Oberth, Hermann Julius

SUBJECT AREA: Aerospace
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b. 25 June 1894 Nagyszeben, Transylvania (now Sibiu, Romania)
d. 29 December 1989 Nuremberg, Germany
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Austro-Hungarian lecturer who is usually regarded, with Robert Goddard, as one of the "fathers" of modern astronautics.
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The son of a physician, Oberth originally studied medicine in Munich, but his education was interrupted by the First World War and service in the Austro-Hungarian Army. Wounded, he passed the time by studying astronautics. He apparently simulated weightlessness and worked out the design for a long-range liquid-propelled rocket, but his ideas were rejected by the War Office; after the war he submitted them as a dissertation for a PhD at Heidelberg University, but this was also rejected. Consequently, in 1923, whilst still an unknown mathematics teacher, he published his ideas at his own expense in the book The Rocket into Interplanetary Space. These included a description of how rockets could achieve a sufficient velocity to escape the gravitational field of the earth. As a result he gained international prestige almost overnight and learned of the work of Robert Goddard and Konstantin Tsiolkovsky. After correspondence with the Goddard and Tsiolkovsky, Oberth published a further work in 1929, The Road to Space Travel, in which he acknowledged the priority of Goddard's and Tsiolkovski's calculations relating to space travel; he went on to anticipate by more than thirty years the development of electric and ionic propulsion and to propose the use of giant mirrors to control the weather. For this he was awarded the annual Hirsch Prize of 10,000 francs. From 1925 to 1938 he taught at a college in Mediasch, Transylvania, where he carried out experiments with petroleum and liquid-air rockets. He then obtained a lecturing post at Vienna Technical University, moving two years later to Dresden University and becoming a German citizen. In 1941 he became assistant to the German rocket engineer Werner von Braun at the rocket development centre at Peenemünde, and in 1943 he began work on solid propellants. After the Second World War he spent a year in Switzerland as a consultant, then in 1950 he moved to Italy to develop solid-propellant anti-aircraft rockets for the Italian Navy. Five years later he moved to the USA to carry out advanced rocket research for the US Army at Huntsville, Alabama, and in 1958 he retired to Feucht, near Nuremberg, Germany, where he wrote his autobiography.
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Principal Honours and Distinctions
French Astronautical Society REP-Hirsch Prize 1929. German Society for Space Research Medal 1950. Diesel German Inventors Medal 1954. American Astronautical Society Award 1955. German Federal Republic Award 1961. Institute of Aviation and Astronautics Medal 1969.
Bibliography
1923, Die Rakete zu den Planetenraumen; repub. 1934 as The Rocket into Interplanetary Space (autobiography).
1929, Wege zur Raumschiffahrt [Road to Space Travel].
1959, Stoff und Leben [Material and Life].
Further Reading
R.Spangenburg and D.Moser, 1990, Space People from A to Z, New York: Facts on File. H.Wulforst, 1991, The Rocketmakers: The Dreamers who made Spaceflight a Reality, New York: Crown Publishers.
KF / IMcN

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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