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Hermann Oberth

Hermann Oberth was a significant rocketry pioneer of the 20th-century.


Hermann Oberth

Hermann Oberth

NASA/Robert A. Braeunig
German, Hermann Oberth, Russian Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, and American Robert Goddard are considered the three founding fathers of rocketry and modern astronautics.

Hermann Oberth

Hermann Oberth, by birth a Romanian but by nationality a German was born on June 25, 1894, in Hermannstadt, Romania, Oberth became mesmerized by Jules Verne's novel, From Earth to the Moon as an 11-year-old boy. He recalled reading the book “five or six times and, finally, knew it by heart.” This book, and other space flight literature that he devoured in the coming years led Oberth to intensive study of the technical aspects of interplanetary travel.

The New Rocket Men

Between World Wars I and II, especially in the 1930s, rocket enthusiasts and rocket clubs were active in Germany, the US, Russia and other countries. Experimental rockets were designed, tested and sometimes flown. Some of the experiments used liquid fuel, though solid-fuel rockets were also developed. In the latter, the fuel gradually burned off (as it did in early gunpowder rockets), and the entire fuel container was under pressure, supplying hot gas directly to the De-Laval nozzle.

Hermann Oberth - The Rocket into Interplanetary Space

The hotbed of rocketry was Germany, where Hermann Oberth, a transplanted Romanian, vigorously promoted the idea of space flight, even though his doctoral thesis "The Rocket into Interplanetary Space" was rejected by the university of Heidelberg. Dr. Hermann Oberth, was considered the foremost authority on rocketry outside the United States.

In 1923, he published a book about rocket travel into outer space. Because of his important writings, many small rocket societies sprang up around the world. Oberth was an early member of the "Society for Space Travel" (Verein fuer Raumschiffahrt or VfR) formed in 1927. In 1930 the VfR successfully tested a liquid fuel engine with a conical nozzle which developed a thrust of 70 newtons (about 10 newtons will lift 1 kg). By 1932 it was flying rockets with 600-newton motors.

Wernher von Braun

By that time, however, the German army had begun developing rockets for its own use, and in 1932 it enlisted the help of a young engineer named Wernher Von Braun. Wernher von Braun had assisted Hermann Oberth in his early experiments in testing a liquid-fueled rocket with about 15 pounds of thrust. After graduating from school, von Braun became a student at the Berlin Institute of Technology and worked in his spare time as an assistant for Professor Oberth at the German Society for Space Travel.

Hermann Oberth was trying to prove that liquid fuels, instead of solids, offered the best approach to powering rockets for space vehicles. Oberth's other two assistants were Klaus Riedel and Rudolf Nebel. Their equipment was crude and the ignition system was perilous. Riedel would toss a flaming gasoline-soaked rag over the gas-spitting motor and duck for cover before Oberth opened the fuel valves, and then the motor would start with a roar!

Hermann Oberth - Chemical and Technical Institute

Oberth and his assistants were allowed to conduct experiments as guests on the proving grounds of the Chemical and Technical Institute, the German equivalent of the U.S. Bureau of Standards. In August 1930, Oberth's little rocket engine succeeded in producing a thrust of seven kilograms for 90 seconds, burning gasoline and liquid oxygen.

An official of the Institute certified the demonstration and the liquid-fueled rocket motor was thus recognized for the first time in Germany as a respectable member of the family of internal-combustion engines. This was a tremendous step forward but, because he had to support a large family, Hermann Oberth was forced to return to his teaching job in Romania.

The military's rockets were larger and more ambitious, and the A2 which flew in 1934 developed a thrust of 16000 newton. This line ultimately led to the A4, designed and tested under Von Braun's supervision, a 12-ton rocket with a thrust of 250 000 newtons, a 1-ton payload and a range of 300 km (about 200 miles).

Continue > The Rockets of Wernher Von Braun

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