Alexander Zheleznyakov, translated by Mikhail Vorobyov
KONSTANTIN IVANOVICH KONSTANTINOV
The history of the Russian rocketry and cosmonautics has included many people who have contributed a lot to science and engineering. But even in that famous cohort one person takes a special place. His name was Konstantin I. Konstantinov, often called “father of the Russian rocket engineering”. This is no idle claim as in the middle of 19th century what Konstantinov managed to do was beyond anyone else’s capability. The present world looks like this due to his genius in many respects.
Konstantin was born in Warsaw in early April 1818. For a long time it was considered (as some modern books claim) that his father was 2nd guild merchant perhaps from St. Petersburg, or from the Chernigov region in the Ukraine. The remarkable secret of the origin of this outstanding scientist was revealed only at the beginning of 1990s.
It appeared that K.Konstantinov’s father was none other than the Grand Duke Konstantin Pavlovich, brother of the Russian emperor Alexander Ist and his deputy in the Polish Empire. Konstantin’s mother was the French actress Clara-Anna de Loran. At birth the boy was named Konstantin Konstantinovich Konstantinov. Grand Duke Konstantin Pavlovich was childless in two official marriages; therefore he spent considerable means bringing up his illegitimate children - son Konstantin and daughter Konstantsia. Curiously a young court musician and later to be world-famous composer, Frederick Chopin, taught them music. For that purpose he was specially invited to Belveder, the summer residence of the Grand Duke in Warsaw.
Circumstances had developed so that Konstantin and Konstantsia were considered adopted children of Prince Ivan Aleksandrovich Golitsyn, the Grand Duke’s aide-de-camp. For this reason their patronymics were changed subsequently.
The Polish period of Konstantin Konstantinov’s life lasted for 13 years, up to the Polish rising against the authority of the Russian emperor. Then the Grand Duke and his retinue had to leave Warsaw for Saint Petersburg. On the way there Konstantin Pavlovich fell ill with cholera and died. However, Prince Golitsyn and the children safely reached the Russian capital where they settled.
In January 1834, in order to fulfill the last will of the late Konstantin Pavlovich, young Konstantin was sent to learn at Mikhailovskaya Artillery (military) School. The boy was formally entered as a son of 2nd guild merchant there to disguise his origin and also to arrange learning at public expense. That’s why a 150-year old legend developed that K.I.Konstantinov had been a merchant’s son.
Konstantin studied very diligently : he was “fourth top of the list”. Therefore he was left at school after two-year elementary course “for further perfection in the higher sciences”.
In 1838 K.I.Konstantinov finished school and was promoted with the first military rank of ensign. Two years later he was dispatched to abroad “to collect useful information concerning artillery”. So he visited England, France, Belgium, Holland, Austria-Hungary and Prussia. Then the young officer first became acquainted with the rocket engineering which helped him to become famous as rocketry scientist later.
K.Konstantinov's first invention related to the years of his European trip. That was the electro-ballistic device intended for measurement of speed of an artillery shell. The device was tested after the officer had returned to Russia.
Soon Konstantinov became the commander of the school of masters and apprentices for powdering, saltpetering and sulphuring at Okhtensky powder factory in Saint Petersburg. He brought about a number of improvements in fireworks engineering which was popular in Russia then. Those were ice-hole banners, a pyrotechnic photometer, a way of comparing compositions, a new form of parachute for flares and many other things.
Konstantinov’s works on fireworks organically developed into regular researches of rocket engineering and his first contribution to this area was revolutionary in fact - he invented and firstly applied a ballistic pendulum to measure the powder engine’s thrust. By means of that device Konstantinov researched the influence of a rocket’s form and design on its ballistic characteristics, having put aside scientific bases for rocket design and engineering. The Europeans couldn’t even imagine all these then. The well-known French artillery researcher measured that parameter with a primitive dynamometer, and Baron Augustin, the "father" of the Austrian combat missile, used a usual lever balance with weights for the same.
