There is much to be said for the way the life of the child molds the mind of the man he will become. Once there was a little Russian boy whose joy was flying down hills in his toboggan…until he caught a cold, not a cold, but the deadly scarlet fever. He fought, he survived, but at age 10 he was left near deaf and school became such a struggle that he was ultimately turned out at age 14.
From hence forward, books became his teachers.
And they drove him. At 16, they pushed him so obviously that his parents sent him to Moscowso that he might immerse himself in the Chertkovskaya Library, an Aladdin’s cave of intellectual wonders. As one of 18 children, the family could do little to support his explorations, but so caught up in his studies was he that a simple diet of black bread left him enough to fund his studies and experiments.
He had the time—and the space—to dream.
At first, he put his ideas to paper in the form of science fiction, more thought-experiment than character study. Quickly, his passion for rigorous study overtook him and he published his first scientific paper near the age of 23. From there, the little boy from Kagula went on to create more than 400 works, dreams. Riding on the wings of another dreamer, Jules Verne, he was inspired compose 90 of those works on space travel, including rockets with steering thrusters, multistage boosters, space stations, airlocks for exiting and entering spaceships while in space, and closed-cycle bio-systems for food and oxygen in space colonies.
While the rest of the world played with the precursor to the automobile, he was colonizing the stars.
With the inspiration of the Eiffel Tower, our dreamer roughed out the calculations for the geostationary altitude necessary to operate a “celestial castle,” an elevator operating within a tower that could deliver man to space. While his calculations also found the tower itself an impossibility, the idea remained…
…The Space Elevator.
So Spake Me…
Konstantin Tsiolkovsky dreamed his dreams from 1857 to 1935. He is remembered as the Grandfather of Soviet Rocketry and the Father of Spaceflight, as the man whose work inspired those who finally did take us to the moon, including the father of America’s own space program, Wernher von Braun.
Like Descartes with the childhood illness that removed him from society’s prescribed daily routine and allowed his mind to roam far and wide (leading to analytic geometry and the foundations of modern philosophy), Tsiolkovsky’s willingness to seize this early intellectual freedom led him to explore ideas that had no obvious application at the time. Scientific dreams. Dreams that became physical science, that took on reality much sooner than he could possibly have imagined.
Were all 400 of his ideas the stuff of legend? Not necessarily. But in a time when humans were experimenting with awkward steam-powered cars, he was developing the sleek Tsiolkovsky rocket equation which rocket scientists still use today.
Dreaming matters. The dreams of Jules Verne who sparked Tsiolkovsky’s imagination. The dreams of Arthur C. Clarke whose further dreams of that space elevator would spark the curiosity of Jerome Pearson of NASA, who in parallel with Yuri Artsutanov of Russia, would pursue the idea into practical mainstream science.
Then on to Bradley Edwards who secured NASA funding for the first serious feasibility study.
And from there the dream takes flight.
In 2006, Michael Laine assembles The LiftPort Group to develop the necessary technologies. The economy crash-lands the project for a period, but Laine’s group rises from the ashes with a successful 2012 Kickstarter campaign.
And they are not alone. Tech giant Google joins the race in 2011 and the Obayashi Corporation of Japan joins in 2012 with claims of a completed project by 2040.
In SPECTRE OF INTENTION,
the date stamp on Kaitlin’s contract is May 13, 2048.
So here’s to a little Russian boy with his toboggan and a spark that has flown so far:
Discount not the dreamers, for they deliver us into tomorrow.
“The space elevator will be built about 50 years after everyone stops laughing.”
- Arthur C. Clarke, 1985
“It’ll be built 10 years after everybody stops laughing…and I think they have stopped laughing.”
- Arthur C. Clarke, 2003, 2nd Annual Space Elevator Conference, New Mexico
References and Further Reading
The Space Elevator: “Thought Experiment,” or Key to the Universe (Arthur C. Clarke)
Wikipedia Space Elevator Entry
LiftPort Group Kickstarter Campaign
Konstantin’s Beanstalk—the Space Elevator
The Story of Place