the end of a spindle shaped cable, with the "castle" orbiting the earth in a geosynchronous orbit (i.e. the castle would remain over the same spot on the earth). The tower would be built from the ground to an altitude of 35,800 kilometers. It would be similar to the fabled beanstalk in the children's story "Jack and the Beanstalk," except that on Tsiolkovsky's tower an elevator would ride up the cable to the "castle".

One "spinoff" use of Tsiolkovsky's tower would be the ability to launch objects into orbit without a rocket. Since the elevator would attain orbit velocity as it rode up the cable, an object released at the tower's top would also have the orbital velocity necessary to remain in geosynchronous orbit. Building from the ground up, however, proved an impossible task. It took until 1960 for another Russian scientist, Y.N. Artsutanov, to propose another scheme for building a space tower.

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