Headed for Space

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Headed for Space

Hermann Oberth is one of the fathers of rocketry. He inspired some of the most successful rocket designers and builders of the 20th century. Yet his “offspring” — his pioneering ideas about rockets — almost weren’t born. He first wrote those ideas in 1922, in his PhD thesis at the University of Heidelberg in Germany. His professors rejected it. “Too farfetched,” they said.

Yet Oberth’s conclusions were correct — and he knew it. So he published them at his own expense. His book, “The Rocket in Interplanetary Space,” was released 100 years ago this month.

In it, he concluded that rockets using liquid fuels would be much more efficient than those using solid fuels. No one had yet built such a rocket, and wouldn’t for a few more years. Oberth also concluded that rockets could escape Earth’s gravity, and that humans could safely go along for the ride. He even came up with the idea of multiple stages — a design that’s used in most modern-day boosters.

Oberth’s 92-page book caught the eye of several young rocketeers in Germany, who formed a famous rocket club. One of their leaders was Wernher von Braun, who would develop the V-2 terror weapon for Germany, and the Saturn 5 Moon rocket for the United States.

Oberth continued to develop his ideas, and published an extended version of his book in 1929. It offered a lot more detail on how to get into space — ideas that weren’t so “farfetched” after all.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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