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.
James T. Andrews is an associate professor of modern Russian history at Iowa State University, where he has been director of EurAsian Studies and director of the Center for the Historical Studies of Technology and Science.