Raketen zu den Planetenraumen [Rocket into Planetary Space]

Wernher VON BRAUN   |   Hermann OBERTH

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“THE FIRST TECHNICAL BOOK ON SPACE TRAVEL”: 1964 EDITION OF HERMANN OBERTH’S VISIONARY 1923 DISSERTATION, THE ROCKET INTO INTERPLANETARY SPACE, PRESENTATION COPY INSCRIBED BY OBERTH TO WEST GERMAN CHANCELLOR KIESINGER

OBERTH, Hermann. Die Raketen zu den Planetenraumen [The Rocket into Planetary Space]. Nürnberg: Uni-Verlag, 1960 / 1964 [i.e., 1964]. Slim octavo, original half gray cloth, paper-covered boards.

Third edition of Oberth’s pioneering dissertation on the theory and practice of liquid-propelled rocketry—“the first technical book on space travel” (Ciancone)—first published in 1923, inscribed by Oberth to the Chancellor of West Germany, “Herren Bundeskanzler Dr. Kurt Georg Kiesinger in aufrichtigen verehrung, H. Oberth, 11.2.69” [Lord Chancellor Dr. Kurt Georg Kiesinger, with genuine admiration, H. Oberth, 11.2.69].

Oberth “was given both of [Jules] Verne’s Moon novels when he was 11 and becane so captivated by the dream that played out on their pages that he practically learned them by heart… He remained so fascinated by the idea of taking to space that he finally stood up to his father [who wished him to become a physician], abandoned medicine and went to Heidelberg University after the [World War I] armistice to do graduate work in physics… Oberth set down his theories [on liquid-propellant rockets] in a doctoral dissertation that, reflecting his medical studies, also contained heavy doses of material on how spaceflight would affect the human body… [thus] inventing what would eventually be called space medicine.” His adviser, while impressed with Oberth’s work, nevertheless refused to award him a doctorate, since the dissertation was not pure physics. “Determined to get his work in print, he took it… to several publishers. Only one, Oldenbourg in Munich, agreed to publish it, and then on condition that the author himself pay a generous part of the printer’s bill…But the gamble paid off. Die Rakete zu den Planetenraumen (The Rocket into Planetary Space) was published in 1923 with mixed reviews and moderately good sales. Within two years, though, it would spread the concept of rocketry throughout Europe and beyond and become a classic… The author laid out the principles of rocket motion using calculations and physical concepts that might as well have been Arabic to the average German… But the equations amounted to a Rosetta Stone for the cognoscenti. They showed that rockets could indeed operate in a vacuum; that they could move faster than the velocity of their own spent gases; and that, given enough velocity, they could actually haul payloads into orbit around Earth and beyond… The last part of [the book] described a spaceship, space travel, and even sketched a crude space station in plain enough German so that bright and attentive readers could grasp the ideas behind them” (Burrows, 48-50). Illustrated with numerous diagrams and one folding plate, printed in red and black. With photographic frontispiece portrait of Oberth, bearing his printed facsimile signature. With foreword by Werner von Braun. Preceded by the first two editions, both in 1923, and a 1960 reprint. Text in German. See Ciancone 176. Kurt Georg Kiesinger served West Germany as its third Chancellor from 1966-69. Pencil bibliographic notation to front free endpaper, not touching Oberth’s inscription.

Minor crease to corner of folding plate. A fine inscribed copy of a title quite elusive in any edition.

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