MySci Round-Up, September 17-19: The Father of Cosmonautics

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On this day in 1857, 
Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky was born in Izhevskoye, a village in Ryasan Province in Russia. One of eighteen children of a forestry worker, he suffered a bout of scarlet fever at the age of 10, which cost him his hearing. At 14, due in part to his disability, he dropped out of school. But fortunately, Tsiolkovsky was a prodigious autodidact. As a teen, he moved to Moscow for several years and educated himself by reading voraciously in the city’s libraries, devouring both scientific texts and the novels of 19th century Sci-Fi pioneer Jules Verne.

Tsiolkovsky also was a self-taught inventor and mathematician, and chose to apply those skills to the then-fantastical notion of space travel. He was one of the first to advance the notion—today advocated by scientific luminaries such as Stephen Hawking—that humanity would someday need to travel in space and colonize other worlds in order to survive. After returning to his village in 1879, he wrote the first of his many scientific papers, describing his ideas about how space travel could become a reality.

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ntually found work as a provincial schoolteacher, but still continued his research. In the 1880s, he figured out that thanks to Newtonian physics, a spacecraft would travel would travel in the opposite direction to gas that it emitted, and became the first to propose the use of rocket thrust propulsion in space travel. In his 1883 treatise “Free Space,” he included a detailed drawing of a reactively-powered spacecraft, complete with air locks and gyroscopic controls. He also speculated about the problems of living in space, such as coping within a low-gravity space environment. In a 1903 paper,

“Exploration of Space with Reactive Devices,” in which he set out formulas for how to make such a vehicle operate, including parameters such as specific impulse, thrust coefficient and space ratio. Tsiolkovsky also figured out that the most efficient chemical combination to create thrust would be a mix of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen.

After the fall of the Russian monarchy and the rise of the Soviet Union, officials recognized the potential importance of Tsiolovsky’s work. They made him a member of the then-new Soviet Academy of Science in 1919, and in 1921 gave him a government pension that allowed him to quit teaching and devote himself entirely to writing and research. He didn’t disappoint them, producing more than 500 scientific papers and the 1926 treatise “Plan of Space Exploration,” detailing his vision of colonizing the solar system; and the 1929 book “Space Rocket Trains,” which described how multi-stage rockets could achieve escape velocity and propel a vehicle into Earth orbit. His 1932 book “Cosmic Philosophy,” completed three years before his death at age 78, argued that human colonization of space was a necessity for the species’ ultimate survival. “Earth is the cradle of humanity,” he wrote. “But mankind cannot stay in the cradle forever.” Today, Russians consider him the father of space travel, and his vision still inspires new generations of engineers and cosmonauts to explore the heavens.

And with that, here are the science and technology stories of the day.

Apple adds wireless printing to iPhone, iPad. 
You can already do this with third-party apps, but even so, it’s yet another sign of the zeitgeist migration away from PCs and to mobile devices.

Africans discovered New World with Columbus. DNA analysis of skeletons in a graveyard in the Dominican Republic reveals that two members of the Italian explorer’s crew were from sub-Saharan Africa—a discovery that rewrites African-American history. The research also found five other Africans among early colonists.

European space telescope discovers new supercluster of galaxies. ESA’s Planck satellite made the dramatic find in its initial survey for galactic clusters.

Super-light experimental car with internal combustion engine achieves 102 miles per gallon. Now that’s old-school. And all we can say to those of you on the waiting list for a Chevy Volt is “nyah-nyah-nyah.”

Primate protogenitor of HIV is far older than previously believed. An earlier form of the dread retrovirus was infecting monkeys thousands of years ago, research has revealed.

Environmentally friendly organic batteries are the future. University of Texas scientists have discovered a new way to pass electrons back and forth between two molecules. That may enable battery makers to replace toxic metals with safer materials.