Hermann Julius Oberth (June 25, 1894—December 28, 1989) was a Romanian physicist of German origin, and one of the founding fathers of rocketry and astronautics.
Oberth was born to a Saxon family in the Transylvanian city Sighişoara, Romania. Oberth was, along with the Russian Konstantin Tsiolkovsky and the American Robert Goddard, one of the three founding fathers of rocketry and astronautics. The three were never active collaborators: instead, their parallel achievements occurred independently of one another.
By his own account and that of many others, around the age of 11 Oberth became fascinated with the field in which he was to make his mark through the writings of Jules Verne, especially From the Earth to the Moon and Around the Moon, re-reading them to the point of memorization. Influenced by Verne's books and ideas, Oberth constructed his first model rocket as a school student of 14. In his youthful experiments, he arrived independently at the concept of the multistage rocket, but lacked, at the time, the resources to pursue his idea on any but a theoretical level.
In 1912, Oberth undertook the study of medicine in Munich but at the outbreak of World War I he was drafted in an infantry battalion and sent to the Eastern Front; in 1915 he was moved to a medical unit in a hospital in Sighişoara. Here he initially conducted a series of experiments concerning weightlessness and later resumed his rocket designs. By 1917, he showed what his studies were about and what would become a shooting missile with liquid propellant to the German war minister.
On July 6, 1918 he married Mathilde Hummel with whom he had four children, among them a son who died at the front during World War II and a daughter who also died during the war, when a liquid oxygen plant exploded in a workplace accident in August 1944.
In 1919 he moved once again to Germany, this time to study physics, initially in Munich and later in Göttingen.
In 1922, his doctoral dissertation on rocket science was rejected as "utopian". He had the 92-page work privately published as the controversial Die Rakete zu den Planetenräumen (By Rocket into Planetary Space). (In 1929, Oberth would expand this to a 429-page work entitled Wege zur Raumschiffahrt or Ways to Spaceflight.) Oberth commented later that he made the deliberate choice not to write another doctoral dissertation: "I refrained from writing another one, thinking to myself: Never mind, I will prove that I am able to become a greater scientist than some of you, even without the title of doctor."  Oberth criticized the German system of education, saying "Our educational system is like an automobile which has strong rear lights, brightly illuminating the past. But looking forward things are barely discernible." . He was finally awarded with the title of doctor in physics with the same paper, by professor Augustin Maior, at Babeş-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca (Romania), on May 23, 1923.
He became a member of the Verein für Raumschiffahrt (VfR - "Spaceflight Society"), an amateur rocket group that had taken great inspiration from his book and acted as something of a mentor to the enthusiasts that made it up.
For several years before his final departure from Romania in 1938 Oberth taught physics and mathematics at the Stephan Ludwig Roth high-school in Mediaş.
Rocketry and space flight
In 1928 and 1929 Oberth worked in Berlin as scientific consultant on the first film ever to have scenes set in space, Frau im Mond (The Woman in the Moon), directed at Universum Film AG by Fritz Lang. The film was of enormous value in popularizing the idea of rocket science. Oberth's main task was to build and launch a rocket as a publicity event prior to the film's premiere. On June 5, 1929, Oberth won the first REP-Hirsch Prize of the French Astronomical Society for his Encouragement of Astronautics in his book Wege zur Raumschiffahrt (Ways to Spaceflight) that expanded Die Rakete zu den Planet enräumen to a full-length book.
In autumn 1929, Oberth launched his first liquid fuel rocket, named Kegeldüse. He was helped in this experiment by his students at the Technical University of Berlin, one of whom was Wernher von Braun, who would later head the wartime project to develop the rocket officially called the A4, but far better known today as the V-2 rocket.
In 1938 the Oberth family left Sibiu for good. Oberth himself moved on first to the Technische Hochschule in Vienna, then the Technische Hochschule in Dresden. Oberth arrived at Peenemünde in 1941 to work on the V-2 and circa September 1943, was awarded the Kriegsverdienstkreuz I Klasse mit Schwertern (War Merit Cross 1st Class, with Swords) for his "outstanding, courageous behavior … during the attack" of Peenemünde by Operation Hydra.. Oberth later worked on solid-propellant anti-aircraft rockets at the WASAG complex near Wittenberg. At the end of the war the Oberth family moved to Feucht, near Nuremberg. Oberth left for Switzerland in 1948, where he worked as an independent consultant and a writer.
In 1950 he went on to Italy where, for the Italian navy, he completed the work he had begun at WASAG. In 1953 he returned to Feucht to publish his book Menschen im Weltraum (Man in Space) in which he described his ideas for a space-based reflector telescope, a space station, an electric spaceship, and space suits.
In the 1950s, Oberth offered his opinions regarding unidentified flying objects; he was a supporter of the extraterrestrial hypothesis.
Oberth eventually came to work for his ex-student von Braun, developing space rockets in Huntsville, Alabama in the USA. Among other things, Oberth was involved in writing a study, The Development of Space Technology in the Next Ten Years. In 1958 Hermann was back in Feucht, a where he published his ideas on a lunar exploration vehicle, a "lunar catapult", and on "muffled" helicopters and airplanes. In 1960, in the US again, he went to work for Convair as a technical consultant on the Atlas rocket.
Hermann Oberth retired in 1962 at the age of 68. From 1965 to 1967 he was a member of the right wing NPD. The 1973 energy crisis inspired him to look at alternative energy sources, including a plan for a wind power station that could utilize the jet stream. However, his main interest in retirement was to turn to more abstract philosophical questions. Most notable among his several books from this period is Primer For Those Who Would Govern.
Oberth died in Nuremberg, December 28, 1989.
Oberth is memorialized by the Hermann Oberth Space Travel Museum in Feucht, and by the Hermann Oberth Society, which brings together scientists, researchers and astronauts from East and West in order to carry on his work in rocketry and space exploration.
Also, a crater on the moon was named after him (see: Oberth (crater)).
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock featured an Oberth-class starship in his honor: this class was subsequently used in various episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Fullmetal Alchemist the Movie: Conqueror of Shamballa features Hermann Oberth as the "teacher" of the films protagonist, Edward Elric. Oberth is also mentioned in the movie's prequel, a television series: Fullmetal Alchemist. At the end of the last episode the same protagonist, Edward, has heard of a great scientist, named Oberth, with curious theories. The last moments of the series are Edward on a train to meet Oberth; determined to study rocketry with him.
In Hideo Kojima's space adventure game, Policenauts, there is an extravehicular mobility suit called the Oberth.
* The moon car (1959)
* The electric spaceship (1960)
* Ways to spaceflight (1929)
* Primer for Those Who Would Govern (1987) ISBN 0-914301-06-3
1. ^ (Romanian) Jürgen Heinz Ianzer, Hermann Oberth, pǎrintele zborului cosmic, (Hermann Oberth, father of the cosmic flight), p. 11.
2. ^ a b Mort de Hermann Oberth pionnier de la conquête spatiale, Le Monde. Lundi 1 janvier 1990, p. 16. accessed on October 7, 2006.
3. ^ Ianzer, p. 13.
4. ^ Ianzer, p. 15.
5. ^ Ianzer, p. 3.
6. ^ L'Aerophile, June 1-15, 1929, p. 176; L. Blosset, Smithsonian Annals of Flight No. 10, p. 11
7. ^ Ordway, Frederick I., III.. The Rocket Team, Apogee Books Space Series 36, 36.
* The Hermann Oberth Space Museum
* Statements About Flying Saucers and Extraterrestrial Life Made by Hermann Oberth
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