Late at night April, 14, 1881 a prisoner knocked at the door of a separate condemned cell of the Peter-and-Paul fortress.
- What do you need? - the corridor gendarme responded by sleepy voice unsatisfied with bother at this time of night.
- I ask to give me one more feather and a sheet of paper, - the prisoner replied.
- The gendarme changed his countenance at once. Did this steadfast, rigid prisoner go to pieces and decide to write a petition for mercy? That’s during his relief! Perhaps he would be awarded and noted at the highest level... He went and brought the goods quickly.
- Write quicker, - the gendarme said.
He stood near the cell door and waited the prisoner to write his petition unpatiently. He was writing longer than usual. The gendarme wanted to hasten him. At this moment the prisoner knocked again. The gendarme opened the bean-hole and was stupefied: a chart with incomprehensible for him notations was drawn on the sheet instead of a petition for mercy.
- What is it? - the corridor gendarme asked with surprise and unmasked malice.
- It is a diagram of a flying vehicle for a flight from the Earth to the Space. You should pass it to the Academy of Exact Science. This is my dying wish.
- And won’t you write a petition for mercy?
- No, - the prisoner answered rigidly.
The gendarme shut down the bean-hole and looked at the sheet with more surprise. In fact, there was no petition but a chart.
“Hell! He is crazy, after all!” - the gendarme thought. - He will be executed in the morning but he draws diagrams! The morning April, 15 came. The prisoner did not sleep. It was his last night because he had denied mercy and was to be executed by charge of an incredible in Russian history crime - the regicide. He had no pity about what he had committed and was not afraid of being executed. He was excited by one reason only. If the Academy would examine his project and if a vehicle for a flight to the stars would be built by it. Nobody knew about the Space at that time. 77 years were remaining until the space flight of the first satellite and 80 years until Gagarin’s flight, and Tsiolkovsky hadn’t started yet his famous work about the possibility of a space flight by a reactive rocket. But a prisoner in a separate cell imagined a flight to the stars already.
His name was Nikolay Ivanovich Kibalchich. This man has lived a short (28 years) but amazingly impregnate and heroic life without any exaggeration. He was born on October, 31, 1853 in the city of Korop, Chernigov province. He studied in a grammar school and was the best student. Perhaps he would finish the school with a golden medal but got only a silver one because of his “bad behaviour” which meant that he had started arguing with the teacher who had bribed the students and gave a slap in the face of a gendarme who had been beating a peasant. Having finished the grammar school he entered the Petersburg Institute of Lines of Communication in 1871 but transfered to the Medical Surgery Academy in 1873.
But Kibalchich was not allowed to graduate. In October 1875 he was arrested by charge of forbidden literature distribution and revolutionary agitation.
During his holidays Nikolay published his own digest of translated articles including Marx’ “Communist Party Manifesto” and distributed it to peasants in his village. Kibalchich spent 2 years and 7 months in prisons of Petersburg and Kiev. Being in custody he learned about revolutionary underground activities and organization of explosions. It was in custody where he made the hardest choice of his life.
What to be - a scientist or a revolutionary?
It was the time he said: “I will pursue only the science that will bring freedom to my people”.
In June 1878 Nikolay Kibalchich was released being sentenced to 1 month imprisonment but he had spent in custody 2,5 years to the moment. Maybe it was the last straw. After his liberation Kibalchich joined the organization “Freedom or Death” (later renamed to “People’s Will”) and went underground. His further life is inextricably intertwined to organization of explosions and manufacture of explosives, blasting gelatine from nitroglycerine and pyrocotton which was to carry a rocket to the space but by predestination it was sweeping human driftwood - tsars and bourgeois - from Russia.
The work was humming. Here is a short list of actions for which Kibalchich has made devices: Odessa - the preparation of the tsar train explosion, Petersburg - the preparation of the tsar dining-room in the Winter Palace explosion, Petersburg again - the undermining at Malaya Sadovaya street, the target was the same - hateful Alexander II. Finally, it was he who prepared the bomb for the decisive strike - the execution of the tsar at Ekaterininsky Channel on March, 1, 1881. But don’t think Kibalchich wasn’t engaged in anything except explosives manufacturing. He was the man of letters Samoilov, the publicist Doroshenko, the underground printing-office owner Agochistkovich. The organization’s program article “Political Revolution and Economic Question” published in “People’s Will” No.5 in February 1881 pertained to him. It was March, 1, 1881 when Kibalchich’s bomb reached its target. The tsar was killed. Ignaty Grinevitsky who threw the bomb was dead. Nikolay Rysakov who was the first to throw but gave a miss was seized at once. It was he who testified at the investigation about the other members of the organization. All the direct participants of the action were arrested. Nikolay Kibalchich was the last on March, 17.
A few people tried to stick up for the prisoners. All the requests were denied cruelly. Alexander III who had taken the crown stated: “Don’t come to me with such petitions - I guarantee they all will be hung”. Don’t you see some familiar words “will catch in a shit-house and crackdown”. It’s clear that after such an incredible statement the proceedings were short-term and merciless. Incredible amount of guards were present in the court room including gendarmes with naked swords. The particular cynicism of the prosecution was that the public prosecutor N.V.Muraviev had been a playmate of one of the defendants Sofia Perovskaya in their childhood days. Moreover, she had saved him drowning in a river. But it made no obstacles for him to strive for death penalty for everybody.
Nikolay Kibalchich stuck in everybody’s memory particularly. “Unusual moderation, infernal energy and amazing tranquility” - the Chairman Fuks reported on him.
The expert general Mravinsky stated at the proceedings that in had not been possible to manufacture the bombs in Russia, and the explosives had been brought from abroad. First it made the prosecution cheer: perhaps it would succeed to expand the conspiracy against the Emperor’s person abroad!
But they were in for a heartbreak disappointment. “We have manufactured the blasting gelatine ourselves”, - Kibalchich stated and acquainted the trial with elements of bomb technique and explosives manufacture.
The sentence did not surprise anybody - it was death penalty for all.
The sentence was implemented on April, 15, 1881 already. Just before it Kibalchich wrote and applied twice to the Academy of Science with his historical project.
Certainly nothing was passed to the Academy but was left in the gendarmes’ archives up to the October Revolution and published in 1918 only in the magazine “The Past” No.3, 4 and 5. Kibalchich’s prophetic choice became logical as he understood that really great scientific achievements were possible after revolution only. But it is impossible to make it sitting on a sofa at a TV set or groaning about small wages and bad work conditions in aging laboratories as contemporaries professing to be scientists do. If young students and specialists in the late 19th century did so there would be neither revolution nor the USSR nor the Academy of Science not those contemporary scientists themselves.
Don’t think Kibalchich was unique in his choice. The Honorary Member of the Academy of Science, chemist, matematician and physicist, the outstanding biochemist Academician Alexey Bach, the Corresponding Member of the Academy of Science of the USSR anthropologist and ethnographist Leo Sternberg, the geologist scientist professor Joseph Lukashevich, the author of the aeroplane project Yury Bogdanovich - all of them have been members of the “People’s Will” organization, underground revolutionaries before 1917.
And do you Messrs. contemporary scientists consider yourselves cleverer than them and do you want to reach a prosperous life and implementation of your works sitting quietly and doing nothing?
Isn’t it time to make nitroglycerine, pyrocotton and to prepare blasting gelatine?
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