on Hermann Oberth
SPACE PIONEER HERMAN OBERTH WAS VON BRAUN
Space pioneer Hermann Oberth, was considered
by many to be the most famous mentor of the late Dr. Wernher
von Braun, the first director of the NASA Marshall Space Flight
Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
"On the German side, I have to mention before all Professor
Hermann Oberth who offered the world new basic concepts in
the field of rocket technology," Von Braun wrote in 1959.
Oberth was born in Hermannstadt, Transylvania, the son of
Dr. Julius Oberth, a physician. He attended schools at Schaessburg,
Transylvania, until he was ready to enter the University of
Munchen in 1913. He later became a professor of mathematics
For two years (1928-30) he experimented with gasoline and
liquid air as a rocket propellant while working as an advisor
to the film company making the space-oriented film "Girl
in the Moon."
In the spring of 1930, a young Wernher von Braun enrolled
at the Berlin Institute of Technology and in his spare time
assisted Oberth in his early experiments in testing a liquid-fueled
rocket stage with about 15 pounds of thrust.
In September 1930, Oberth returned to a teaching post in
Romania while von Braun continued experiments under the sponsorship
of the German Society for Space Travel.
Oberth rejoined Von Braun and his team of scientists working
on rockets at Peenemuende during World War II. After the war,
his research continued, and for a time he was engaged in rocket
research for the Italian navy.
In 1955, he was invited to rejoin the rocket team. This time,
Oberth came to Huntsville where he pursued rocket studies
in the Technical Feasibility Studies Office of the U. S. Army
Ordnance Missile Laboratories. In 1956, he transferred to
the Army Ballistic Missile Agency as chief of Special Fields
in the Research Projects Office. He resigned from U. S. government
service in November 1958 and returned to Germany.
Von Braun later claimed that Oberth's book, "A Rocket
to the Interplanetary Space," which was published in
1923, gave "proof that it was possible to travel to other
planets by means of liquid propellant rockets."
Oberth, who visited the Marshall Center as recently as 1985,
is also remembered by others in Huntsville. Bill Snoddy, now
retired from the Marshall Center, went to work for the Army
in Huntsville in 1958. Snoddy recalls that crowded conditions
meant that many new employees ended up with their desks in
the hallway of Bldg. 4484. "My desk was outside Professor
Oberth's office," Snoddy said. "I was new and was
only around him for a few months before he went back to Germany.
But I remember that he was a very quiet person. He was very
Snoddy also remembers seeing the many charts and exotic illustrations
in Oberth's office: "He was a visionary. Like Von Braun,
he could communicate his ideas in drawings and writings."
Recalling Oberth's close association with Von Braun, Snoddy
said, "If Von Braun can be considered the father of the
space age, then Oberth must be the grandfather."
Hermann Oberth died Dec. 29, 1989, in a hospital in Nuremberg,
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