HERMANN OBERTH -- HALF A CENTURY AHEAD
By Konrad K. Dannenberg
Member of the Alexander Order
Opening remarks delivered by Konrad Dannenberg at the opening ceremonies of the traveling exhibition HERMANN OBERTH: THE FATHER OF SPACE FLIGHT on June 16, 1989 in Huntsville, Alabama.
Mr. Dannenberg, a long-time associate and friend of Professor Oberth, was the former director of rocket motor development in Peenemünde; former director, Redstone Rocket production in Huntsville, former deputy program manager of the Saturn booster project that put first men on the Moon. Later, he served as space station program manager until 1973. Now serves as consultant to the Alabama Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville.
It is a great honor for me to have been asked to participate in today's opening ceremony of the exhibition HERMANN OBERTH: THE FATHER OF SPACE FLIGHT.
This country will celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the lunar landing in a few days. This City will celebrate the participation of the Marshall Space Flight Center and all its contractors and supporters in this event. We are here today to give special recognition to two people who have had a greater influence on the development of the transportation systems that took us to the moon than any other one person I can think of. These two are, of course, the first Director of the Marshall Space Flight Center, Dr. Wernher von Braun, and his "Teacher," as Wernher always referred to him, Professor Dr. Hermann Oberth.
We selected this specific day for the opening, since it was today--12 years ago--that Wernher von Braun passed away. His contributions have been tremendous, and he always gave credit to his mentor and senior partner in many of the steps that led to the miraculous results of the Saturn series of launch vehicles. The biggest by far, even up to today, is of course the Saturn V which launched the astronauts to the moon for a landing and safe return from their mission. We will not forget Wernher von Braun and his work which made this City famous throughout the world.
But Wernher would be the first one to point to the person who taught him the "tricks of the trade," who pointed the way and who foretold the venture into the universe. Wernher always gave credit to all his associates, but he often stressed the particular benefits and advantages that he obtained from listening to the consultation and to the advice of Hermann Oberth, with whom he had been associated since his high school days in Berlin, and many more times during later periods.
As for myself, I had heard about Professor Oberth through his book Die Rakete zu den Planetenräumen (The Rocket into Interplanetary Space). I was working with a small group of spaceflight enthusiasts in Hannover, Germany. His book was "THE HANDBOOK" for amateur rocketeers, although many of us did not entirely grasp the significance of all the mathematics in his writings. I met Prof. Oberth personally when he joined us in Peenemünde, the German Rocket Development Center at the Baltic Sea in Northern Germany where several of my former colleague amateur rocketeers had gathered. We all were impressed by his methodical and mostly mathematical approach to the problems of rockets, which were overwhelming at that time.
I did not have a close contact with him during office hours, since he worked on "Advanced Projects," and I had my nose to the grindstone and was busy with solving all then existing propulsion problems. I met with him fairly regularly, though, at the Officers Club during evening meals, since we both lived on the Base. It was against the Center's policy to talk about space, about missiles, and about our personal involvement in any project. So we had to find other, more general topics for our discussions, although Prof. Oberth brought up the topic of flight into the universe again and again. And that topic became particularly sensitive after Wernher von Braun and a few others had been put into jail, since Party officials and security personnel claimed that Wernher spent too much time on space projects, and not enough on solving problems of the A-4 (which later on was renamed the V-2).
We all respected Hermann Oberth; we all knew about his book and had all read it. After all, there was not much serious literature in the field of rocketry available, while this one provided a wealth of excellent information. And in that sense, Professor Oberth strongly influenced the appearance of the V-2, although he was not directly involved in the development work as such. But his affect on the principal thought processes of Wernher von Braun and many of his associates was tremendous! Wernher always liked to refer to him as his "Teacher" who gave him the tools for his work and helped him to accomplish his goals.
Hermann Oberth was half a century ahead of his time. He forecast interplanetary travel at a time when many people still believed that a rocket could NOT fly, could NOT provide the necessary propulsive power, and would certainly NOT work in the emptiness of space. Oberth described earth satellites; he quoted the advantages of staging for all demanding missions; he proposed a space station--which we still don't have today!--and he outlined the value of it; he described the need for space suits and the "Manned Maneuvering Units" to travel from place to place around the Station, to do outside repair work, and to get into and out of a commuting space vehicle, which has today become the SPACE SHUTTLE.
The military commander in Peenemünde, General Walter Dornberger, said of him "We all knew how much our work had derived, from the very start, from his pioneering spirit. And when Oberth congratulated him on 3 October 1942, the day of the first successful A-4 launch, he remarked..."The day on which we had been privileged to take the first step into space must also be a day of success and rejoicing for you, and that the congratulations should go to you for showing us the way!" Later that same day, General Dornberger remarked to Wernher von Braun: "We have invaded space with our rocket and for the first time have used space as a bridge between two points on earth; we have proved rocket propulsion practicable for space travel...This third day of October, 1942, is the first of a new era in transportation, that of space travel..."
And that is, after all, the reason that we are gathered here today to reminisce about these events of the early past, to appreciate the present, and to contemplate the future.
John Zavrel, the president of the Arno Breker Society (ABSI) has researched Prof. Oberth's life and his accomplishments and has assembled the results on the displayed charts and pictures, which include Prof. Oberth's detailed biography by Hans Barth, the author of the book Hermann Oberth: Leben-Werk-Wirkung. The Alabama-Mississippi Section of the AIAA is pleased to have this opportunity to join with the Arno Breker Society and to make the events in the life of our former member, Professor Oberth known to a larger audience through his traveling "HERMANN OBERTH EXHIBIT." The Professor will celebrate his 95th birthday on June 25, 1989 in Feucht, Germany.
I am now pleased to introduce to you Mr. John Zavrel, president of the Arno Breker Society, a personal friend of Professor Oberth and his daughter, Dr. Erna Roth-Oberth. Mr. Zavrel will assist Ms. Wanda Reece, the President of the local AIAA Section to unveil a recently completed oil portrait entitled "HERMANN OBERTH: RAUM TRAUM - SPACE DREAM." It was painted by the artist Margaret Stucki and will now be displayed for the first time here at the Huntsville Library. And with the unveiling of this portrait we, the joint exhibitors, hereby officially open the "HERMANN OBERTH EXHIBIT."