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Red Cosmos

K. E. Tsiolkovskii, Grandfather of Soviet Rocketry

By James T. Andrews Ph.D

Publication Year: 2009

Long before the space race captured the world’s attention, K. E. Tsiolkovskii first conceived of multi-stage rockets that would later be adapted as the basis of both the U.S. and Soviet rocket programs. Often called the grandfather of Russian rocketry, this provincial scientist was even sanctioned by Stalin to give a speech from Red Square on May Day 1935, lauding the Soviet technological future while also dreaming and expounding on his own visions of conquering the cosmos. Later, the Khrushchev regime used him as a "poster boy" for Soviet excellence during its Cold War competition with the United States. Ironically, some revisionists have since pointed to such blatant promotion by the Communist Party in an attempt to downplay Tsiolkovskii’s scientific contributions. James T. Andrews explores the complexities of this man to show that Tsiolkovskii was much more than either a rocket inventor or a propaganda tool. He was a science popularizer, novelist, technical inventor, and visionary, whose science fiction writings included futuristic drawings of space stations long before they appeared on any engineer’s drawing board. Mining a myriad of Russian archives, Andrews produces not only a biographical account but also a study of Soviet technological propaganda, local science education, public culture in the 1920s and 1930s, and the cultural ramifications of space flight.

Published by: Texas A&M University Press

Series: Centennial of Flight Series


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xviii

In 1935, in Stalin’s times, a young journalist working for the Young Communist Youth League’s Newspaper (Komsomolskaia Pravda), Evgeny Riabchikov, made a pilgrimage to Kaluga in provincial Russia to interview the grandfather of Russian cosmonautics, K. E. Tsiolkovskii. ...

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Prelude Before Tsiolkovskii: Russian Rocketry from Peter the Great to the Nineteenth Century

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pp. 1-8

In April of 1961, just after Yuri Gagarin became the first human being to rocket into orbit, the Soviets held a diplomatic gala in the Moscow Kremlin in his honor. At the event, the beaming Soviet premier, Nikita Khrushchev, embraced Gagarin and then made a toast. ...

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Introduction Envisioning the Cosmos: K. E. Tsiolkovskii, Russian Public Culture, and the Mythology of Soviet Cosmonautics, 1857–1964

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pp. 9-14

In the final year of his long life, Konstantin E. Tsiolkovskii was sanctioned by Josef Stalin and the Communist Party’s Central Committee to give a popular speech from his provincial home in Kaluga, where he researched and taught for the majority of his life. It was no ordinary speech, because this canonized local hero ...

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Chapter 1. Beginnings, Teaching Science in a Provincial Context: Tsiolkovskii’s Years in the Russian Locale, 1857–1917

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pp. 15-30

Konstantin E. Tsiolkovskii was born on September 17, 1857, in the Russian village of Izhevskoye, Spassky District, in Riazanskaia Province. His mother, Maria Ivanova Yumasheva, was a Russian of Tatar background, and known to be intelligent and hard working, and his father, Eduard Tsiolkovskii (1820–80), a Pole from Lithuania, ...

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Chapter 2. Dreaming of the Cosmos: Early Scientific and Technical Experimentation in Pre-1917 Kaluga, Russia

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pp. 31-46

There has been much conjecture on when Konstantin Tsiolkovskii first began writing scientific papers or theoretical pieces on rocketry. While living in Riazan between 1878 and 1879, he sketched in a notebook humans living in outer space, with mathematical annotations. ...

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Chapter 3. Getting Serious about Rocket Flight in Revolutionary Russia, 1917–1928

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pp. 47-63

In the revolutionary era of 1917, during the Russian civil war (1918–20), and the period of the New Economic Policy (NEP, 1921–27), Tsiolkovskii’s ideas became more widespread nationwide than they did in tsarist Russia. Three venues or media accounted for this transformation and evolution: Tsiolkovskii’s pamphlets and science fiction novels, ...

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Chapter 4. Cross-Fertilizing Futuristic Literary Genres: Utopian Science Fiction or Didactic Popular Technology in Revolutionary Russia, 1890–1928

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pp. 64-78

In July 1935, K. E. Tsiolkovskii published an editorial entitled “Is This Mere Fantasy?” in the Soviet youth newspaper Komsomolskaia pravda. He wrote this piece near the end of his life when he was simultaneously a consultant on the science fiction film Cosmic Journey. ...

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Chapter 5. Stalin, Khrushchev, and the Spaceman: Technology, Soviet National Identity, and the Memorialization of a Local Hero in the Dawn of Sputnik, 1928–1957

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pp. 79-96

In the final years of his life, K. E. Tsiolkovskii continued to theorize and write about the possibility of spaceflight and inhabiting other worlds in the cosmos. He was in voluminous correspondence with a variety of technical and engineering institutes involved in rocket research. Throughout the last seven years of his life, ...

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Epilogue and Conclusion: Chudo (Wonder) or Chudak (Crank), the Legacy of Tsiolkovskii in the Khrushchev Era and beyond 1964

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pp. 97-108

The year after the 1957 Tsiolkovskii centennial celebrations, laudatory memorialization of his legacy continued at the local, national, and international level. In 1958, the Khrushchev regime approved the building of a monumental statue to Tsiolkovskii in a local Kaluga park near his home. ...


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pp. 109-110


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pp. 111-130

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Note on Sources

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pp. 131-132

The literature on Konstantin E. Tsiolkovskii in English is sparse, and there has been no extensive biographical study on his life and its resonance in the English language. While some short Russian biographies exist (as listed in the bibliography), they tend to be more narrowly focused on Tsiolkovskii’s technical achievements ...


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pp. 133-138


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pp. 139-147

E-ISBN-13: 9781603443609
E-ISBN-10: 1603443606
Print-ISBN-13: 9781603441179
Print-ISBN-10: 1603441174

Page Count: 168
Illustrations: 20 b&w photos. 6 line art.
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: Centennial of Flight Series
See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 680622488
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Red Cosmos

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Astronautics -- Russia -- History.
  • Astronautics -- Social aspects -- Soviet Union.
  • Authors, Soviet -- Biography.
  • Science fiction, Soviet -- History and criticism.
  • Authors, Russian -- Biography.
  • T͡Siolkovskiĭ, K. (Konstantin), 1857-1935.
  • Aerospace engineers -- Soviet Union -- Biography.
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