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Author thanks Galina Sergeeva at Tsiolkovsky museum in Kaluga and Elena Timoshenkova, a granddaughter of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky for their help in preparing this section.

Tsiolkovsky and bolshevism

Tsiolkovsky died famous and respected in his native land. During the Soviet period, Tsiolkovsky was portrayed as the brilliant scientist from the Russian heartland who struggled to get recognition from the ignorant and indifferent officials of czarist Russia. It was only after the Socialist Revolution that Tsiolkovsky "experienced essentially a second creative birth,"as one Soviet history put it. In reality, Tsiolkovsky's claim to fame as the man who first proposed the use of rockets for space travel rests largely on work done before the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, and it took Bolsheviks some time to appreciate his unorthodox ideas and not consider them a threat to their own revolutionary goals.

Documents made public in the post-Soviet Russia revealed that Tsiolkovsky’s path through the political and social cataclysms of revolutionary Russia was not as trouble-free as the official Soviet histories painted. "Like any other person who was brought up in a totally different world, he had a problem understanding what was happening," Galina Sergeeva says. "On one hand, the goals which the Revolution declared — the happiness and well-being of the people, the reconstruction of the world for the better — he obviously supported. But on the other hand, he suffered almost immediately (after the Revolution): ChK (the Bolsheviks' notorious secret police) arrested him, brought him to Moscow, and threw him in prison."

According to Sergeeva, Tsiolkovsky was accused of anti-Soviet writing and was jailed in the infamous Lubyanka prison for several weeks before a high-ranking official had him released. (At the end of the 20th century, the local branch of the Russian security service transferred historical documents related to the scientist's arrest to the Tsiolkovsky Cosmonautics Museum in Kaluga.)

Apparently, the Soviet government had "re-discovered" Tsiolkovsky in 1923, in the wake of the publication of Hermann Oberth's "The Rocket into Interplanetary Space." In response to international resonance generated by Oberth's proposals to use rockets for space travel, the Soviet press pitched Tsiolkovsky as a true pioneer of the space flight theory. The campaign was in-line with the Soviet practice of "finding" the Russian inventor for each and every discovery from steam engine to airplane to radio. However, unlike Cherepanov brothers, Mozhaisky and Popov, Tsiolkovsky was recognized around the world as the father of the space flight theory.

After his recognition by the Soviet authorities, Tsiolkovsky's works were widely published and popularized, the government granted him a pension, and he and his family were given a new house in Kaluga, where his descendants had lived a century later.

However, even after the Soviet government embraced Tsiolkovsky as a hero, it essentially silenced him as a philosopher. Although Tsiolkovsky often criticized traditional religions for their "primitive" explanation of the world, he himself saw the universe in almost theological terms, as a higher being that controls life on Earth and beyond. "We are at the will of and controlled by Cosmos," he wrote in a work titled "Is There God?" "There is no absolute will — we are marionettes, mechanical puppets, machines, movie characters." Obviously, such ideas did not fit well with official Marxist ideology, even with Tsiolkovsky's painful efforts to reconcile his quazi-religious thinking with scientific reason. Despite increasing intolerance of the Soviet system toward any deviation from the official doctrines of the Communist Party, Tsiolkovsky until his last days strived to advance his unorthodox views of the Universe and the role of humans in it.

"I put all my efforts into the work, which I have little hope to publish or complete," Tsiolkovsky wrote during this period, "There is total indifference toward my work in the society, and even (my) books are not distributed. There is no money for publications, besides other obstacles... It is clear why they are silent about my philosophy, it is not in fashion anymore, to say the least."

Three months before his death Tsiolkovsky told his daughter and assistant, Lubov Tsiolkovskaya that he had a number of articles, which could comprise a book. It became known as "Ocherki o Vselennoi" (Essays On the Universe), the work which summarized the evolution of Tsiolkovsky's phylosophical views, presenting man as a part of the cosmos and its destiny to explore space and contact alien civilizations.

This work was published in Russia in 1992, or 57 years after death of its author and only one year after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Tsiolkovsky and F. N. Ilyin, the chairman of central soviet of the state-sponsored Society for the Advancement of Aviation and Chemical Sciences, Osoaviakhim. Credit: Kaluga Museum of Cosmonautics

Tsiolkovsky (left) along with Soviet and Communist Party officials participates in the "Defense Day" in Kaluga on May 18, 1934. Credit: Kaluga Museum of Cosmonautics

Monument to Tsiolkovsky in Moscow. Copyright © 2000 by Anatoly Zak

Monument to Tsiolkovsky unveiled in Izhevskoe on September 17, 1977, the scientist's 120th anniversary. Copyright © 2001 by Anatoly Zak