Die Rakete zu den Planetenraumen. [With:] Ways to Spaceflight. Washington: National Aeronautics and Space Administration, January 1972.

Munich and Berlin;: R. Oldenbourg, 1923;.

First edition, rare, of Oberth’s first work on rocketry, one of the foundation works on the subject, together with an inscribed presentation copy of the first English translation of its revised and greatly enlarged version, Wege zum Raumschiffahrt (1929), which “anticipated by 30 years the development of electric propulsion and of the ion rocket” (Britannica). “In 1923 Romanian-German physicist Hermann Oberth published Die Rakete zu den Planetenräumen in Munich and Berlin at the press of R. Oldenbourg. This book began as a doctoral thesis on the rocket in interplanetary space which Oberth submitted to the University of Heidelberg in 1922. When the thesis was rejected by the university, Oberth paid for its commercial publication. The work was highly influential on the founding in 1927 of the German amateur rocket society, Verein für Raumschiffahrt, to which most of the early German rocketeers belonged, and which became a focal point of early rocketry research. In his book Oberth set out to prove four propositions: (1) that the technology of the time permitted the building of machines capable of rising above the earth’s atmosphere; (2) that these machines could attain velocities sufficient to prevent their falling back to earth, or even to escape the earth’s gravitational pull; (3) that such machines could be built to carry human beings; and (4) that under certain conditions, their manufacture might be profitable. Oberth demonstrated that a rocket can operate in a vacuum and that it can surpass the velocity of its own exhaust; he also pointed out the superiority of liquid fuels in producing maximum exhaust velocity. He described in detail the designs of a prototypical instrument-carrying rocket and a theoretical space-ship, and developed the first sketchy model of a space station. Oberth’s work became more widely known through its greatly expanded third edition, retitled Wege zur Raumschiffahrt (1929), which contained over 400 pages compared to the 1923 edition’s 92 pages. Oberth dedicated the 1929 work to Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou, director and writer respectively of Frau im Mond (1929) one of the world’s first serious science fiction films. Oberth served as a consultant on the film, which was the first to present the basics of rocketry to a mass audience, and his income from that project was crucial in allowing him to complete the book. Wege zum Raumschiffahrt was the first work to receive the REP-Hirsch International Astronautics Prize established in 1928 by French rocketry pioneer Robert Esnault-Pelterie and André-Louis Hirsch; the prize was awarded annually between 1929 and 1939. The purpose of the prize was to recognize ‘the best original theoretical or experimental works capable of promoting progress in one of the areas permitting the realization of interstellar navigation or furthering knowledge in a field related to astronautics.’ In the epilogue to his book, Oberth acknowledged receipt of the REP-Hirsch Prize and expressed his surprise and gratitude that a French organization ‘would award such a prize to a German … It is encouraging to see that science and education are able to bridge national differences’. An English translation of Oberth's 1929 book, Ways to Spaceflight, was published by NASA in 1972” (historyofinformation.com). ABPC/RBH list five copies of Die Rakete zu den Planetenraumen and none of Ways to Spaceflight.

Provenance: Ways to Spaceflight with reader’s initials front cover and presentation inscription from the author to Harry Joel on title-page: ‘Herrn Harry Joel mit frdl. gruss H. Oberth.’); Richard Green (sold Christie’s, 17 June 2008, lot 274).

“German scientist Hermann Oberth ranks with Russian aerospace engineer Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (1857–1935) and American physicist Robert Goddard (1882–1945) as one of the founders of space flight. Tsiolkovsky and Goddard made many discoveries before Oberth, but Oberth’s writings on a variety of subjects reached a wider audience. His most important contributions were two books that led first to the development of the German V-2 long-range guided missile and then to human spaceflight …

Hermann Julius Oberth was born on June 25, 1894, in the German town of Hermannstadt, Transylvania; formerly a part of Austria-Hungary, the town is now known as Sibiu, Romania. His father, Julius Gotthold Oberth, was a medical doctor who was the director and chief surgeon of the county hospital in Schässburg, Transylvania, where Oberth grew up. His mother, Valerie Emma (Krassner) Oberth, was the daughter of a doctor who had prophesied accurately in July 1869 that humans would land on the Moon in a hundred years. In an autobiographical piece published in Astronautics journal, Oberth recalled that ‘at the age of eleven, I received from my mother as a gift the famous books, From the Earth to the Moon and Travel to the Moon by Jules Verne, which I … read at least five or six times and, finally, knew by heart.’ Fascinated by space flight as a child, he began to perform various calculations about how humans could travel to the Moon … and he successfully verified the magnitude of escape velocity.

