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H. Oberth, The Space Pioneer

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In the dawn of rocketry 

A physician and poet Friedrich Krasser lived in the little town of Sibiu in Austrian-Hungarian empiry (now, in Romania). He was well known for his progressive thoughts and his love of science. In July of 1869, he held a garden party, and, in a mood of exuberance, told his friends: "You may believe or not, but I am convinced that in a hundred years, man will travel to the moon!"

In July of 1969, exactly one hundred years later, Neil Amstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon.
25 years after that proprecy, a grandson was born to Dr.Krasser, and his name was Hermann Oberth.

Hermann Julius Oberth, born June 25, 1894 in the Transylvanian town of Hermannstadt, is, along with the Russian Konstantin Tsiolkovsky and the American Robert Goddard, one of the three founding fathers of rocketry and modern astronautics. Interestingly, although these three pioneers arrived at many of the same conclusions about the possibility of a rocket escaping the earth’s gravitational pull, they seem to have done so without any knowledge of each other’s work.

When Hermann was two years old, his family moved to Schaessburg where his father had been appointed Director of the City Hospital. Hermann was unusual child. Before seven, he began to make entries in a little Notebook of Invertions. His first invention was a huge waterwheel, and second one was the Lighting Factory which collected lightings and stored their energies for later use.

Oberth’s interest in rocketry was sparked at the age of 11. His mother gave him a copy of Jules Verne's From The Earth To The Moon, a book which he later recalled he read "at least five or six times and, finally, knew by heart.” It was a young Oberth, then, that discovered that many of Verne’s calculations were not simply fiction, and that the very notion of interplanetary travel was not as fantastic as had been assumed by the scientific community.

At age of 13, he computed the force of inertia to which Jules Verne's space travellers would be exposed during acceleration in the gun barrel. - "47 thousand times the earth's gravity. They would be flattened into pancakes. A cannon isn't good for space flight. It have to be done with a rocket. Hermann loaded his rowboat with rocks, and by pushing rocks out, hr checked the rocket principle. Talking with town experts in guns, he came to the conclution that powder is nor sufficient for flights to the moon and planets. Liquid propellants have to be used. And he considered the most powerfull combination could be liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen.

By the age of 14 Oberth had already envisioned a “recoil rocket” that could propel itself through space by expelling exhaust gases (from a liquid fuel) from its base. He had no resources with which to test his model, but continued to develop his theories, all the while teaching himself, from various books, the mathematics that he knew he’d need if he was to ever challenge gravity’s dominion.

Oberth realized that the higher the ratio between propellant and rocket mass the faster his rocket would be able to travel. Problem: as the rocket expends fuel, its mass (not including fuel) remains the same, in essence becoming heavier and heavier in relation to the engine’s ability to provide thrust. Solution: stages. Hermann Oberth reasoned that as one section of the rocket cylinder becomes expended, and therefore also becomes dead weight, why not just get rid of it? This idea is especially important, in light of the fact that in space, velocity is additive. Oberth wrote, “the requirements for stages developed out of these formulas. If there is a small rocket on top of a big one, and if the big one is jettisoned and the small one is ignited, then their speeds are added.”

In 1912 Hermann Oberth enrolled in the University of Munich to study medicine. His scholarly pursuits, however, were interrupted by the First World War. In an indirect way, Hermann Oberth’s participation in the war, mostly with the medical unit , was, in some ways, fortunate for the future of rocketry. Hermann Oberth stated it best when he wrote that one of the most important things he learned in his years as an enlisted medic, was that he "did not want to be a doctor”. When the war was over, Professor Oberth returned to the University of Munich, but this time to study Physics with several of the most notable scientists of the time.

In 1918 Hermann Pberth married Mathilde Hummel, known Tilly. She shared all his triumphs and tribulations. After the end of World War I, part of Hungary with Schaessburg was given to Rumania.

In 1922 Oberth’s doctoral thesis on rocketry was rejected. He later described his reaction: “I refrained from writing another one, thinking to myself: Never mind, I will prove that I am able to become a greater scientist than some of you, even without the title of doctor.” He continued: “In the United States, I am often addressed as a doctor. I should like to point out, however, that I am not such and shall never think of becoming one.” And on education he had this to say: “Our educational system is like an automobile which has strong rear lights, brightly illuminating the past. But looking forward things are barely discernible.”

Mo publisher was willing to accept Oberth's book. Helped Tilly with her household saving. So in 1923, the year after the rejection of his dissertation, he published the 92 page Die Rakete zu den Planetenraumen (The Rocket into Planetary Space). This was followed by a longer version (429 pages) in 1929, which was internationally celebrated as a work of tremendous scientific importance.

While the book was in print, Hermann Oberth became aware to Robert Hutchins Goddard who had published "A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes" in 1919. A correspondence between the two pioneers developed. Around that time he learned about Konstantin Tsiolkovskii, and they exchanged their papers and a series of friendly letters.

That same year, he lost the sight in his left eye in an experiment while working as a technical advisor to German director Fritz Lang on his film, “Girl in the Moon.”

During his work with the film studio in Berlin, Oberth had developed a combustion chamber and nozzle for liquid propellants and liquid oxygen, the "cone jet nozzle". He perfected this system and had it officially certified in Berlin in 1930.

In the thirties Oberth took on a young assistant who would later become one of the leading scientists in rocketry research for the German and then the United States governments; his name was Werhner von Braun. They worked together again during the Second World War, developing the V2 rocket, the “vengeance weapon” for the German Army.

After the war his family movied to Feucht near Nuernburg. later he worked in Switzerland and italy, where he developed, together with his son Adolph, a smokeless ammonium nitrate rocked. In 1959, Werhner von Braun invited Hermann to in the United States at the U.S. Army’s Ballistic Missile Agency in Huntsville, Alabama. However, three years later Professor Oberth retired and returned to Germany. On several occassions, he visited USA - in 1961 as a consultant to Convair in San Diego and in July of 1969 to see the launch of the Saturn-Apollo rocket that was to take first men to Moon.

In his books "Matter and Life" and "The catechism of Uranids" we meed Hermann as a philosopher and humanitarian, who is searching for subtle bridges between mind and matter. "We need more knowledge about ourselves", he said.

That Hermann Oberth is one of the three founding fathers of rocketry and modern astronautics is, I think, indisputable. That all three have advanced the science of rocketry is also indisputable - Professor Oberth, though, possessed a vision that set him apart, even from these great men. In 1923 he wrote in the final chapter of Die Rakete zu den Planetenraumen (The Rocket into Planetary Space), “The rockets... can be built so powerfully that they could be capable of carrying a man aloft.” In 1923, then, he became the first to prove that rockets could put a man into space.

By all accounts Hermann Oberth was a humble man (especially considering his achievements) who had, in his own words, simple goals. He outlined them in the last paragraph of his 1957 book Man into Space: “To make available for life every place where life is possible. To make inhabitable all worlds as yet uninhabitable, and all life purposeful.”

Hermann Julius Oberth died in a Nuremberg hospital in West Germany on December 29, 1989 at the age of 95.

Text prepared by Cpt.Astera's advisor

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and The biography of Edwin Hubble

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Hermann Oberth
Braun holds Hermann Oberth's award, 1961
Von Braun holds the coveted Hermann Oberth award on October 19, 1961 during Alabama Section Meeting of the American Rocket Society  
Hermann Oberth tests early rocket. von Braun at right
H.Oberth tests one of early rocket, Werhner von Braun assists (in right)  
Hermann Oberth
Hermann Oberth
Hermann Oberth
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