Monday, April 11, 2011

How a penniless mystic won Russia the space race

Rocket man: Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, aboard the Vostok spaceship in 1961.Rocket man: Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, aboard the Vostok spaceship in 1961

... the Soviet Union’s success in the “space race” was due not only to pioneering scientists, but also to a penniless 19th-century mystic.

Nikolai Fedorov was so poor that he rented not a flat but the corner of a room, and lived solely on bread, tea and water. It’s said that he died because one of his pupils gave him a fur coat – the coat made him sweat, the sweat led to a cold, and the cold turned into pneumonia. If anyone has ever died a death more Russian, I’d be fascinated to hear about it.

Fedorov’s philosophy, Cosmism, boiled down to the belief that man must conquer space. How this was to be achieved, he had no practical ideas – but he did inspire someone else to have them. He became the mentor of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, a near-deaf teenager who’d struggled at school, and Tsiolkovsky, exhilarated by Fedorov’s dreams, set out to realise them. In 1903 – seven months before the flight of the first aeroplane, never mind the first spacecraft – he published detailed calculations explaining how to fire a rocket into space, at what speed it would have to travel, how much fuel it would need. Naturally, no one paid these calculations the least notice.

Years later, though, they were studied by Sergei Korolev, the leader of a group of space enthusiasts eager to build their own rocket. Stalin’s secret police, showing characteristic sagacity, sent him to the Gulag, but after his release he led the Soviet space programme, thanks to which, 50 years ago tomorrow, Yuri Gagarin became the first man to orbit the Earth. ...

via How a penniless mystic won Russia the space race - Telegraph.

Fifty years ago today, on April 12, 1961, humanity finally overcame the gravity of our home planet and ventured for the first time into the space beyond. ...

To celebrate Yuri Gagarin's momentous journey aboard his Vostok 3KA spacecraft, a film has been created titled First Orbit. The movie is a real-time recreation of Gagarin's pioneering first orbit of the Earth, combining footage shot entirely in space from onboard the International Space Station with Gagarin's original mission audio and a musical score by composer Philip Sheppard.

via DailyGrail

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