Monument to Tsiolkovsky in Borovsk, Russia. Nearly all monuments to him depict him looking to the heavens.
Here’s one for all the folks who think scientific progress and mysticism are at war with one another:
Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, the father of the Russian space program, was a brilliant scientist and engineer, but his motivation and drive came from his philosophical convictions, his belief in humanity’s destiny to leave the Earth and colonize the universe, and his vision of a deep unity between man and the cosmos.
The real protagonist of Carey’s film is Tsiolkovsky’s mentor, Nikolai Fedorov, who taught that science would make us immortal. The film shows how the Russian space program was strongly inspired by Cosmist philosophers and mystics, who believed that we should evolve into super-humans who could leave our overcrowded planet to colonize the universe.
Giulio Prisco is writing about George Carey’s Knocking on Heaven’s Door, a documentary about the less than rational origins of the Soviet space program.
One problem is that Cosmism not only sounds like religion, but was actually a spinoff of Russian Orthodox Christianity. This may upset those space enthusiasts who are also militant atheists but, as recently noted by Charlie Jane Anders on io9, smug atheists should read more science fiction. “A lot of the best science fiction is intensely ‘cosmic,’ conveying just how huge and unknowable the universe is, and how little we still understand it,” says Anders. “In a sense, the huge cosmic imagery of science fiction resembles some of the best religious paintings.”
Not having watched the documentary, I’m not sure what Prisco means by “a spinoff of Russian Orthodox Christianity,” but if Old Believers in Space was a plausible alternate title, Carey missed one heck of an opportunity.
Hat tip to Adrian Mather Ryan.