“Oberth began studying medicine at the University of Munich in Germany in 1913, but he also attended lectures in physics and related subjects at the nearby technical institute. His education was interrupted by World War I, in which he served with an infantry regiment. After being wounded in 1916, he was assigned to a reserve hospital, where he continued experiments with weightlessness that he had begun as a teenager. He also experimented on himself with drugs, including scopolamine, which is still used to treat motion sickness.

“When Oberth left the army he worked on solutions to the problems posed by space flight. In 1918 he submitted a proposal to the German Ministry of Armament for a long-range rocket that could be used as a weapon. Powered by ethyl alcohol, water, and liquid air, the rocket was larger and less complicated than the V-2 missile, which Oberth later developed with engineer Wernher von Braun (1912–77). The ministry turned down Oberth’s proposal. On June 6, 1918, Oberth married Mathilde Hummel, with whom he later had four children. Two of the children died during World War II.

“In 1919 Oberth resumed his schooling, this time studying physics at the University of Klausenburg in Transylvania. He soon returned to the University of Munich and the nearby technical institute, then he attended the University of Göttingen, and finally he completed his studies for a Ph.D. at the University of Heidelberg. He submitted his doctoral dissertation on rockets and spaceflight theory at Heidelberg, but it was not accepted. From 1922 until 1938 Oberth taught physics and mathematics at secondary schools in Transylvania. In 1923 the University of Klausenburg granted him the title of professor. Five years later Oberth published his doctoral dissertation as a book titled Die Rakete zu den Planeträumen (The Rocket into Planetary Space) …

“He set forth the basic principles of space flight and discussed possible solutions to a number of specific problems. For instance, he examined such matters as liquid-propellant rocket construction and the use of propellants for different stages of rockets. He discussed the use of pumps to inject propellants into a rocket's combustion chamber and speculated on the effects of space flight upon humans. He also proposed the idea of a space station. In 1929 Oberth published a considerably expanded version of this book, now titled Wege zur Raumschiffahrt (Ways to Spaceflight). Both the German version and the English translation of the book provided inspiration to other spaceflight pioneers. One of the most important consequences was the German Rocket Society (Verein für Raumschiffahrt), which was founded in 1927 to raise money for Oberth’s rocket experiments. Oberth served as president from 1929 until 1930.

“The German Rocket Society provided practical training in rocketry to several of its members. Among them was von Braun, who later joined the German army’s rocket center at Peenemünde, where he participated in developing the V-2 guided missile. As public interest in space flight increased, the German film director Fritz Lang made the movie Frau im Mond (Woman on the Moon), with Oberth as the technical advisor. Lang and his film company also provided funds for Oberth to construct a liquid-propellant rocket that would be launched at the movie’s premier. Oberth was unable to meet the deadline. During production of the film Oberth lost the sight in his left eye while conducting an experiment. He went on to build a rocket that never flew, but it did undergo a static test on July 23, 1930. Although his rocket design was certified by the Government Institute for Chemistry and Technology, Oberth returned to teaching in Romania when he could not obtain funding to develop it. The German Rocket Society continued its work, benefiting from the certification of Oberth’s design …

“In recognition of his contributions to space flight, Oberth was the first recipient of the international R. E. P. Hirsch Astronautics Prize in 1929. He also received the Diesel medal of the Association of German Inventors in 1954, the American Astronautical Society Award in 1955, and the Federal Service Cross First Class from the German Federal Republic in 1961. Of the three preeminent founders of spaceflight, Oberth alone lived to witness the results of his early ideas. He died at age ninety-five in Nuremberg, West Germany, on December 29, 1989. Throughout his life he remained committed to the dream of human exploration of space. In 1954, thirty-five years before his death, he wrote in Men into Space, ‘Because that is the goal: To secure any place on which life can exist and prosper, give life to any dead world, and to give purpose to any living world’” (Space Exploration Reference Library).

Norman 1604 (first work). Von Braun & Ordway, History of Rocketry & Space Travel, pp. 57-59.

[Rakete:] Large 8vo (255 x 180), pp. 92 and 3 folding plates. Original printed wrappers, extremeties frayed and with minor loss; [Spaceflight:] 4to (265 x 198 mm), pp. xiv, 597. Original orange printed wrappers (lightly soiled, spine faded, extremities rubbed). Cloth box.

Item #5500

Price: $6,000.00

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