The Elevator That Was So Perfect, They Put The Inventor In Prison
During World War I, while the other Russian soldiers were thinking about not dying, Aleksandr Shargei was doodling plans for going to the Moon. He died before space travel became a reality (he fought again in World War II, and didn't make it out), but the equations he wrote were sound. Decades after his death, and a couple years after we reached the Moon, Neil Armstrong made a pilgrimage to Shargei's house and grabbed some soil as a souvenir.
The route that Shargei planned out, and that NASA ended up using, is known as Kondratyuk's loop. That's because when World War I wound down, Russia had a revolution, and Shargei changed his name to Yuri Kondratyuk to avoid being arrested as an enemy of the people. He figured the Soviets would target him because he'd been an important guy under the Tsar. Changing his name kept the Reds off him for a while, but they did end up arresting him, for doing absolutely nothing wrong.
The evidence against Kondratyuk had to do with a massive grain elevator he'd built in his southern town. Metal was scarce, and he'd managed to build this 13,000 ton structure entirely out of wood and without a single nail. The elevator was nicknamed the Mastodon (it looked kind of like a mastodon, with a long trunk), and it was an engineering marvel. In 1930, the government put him on trial, saying that if he made it without any nails, he wanted it to collapse.
Possibly, no one actually believed Kondratyuk was a saboteur. The Soviets arrested people all the time for made-up reasons and presented ludicrous evidence. Kondratyuk's charges stuck, and they sent Kondratyuk to a gulag.
Once he was out, he went back to working on construction that most people considered impossible. He put together a plan for a wind turbine that everyone said was so huge, it made no sense at all. Then, after he died, Russia used this plan to build Moscow's Ostankino Tower—which, even today, is taller than any other freestanding structure in all of Europe.
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