Making a graphic novel 6: Konstantin Tsiolkovsky

Konstantin Tsiolkovsky – space travel mastermindKonstantin Tsiolkovsky was a discovery for me. Outside Russia and the former Soviet Union he is not so well known, but one day I think he will be as world famous as Darwin, Einstein or Newton.

His achievement was not to create radically new theories, but to apply existing knowledge to an astonishing problem: How to escape from Planet Earth. He did all this purely as a thought experiment in his head, and the outcome of that experiment was a simple conclusion – Rockets.
Not only that, he did the maths that proved it could work, and went on to write a series of books, both technical and science fiction, that inspired a generation of aerospace engineers across Europe and the Soviet Union. After WW2, Korolev led the Soviet drive to put a man in space, and the German rocket scientist Werner Von Braun, another Tsiolkovsky enthusiast, became the mastermind behind the American space effort. Tsiolkovsky can therefore be seen as the father of both the Soviet and the American space programs.

Tsiolkovsky is also behind one of the most famous science fiction movies of all time. In his books he mapped out a future for mankind: The conquest of space. Beginning with rockets, and then great orbiting space-stations both as satellites for meteorology and communications, and as jumping off points for interstellar journeys, and climaxing in landings on the Moon and the planets.

In 1958 Soviet director Pavel Klushantsev produced The Road to the Stars, a film that explained Tsiolkovsky’s theories, then showed, with stunning special effects, the predicted conquest of space – mighty rockets docking with a huge orbiting space-station, and a landing on the Moon.

Ten years later, Stanley Kubrick produced 2001, A Space Odyssy. Famously co-written by Kubrik and science-fiction writer Arthur C Clarke, part of the film in fact recreates, almost scene for scene – although with updated and even more breathtaking special effects – Klushantsev’s original vision of Tsiolkovsky’s dream.

tupolev with korolev and tsiolkovsky space travel philosopher

The space station I have shown beneath the picture of Tsiolkovsky is taken from The Road to the Stars.

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