K.I.Konstantinov's invention was highly appreciated by the Russian artillery officers for accuracy of measurements and simplicity of calculations. The device was in use a hundred years after its creation. For example, in the late 1940s it was applied in the Institute of Physical Chemistry of Academy of Sciences of the USSR to measure the specific impulse of solid-propellant rocket engines.
But let’s return to the 19th century. Konstantin Konstantinov's works were noticed at court, and on March 5th 1850 by the Russian emperor’s decree he was appointed commander of the St.Petersburg rocket factory, the first enterprise in Russia for manufacturing combat missiles. By that time the factory was in decline so the new commander had to do not only with scientific researches but also to solve the problems of organizing and improvement of the technological processes of gunpowder producing, to raise the work’s safety and much more. In 1853-1855 the rocket factory produced some thousands of combat missiles by Konstantinov’s technology for use in the Crimean war.
But despite being very busy at the factory Konstantinov managed to find some time for scientific researches. In 1853 he published his article “Device, preparation and using of balloons” in Artillery magazine. Three years later he published a detailed work "Aeronautics" in which the idea of using rocket engines for moving and operating a balloon was considered for the first time in the world.
In the same years Konstantinov gave a course of lectures “About combat missiles” in Mikhailovskaya Artillery academy, repeatedly visiting France to order the necessary equipment. He met many European experts there who highly esteemed his works in rocket engineering.
Defeat in The Crimean war forced the Russian Emperor Alexander the 2nd and his ministers to engage in strengthening of military power of the country seriously. The creation and engineering of new rockets were one of the branches of such military reform. It was like this in many respects thanks to K.Konstantinov who managed to prove the necessity of it. Though it happened in another way in Europe in those years - rockets gave up the place to rifled artillery.
Throughout second half of 1850s Konstantinov was occupied with the project of the new perfect rocket factory; also he invented automatic equipment for it. Simultaneously he worked on an optimum design of combat missiles. That work finished successfully - the project was approved and Konstantin Ivanovich was appointed “chief manager for producing and use” of combat missiles in the Russian army. The southern town Nikolaev (now in the Ukraine) was chosen for the construction of the new factory because its climate had been more appropriative for powder manufacturing than St.Petersburg.
In 1862, before the construction started, Konstantinov proposed a new rocket system for further approval by the Emperor. It was a two-inch diameter combat missile, launching device and a striker for it. That was the most perfect rocket system in the world at that moment with range of flight up to 4-5 km. Soon the Russian army was armed with such rockets which successfully added to the rifled artillery.
In 1867 Konstantinov moved from St.Petersburg to Nikolaev to lead the construction of the factory. Living in Nikolaev he became close with local intellectuals and won their hearts with his encyclopedic knowledge and skill to unite the people around himself. He created a branch of the Russian chemical society in Nikolaev, and published a number of articles in the local press.
The construction of a rocket factory in Nikolaev went on quite smoothly but Konstantinov wasn’t fated to see it put into operation. He died suddenly during the night of 12th January (24th January in the new style calendar) in 1871. Two days later his ashes were buried in village of Nivnoye, Mglinsky district of the Chernigov region in the Ukraine. The Konstantinov’s family crypt was equipped in the church of that village, now part of the Bryansk region of Russia.
Unfortunately, time has spared neither Konstantinov’s name, nor his ashes. For many years he was not mentioned at all in the records and his inventions forgotten.
When the Civil war blazed in the spaces of Russia early in the 20th century, Red Army soldiers broke open his crypt and threw out the remains of the great scientist. Soon the local people buried them twenty steps away from the church where they lay to this day.
K.I.Konstantinov and his works were revealed and re-evaluated in the second half of the 20th century when mankind made it into space. As recognition of his merits a crater on the far side of the Moon was named after him.
That's all there is to say about this great person, scientist and engineer, officer and citizen, one of the first to realize what rocket engineering was and its potential.
("ORBIT", Journal of the Astro Space Stamp Society, Issue ¹ 63, October 2004).