Hermann Oberth’s Dream of Space Travel

Dr. von Braun and Professor Hermann Oberth are honored by the Berlin Technical University

On June 25, 1894, Austro-Hungarian-born German physicist and engineer Hermann Oberth was born. He was the first, who when thinking about the possibility of spaceships grabbed a slide-rule and presented mathematically analyzed concepts and designs.

Maybe you have already heard of the ‘Oberth Effect‘. In interplanetary spaceflight, the Oberth effect is used in a powered flyby where the application of an impulse, typically from a rocket engine, close to a gravitational body can result in a higher change in kinetic energy and final speed. The effect is named after Hermann Oberth, who one of the founding fathers of rocketry and astronautics. Already in his youth, Hermann Oberth was highly influenced by the works of Jules Verne and increased his interests in rocket science and aeronautics ever since. He attempted a mathematical prove, that Jules Verne’s “method” of shooting astronauts to the moon with a canon would not be possible and he came to realize that a journey to the moon could only be achieved with extremely powerful rockets. However, Oberth enrolled at the University of Munich studying medicine. In 1914, he joined the first World War and returned to the university in 1918. During the war, he designed his first rocket powered with ethanol and oxygen. One year later, he began his studies of physics and finished his dissertation on rockets, which was declined because there were no experts who could even evaluate his work. However, his work was published anyway in 1923 and faced a great success. In his work, Oberth published a description of all elements needed to create fuel for multistage rockets.

In 1927, the German amateur rocket association “Verein für Raumschiffahrt” was established. Hermann Oberth became a member and managed to network with numerous engineers interested in rocket technologies. The works of Oberth and his colleagues including Wernher von Braun, Ernst Stuhlinger, Helmut Gröttrup, and Walter Thiel in this period formed the foundations of rocket engineering and are considered the very early milestones in space flight. Oberth received the German citizenship in 1939 and worked under the name Fritz Hann at the Army Research Center in Pennemünde, Germany. There, he was also involved in the V2-Program. When the war was over, Oberth worked on several rocket-engineering projects in Switzerland, the USA and Germany. In this period, Oberth was involved in writing the study, “The Development of Space Technology in the Next Ten Years” and published his ideas on a lunar exploration vehicle, a “lunar catapult”, and on “muffled” helicopters and airplanes. In 1960, Oberth returned to the USA as a technical consultant on the Atlas rocket program.

At yovisto, you may be interested in a historical documentation on Hermann Oberth and Wernher von Braun’s achievements in rocketry and astronautics.

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